The Dutch government has ruled out holding a popular vote on the EU’s ‘Reform Treaty’, in order to avert a rerun of the referendum in which Dutch citizens rejected the European Constitution two years ago. However, opposition parties could still oppose the decision in Parliament.
The Netherlands’ Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced on 21 September that his government would follow a non-binding opinion of the Council of State, which ruled that a referendum is not necessary because the new European Treaty, to be agreed by the 27 EU governments next month, will not affect the national Constitution.
“A new referendum is unnecessary and undesirable…We have opted for a normal parliamentary ratification procedure,” said the Christian Democrat leader.
He added: “If the Netherlands would vote ‘No’ again, what would happen?…You shouldn’t take new negotiations for granted.”
The ‘normal’ procedure, would likely see the Treaty approved as a majority of Parliamentarians are in favour of ratification.
However, the June 2005 scenario, in which 61.8% of Dutch voters rejected the EU’s Constitution, sending EU leaders back to the drawing board, could still be repeated.
Indeed, the Parliament could still demand that a referendum be organised – just as it did the last time. And three opposition parties, including two pro-EU ones (the Greens and the left-liberal D66) and one that is strongly Eurosceptic (Socialist), have already said they plan to propose an own-initiative bill demanding just that.
If Labour party members of Parliament – many of which remain in favour of a referendum, despite being part of the government coalition – decided to follow suit, the proposal could gather sufficient support to go through.
On the other hand, such an initiative might still be blocked in the Senate, which is dominated by parties opposed to a referendum.
EU diplomats fear that, if the Netherlands does hold a second vote, it could spark a “chain reaction” in the UK and Denmark, which are yet to decide on whether to hold a referendum.