Netherlands and EU: a love affair turned sour

Dutch voters think they have been had by euro price hikes and by Germany and France dodging the euro stability pact while they had to obey by it. The ‘no’ to the Constitution could be a high as 60 per cent.

Economy and the Euro:

Against the backdrop of unpopular austerity measures, popular resentment against the EU has been stoked further by price rises seen as linked to the introduction of the euro. The director of the Dutch National Bank recently revealed that at the time of the introduction of the euro, the Dutch Guilder had been undervalued by 5 to 10 per cent. Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm has admitted that this was true, contrary to what he had stated earlier.

EU budget:
 

The Netherlands is the largest per capita contributor to the EU. The sense of getting a bad deal and a general feeling of injustice has been fuelled by the year-long EU row over the Stability and Growth Pact. The big EU nations France and Germany got themselves off the hook by using political strong-arm tactics. By contrast, the Dutch government has gone by the book and dealt with its budget deficit by cutting back on welfare spending.  

Immigration and enlargement: 

The Dutch have been gripped by a deep sense of unease after the political murders of Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004 by a Muslim extremist. The debate about the failed integration of muslim immigrants following the killing of Pim Fortuyn raised question marks about the traditional Dutch values of permissiveness and tolerance. This has remained an issue. 

The EU enlargement of 2004 that included the eastern European countries and the prospective entry of Turkey have added to fears of there being more immigration problems to come.

Dutch sovereignty and tolerance: 
The libertarians on the left of the Dutch society fear that the country’s liberal views on drugs may come under pressure if further EU integration erodes national sovereignty.

Positions

PM Jan Peter Balkenende: “We have a lot to gain from this constitution if you talk about more jobs in Europe, more security in Europe, more democracy and transparency.. We have always profited from European co-operation, which is why it is striking that there are now negative sentiments. We have so much to thank the European Union for.”

"The Dutch shouldn't merely take the lead from the French but must make their own choice." 

Former European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg : "I have some experience with Europe. The Constitution makes Europe strong and therefore the Netherlands too." 

Foreign Minister Bernard Bot: "What we are going to assure the voters and which we are doing already is that we will no longer be the biggest net contributor, that we will bring our net contribution down to the level of about Germany and Sweden."

Former Dutch EU Commissioner for competition, Frits Bolkestein: "Many people are disenchanted with the EU. That is because it has been oversold. It is not and cannot be the answer to all of their problems." 

Marcel van Herpen, director of the Cicero Foundation, a research organisation: "In the Dutch population there is a lot of anxiety about threats in the world. People are cocooning themselves and going back to their families.This anxiety is transferring itself to international organisations like the EU." 

Arjo Klamer, professor of cultural economics at Rotterdam's Erasmus University: "Dutch people feel society is getting colder, harsher. They don't feel connected to this society. The political establishment is saying more Europe is better for Holland but more and more Dutch people are feeling that more Europe is undermining the correct characteristics of Dutch society." 

Former Belgian PM Jean-Luc Dehaene: "I sufficiently know the malaise in Dutch public opinion. It has resulted in Pim Fortuyn earlier." 

Philosopher Ad Verbrugge: "Europe is in a pre-Fortuyn stadium. Among citizens, an uneasy feeling is growing that with the European Union they are in a roaring machine, run by people in whom they do not recognize themselves." 

Michel Van Hulten, former MEP: "In essence, it is a choice between hope and optimism and fear and pessimism. The arguments against are being made by an older generation of politicians and journalists. We say: Don' t let an older generation take Europe away from you." 

A rightwing Dutch MP, Geert Wilders, who runs the no-slogan ‘the Netherlands should remain’: "Countries with many inhabitants will have an even bigger say in the council of ministers at the expense of smaller countries like the Netherlands. I am strongly in favour of good relations with Turkey. But a good neighbour is not the same as a member of the family. An Islamic country will never be a member of the EU." 

Neelie Kroes, the Dutch EU Competition Commissioner: "I’d rather talk about a new international treaty. That we’re talking about a constitution at all – I say this with a weak smile – is because of the enthusiasm of the chief author, Giscard d’Estaing. He put a nice title on the thing because he was in an exultant mood. That exaggerated optimism is now being punished."

Lousewies van der Laan,  MP of the D-66 party, which supports the Constitution: 

"I think it is clear that the love affair [with the EU] is over, not from the viewpoint of the politicians, but definitely from the public. There is a group of people who were alienated from the process of European integration. They feel they were not consulted on introduction of the euro, which has led to price rises, or on enlargement." 

Jacques Schraven, chairman of the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers: "Business will benefit from it. It would be very bad for the reputation of the Netherlands abroad if there was a No vote." 

Theo Sommer of de Volkskrant newspaper: "We used to follow our leaders without making much trouble. During the last three or four years the Netherlands has become more of an anarchist country. People do not want to listen any more." 

Mendeltje van Keulen, a fellow at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations: "The Netherlands had a permissive consensus about the EU. European co-operation was arranged by the political elite and people just agreed to it, but now people are saying we have to stand up and say not everything that happens in the EU is right. Some people have the feeling that they have never been properly informed of what goes on in Brussels. Now they have the chance to say ‘stop’ to Europe and they are going to use it." 

Background

Dutch voters go to the polls on 1 June in a referendum that opinion polls indicates could well be the second ‘no’ to the Constitution in one week. The most recent Interview NSS poll indicate a ‘no’ vote of 51 with 37 per cent voting yes. Another poll by TNS-NIPO puts the ‘no’ vote at 60 per cent.

The yes campaigners have been strongly criticised for not making a more strenuous effort. The Dutch business sector has also come under fire for not having taken more of an interest. 

The political elite of the traditionally pro-European Dutch nation has been taken aback by the strength of anti-European sentiment. It has been fuelled by general dissatisfaction with the centre-right government coalition, which has introduced a string of austerity measures, cut social benefits and raised the retirement age to 67 years.

The referendum is consultative but the main political parties have agreed to stand by the result if voter turnout is more than 30 per cent. Turnout is expected to be as low as 40 per cent. By contrast, in France, turnout was almost at 70 per cent.

The ‘yes’ parties: Christian Democrats (CDA), largest government party, plus coalition partners VVD and D66, Labour (PVDA) and Groen Links, left opposition parties.

 The ‘no’ parties: Right-wing Pim Fortuyn party, Socialist Party, ChristienUnie and SGP, Christian parties.

Timeline

EU heads of state and government will discuss the situation at the EU summit on 16-17 June.

The UK government is expected to annouce whether it intends to go on with its planned referendum after the Dutch result has been announced.  

Further Reading