Netherlands: Dutch give overwhelming ‘No’ to EU Constitution

Voters ignore arrogant Establishment and punish right wing government

Yesterday’s vote on the European Constitution was the first time in more than 200 years that Dutch people were given the chance to voice their opinion in a referendum. A high turnout of 62.8 per cent delivered a clear verdict; 61.6% voted against the constitution and only 38.4 % in favour.

This was a clear vote against the European constitution and there were different reasons why people voted against. It was mainly blue and white collar workers, who are not convinced about usefulness of the constitution and see the neo-liberal agenda behind it, who voted against.

The government parties and many opposition members of parliament – the social democratic PvdA and Green-Left party – used every possible means, including crude propaganda, to try and convince the public of voting in favour of the European constitution. The pro-constitution campaign was backed by the employers’ federations and the leadership of the trade unions. So, 85% of the political establishment was in favour of the constitution.

The Dutch population was never asked before to voice a direct opinion on the European Union or its policies, including the introduction of the Euro and its inflationary effects on the prices of food and other basic produce – which is obvious to everyone in the Netherlands, except, it seems, the Minister of Finance. Many people had serious doubts about the EU’s prescriptions for the economic and social problems of the Netherlands.

The Dutch Socialist Party, a broad based, left party, played a central role in the no campaign. There was also opposition from the right. Geert Wilders, a right wing, populist, who left the neo-liberal VVD party, earlier this year, tried to carve out a sphere of influence with his own no campaign, based on a reactionary, anti-immigrant rhetoric but without much success.

The main campaign highlighted the lack of democracy inside the European Union, developments towards a so-called ‘European Army’, and the neo-liberal character of the EU – an agenda which is clearly spelled out in the EU’s ‘Bolkenstein Directive’.

Arrogant Establishment

The referendum campaign, and the reactions from the political elite over the result, revealed the arrogance of those in power. They attempted to make people vote yes with crude propaganda. The VVD’s pro-constitution television ads showed images of Auschwitz Nazi concentration camps, while the voiceover talked about a possible victory for the no side in the referendum. They said the "lights would go out" in Europe. The leader of the VVD warned that many red banners could be seen at the celebrations of the French opponents of the constitution who won the referendum in France last week. "The people of Eastern Europe have just freed themselves from Socialism; do they want to go back to that?"

The Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bot, announced that people who still had not made their minds up about which way to vote should stay at home and not participate at all.

The mass media did little to hide their true colours. ‘Neutral’ television programs were hijacked by the government and transformed into propaganda shows for the European constitution.

Balkenende government gets a kicking

The Dutch population clearly rejects the coalition government, which is led by Jan Peter Balkenende, and made up of the Christian Democrats, the CDA, the right wing liberals, the VVD, and the ‘left wing’ liberals, the D66. The popularity of the government has plunged to a historic low of 19%. This is not surprising, as the coalition is guilty of ruling over the country’s longest economic recession since WWII. The Netherlands is one of the three European countries with the fastest rising unemployment rates. Unemployment has jumped from 4.6 to 5%.

The outcome of the EU constitution referendum is another indication that the Dutch people will not allow the government to destroy social provisions without putting up a fight. This result is a continuation of the large protests, held last autumn, against the austerity programme of the Balkenende government. Then, 300,000 people took to the streets. Now another important aspect of government policy – pushing through a yes for the EU constitution – is relegated to the dustbin. It is clear the Dutch population is sick of the elitist mentality of the government, its cabinet and the entire ruling class.

The vote against the EU constitution is an important signal of opposition. To make this protest more powerful we need to organise and prepare for more confrontations with the Establishment.

Although most political parties have announced they will not disregard the result of the referendum, it is more than probable that they do not understand the depth of this rejection and the anger towards the political Establishment.

The call for the government to resign gets an ever-increasing echo. To achieve this aim, it is necessary to re-engage in a mass struggle, without illusions in so-called left parties, like the social democratic PvdA, which has clearly chosen the side of the Establishment.

Socialist alternative needed

Only genuine socialist policies, based on defending the interests of the majority of the population, will be able to break with the capitalist system. To achieve this, we will work together with other socialists in Europe to counter pose the Europe of bosses and bureaucrats with a socialist Europe, where people are put before profits.

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