21st Sep 2023

Dutch MPs raise prospect of new EU referendum

  • So far, Ireland is the only country where it is certain there will be a referendum (Photo: EUobserver)

Just days after EU leaders agreed on a revised version of the European Constitution - rejected in French and Dutch referendums in 2005 - the prospect of a second EU referendum is emerging in the Netherlands.

The country's second largest political faction, the Labour party, has cautiously come out in favour of putting the EU's new treaty to the Dutch people. If Labour follow through, there would be a parliamentary majority for the move.

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Labour parliamentary leader Jacques Tichelaar said on Tuesday (26 June) that the Netherlands should not fear a new treaty poll since Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende claimed major successes at last week's EU summit.

"The result is so good that you shouldn't be afraid to put this to the people," he said, according to Dutch media. "I don't see a single argument for not holding a referendum."

But Labour's position remains ambiguous despite the statement, with Mr Tichelaar also saying his party respects a government coalition agreement stipulating that "the Council of State" should be consulted on the referendum question.

The council is the Dutch government's highest advisory body.

Prime minister Balkenende's Christian Democrats - Labour's coalition partner - hope and expect that the body will advise against a new popular vote.

"Labour could still backtrack," Dutch liberal MP Han ten Broeke told EUobserver, indicating that a pro-referendum parliamentary majority is far from certain at this stage.

It was the Dutch parliament which - against the wishes of prime minister Balkenende - organised the 2005 referendum on the EU constitutional treaty.

Putting aside Labour's comments, other parties on the pro-European and eurosceptic side are also calling for a second popular vote on the new text.

Meanwhile, Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond earlier this week reported that the Dutch like the new Reform Treaty better than the old EU constitution

Ireland to have referendum

A second EU referendum in the Netherlands would represent an important setback for member states' general efforts to avoid the referendum as a ratification route.

It is for this very reason, and at the explicit request of the Hague and London, that all references to the word "constitution" or federalist-type symbols like the EU flag were scrapped from the draft text.

A referendum move by the Dutch is also likely to make it tougher for other countries, such as the UK, to hold out against one, with Britain already fighting a tough battle against opposition Conservative calls for a public poll.

"Never in our political history has a referendum been used as part of the ratification process for an international treaty," the UK's Europe minister Geoff Hoon said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the text also contains technical modifications designed to avert a possible Danish referendum, but Copenhagen has not indicated how it will ratify the document.

The only country which has made clear it will organise a referendum is Ireland.

Prime minister Bertie Ahern has said a referendum on the new treaty will be held some time next year.

Before referendums or parliamentary votes on the new treaty can be held, EU states first need to finalise technical talks on the document, which the incoming Portuguese presidency would like to see wrapped up by October.

Denmark brings forward decision on treaty referendum

The Danish government has pushed forward a decision on whether or not to hold a referendum on the EU's new treaty, saying it will start examining the issue next month instead of in December as planned.

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