Open Europe Blog

Thierry Baudet

This week, the Dutch Parliament held a debate on whether it is necessary to hold a referendum on transferring new powers to the European Union. The debate was triggered by a campaign, called “Citizen’s forum – EU” which managed to gather over 63,000 signatures, above the threshold needed (40,000 signatures necessary) to force it on to the agenda of the Lower House.

The campaign demands:

1. An end to the creeping transfer of powers to the EU.

2.  If powers are transferred to the EU, a referendum must be held so the Dutch population can have a say on this transfer of powers.

Two of the campaigners, Dutch academic Thierry Baudet (photo), and economist Ewald Engelen said in a speech to MPs: 

“The Lower House is about to lose its core competences…You won’t be able to decide policy any more. You abolish yourself. But you don’t have the right at all to do this. Because the sovereignty is with us, the people. You are merely the representatives of the Dutch people.”

As De Volkskrant reported, the reception was more positive than expected. It was not only the “usual suspects”, like Geert Wilders’ PVV, the Socialist Party and the Party for the Animals that welcomed the idea. These parties have expressed support for a Dutch-style “referendum lock” in the past,

More interestingly, the social-democrat PvdAalso  came out in support, with its EU-spokeswoman Marit Maij MP, saying: “the PvdA wants to proceed quickly with a possible referendum” – albeit with a lot of qualifications,The party is only in favour of a non-binding referendum, and wants it to be held according to new rules currently being negotiated in the Dutch Senate, which would make it necessary to first obtain 300,000 signatures, a high threshold in the Netherlands (but something which the EU referendum campaigners are considering).

The Christian Union, which sits with the Tories in the ECR Group in Brussels, support the idea, with its spokesman, Gert-Jan Segers MP, saying that “by means of exception we accept an advisory referendum”.

Dutch PM Mark Rutte’s governing VVD reiterated its support for strengthening national parliaments (something which the PvdA also wants), but is against referendums as a tool of policy.

Meanwhile, a new poll, by prominent pollster Maurice de Hond, reveals that 67% of Dutch citizens want a referendum in the event of new powers be transferred from the Netherlands to the EU:

Ja = Yes, Nee = No

This is against a tricky backdrop: current opinion polls show that Geert Wilders’ PVV would have almost as many seats the governing VVD and PvdA combined, if an election was held today (though that goes far beyond Europe as an issue). With the Dutch government’s campaign to set limits on the powers of the next European Commission shows, the European election campaign could prove interesting in the Netherlands.

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