Open Europe Blog

In 2005, Dutch voters rejected the European Constitution

A Dutch citizens’ campaign to make it mandatory to hold a referendum on any new transfer of powers to the EU – reminiscent of the UK’s referendum lock – has mustered 40,000 signatures, the threshold needed to force Dutch MP’s to debate the issue and decide whether they agree with the proposal or not.

A “Parliamentary Commission” still needs to decide whether the initiative meets the conditions for triggering a parliamentary debate. Even if it does, only the Socialist Party, Geert Wilders’ populist Party for Freedom and a few smaller parties support the idea – so there’s no majority for it in the Dutch parliament. Last week, the centre-right VVD – which governs alongside the Labour Party –  labelled the initiative “unhelpful”.

Is this the end of it then? Not quite. The next threshold is 300,000 signatures – which could trigger a non-binding referendum, subject to a new law which still needs to be adopted by the Dutch Senate. The campaigners are already looking ahead to that. There are lots of hurdles to actually get to the stage where a non-binding referendum on whether to adopt a “referendum lock” can be held – let alone adopted – but there’s definitely something stirring underneath the surface.

Diederik Samsom, the leader of the Labour Party, said last weekend that changes to EU treaties should indeed require referenda (which is why the Dutch government wants to avoid such changes for now). According to a new poll, 64% of Dutch voters want a referendum on any new transfers of power to the EU (not surprising). However, more surprisingly, 65% of voters actually oppose such transfers of power altogether. With this in mind, gaining 300,000 signatures in a country with almost 17 million citizens does not seem impossible.

As the Dutch government argued in its “State of the EU” report, “The EU’s democratic deficit is [the Union’s] Achilles heel.” The concerns brewing under the surface in the Netherlands show that this shortcoming will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

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