Dutch need in/out euro referendum, says former socialist leader

Wouter Bos [Partij van de Arbeid/Flickr]

Wouter Bos [Partij van de Arbeid/Flickr]

Wouter Bos, the former leader of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), has said that an in/out referendum on the euro should be put to Dutch citizens. "It is the only way to provide democratic legitimacy to European integration," Bos remarked on Sunday (9 March).

According to Bos, a referendum on the country’s membership of the eurozone would provide clarity in the debate.

“Voting in favour means to vote for the euro, for a banking authority and for [offering] financial aid [to other member states]. Voting against means bearing the consequences,” and thus accepting an exit from the eurozone, Bos argued at a debate on the European economic crisis on Sunday.

Bos served as Labour’s president from 2002 to 2010 and as finance minister in the Dutch government from 2007 to 2010. He stepped out of politics in 2012.

“I can afford to speak out on bold ideas now,” he explained.

Diederik Samsom, the PvdA’s current party leader, reacted on Monday, saying he does not endorse the idea. Samsom said a referendum could be organised in case of an EU treaty change, but dismissed suggestions to organise such a vote in the near future.

The question about whether to organise a referendum keeps returning to Dutch politics. Last year, populist figurehead Geert Wilders challenged the socialists to jointly organise a public consultation on the country’s EU membership.

In the United Kingdom, David Cameron has promised to hold an in-/out referendum over the country’s EU membership. The consultation will be organised after 2015, if his Conservative Party wins next year’s national elections.

Bos’ suggestion would only concern The Netherlands’ membership of the monetary union and eurozone, however.

Eurosceptics breathing down neck of government

The socialists, a member of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament, form a coalition government with the liberal-conservative VVD party, which is affiliated to the European liberal party ALDE.

But Dutch mainstream parties face strong pressure from eurosceptics, and recent polls credit Wilders’ eurosceptic Freedom Party (PVV) with 17% to 19% of voting intentions at the next European elections.

Wilders has waged a campaign against the euro and the EU for years. In February, he presented a study on the ‘Nexit’ in which he claimed that walking out from the EU would be good for the Dutch economy. Observers widely believe he is likely to dominate the debate on whether The Netherlands should stay or leave the eurozone.

A large part of Dutch public opinion has opposed aid packages in the EU’s response to the financial crisis and many also protest against the country’s net contribution to the EU budget.

In 2005, Dutch citizens rejected the European constitutional treaty by 61%. The Netherlands was the second country to reject the text, after 55% of French voters voted against the treaty three days earlier.

The Netherlands is a eurozone member and has faced increasing pressures from anti-European, populist political forces over the past decade. Mainstream parties have been forced to speak out on EU issues all the more, and many have taken a critical stance on it.

The opposition to EU integration and the country’s EU membership is carried by populist Geert Wilders, who shows strong polling results for the EU elections in May 2014. The Netherlands will hold its European Parliament elections on 25 May 2014.

  • 19 March: Local elections in The Netherlands
  • 22-25 May: European elections
  • 2017: Referendum in the UK on its EU membership proposed by Cameron

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