Dutch MPs reject referendum path
By Honor Mahony
The Dutch Labour party has rejected the idea of holding a referendum on the EU's Reform Treaty, making the chances of a public poll in the country extremely unlikely.
After a long meeting on Tuesday (25 September), an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs indicated they were against asking Dutch citizens their opinion on the Reform Treaty, which is to be finalised by EU member states at the end of this year.
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According to Labour MP Mariette Hamer, quoted by Elsevier, there was no vote on the issue among the MPs as "a majority did not feel the need for a referendum."
She added that only about three MPs had pleaded in favour of a poll.
The news is bound to come as a relief to both Dutch prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende as well as Brussels.
The Dutch cabinet last week decided against a referendum but the Labour Party – which is in government with Mr Balkendende's Christian Democrats – indicated it might push ahead with an own-initiative referendum backed by the leftist parties, the socialists and D66.
It was an own initiative bill that led to the referendum on the original EU constitution in 2005, which Dutch citizens rejected by a strong majority.
Without the Labour party onboard however, the socialists and D66 do not have enough support to get the idea through parliament.
Europe minister Frans Timmermans indicated he was happy with the outcome and rejected calls that Labour had broken election campaign promises to have a referendum.
Meanwhile, head of the Labour faction, Jacques Tichelaar, argued that the Reform Treaty is "substantially different" from the rejected EU constitution.
The news that the Netherlands is almost certain not to have a referendum is set to strengthen the political hand of other governments currently undergoing internal debate on the issue.
The UK's Gordon Brown is under strong pressure to have a poll from national media as well as from politicians within his own labour party and opposition Conservatives.
Denmark is another country where the referendum decision is being watched closely. It has said it will not decide until the treaty is finalised.
Only Ireland has definitely said it will ask its citizens.
EU leaders were careful to ensure during pre-summer negotiations that possible referendum-inducing clauses were removed from the treaty text so as not to risk having a repeat of the 2005 shock when both France and the Netherlands said ‘No' to the EU constitution.