On-page link, opens in this window 05/06/26 Links
On-page link, opens in this window 05/06/19 EU Constitution #8


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The Constitution's dead - or, is it?

The European Constitution #8

I suppose you've seen the numbers for the Dutch referendum on the European Constitution by now: 63.3 % turnout, 38.5 % 'yes', 61.5 % 'no'. Though the 'no' vote was expected to win, this much 'no' and this little 'yes' kind of took us all by surprise.

Why the pro-Constitution camp lost

It's kind of hard to decide what contributed most to the majority of 'no' votes - the well-run anti-Constitution campaign, or the badly-run pro-Constitution effort. It's not unthinkable that, even without any opposition, the 'yes' camp might have lost.

According to the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, one contributing factor was co-ordination: the ministry of the interior and the ministry of foreign affairs shared responsibility for the campaign, but disagreed about several aspects and didn't succeed in combining their efforts in an effective way.

The main problem was, however, that the pro-Constitution camp failed to get their point across. Their main points seemed to be: Europe is good, and this Constitution is good for Europe and hence good for us; really bad things are going to happen if we vote 'no'; we don't understand how anyone in their right mind could reject this Constitution; and, last but not least, we're going to look stupid to the other European governments if the 'no' vote would win. In addition to these weak arguments with which the 'no' camp was basically being handed its counter-arguments on a silver platter, the government's decision to invest another EUR 3,500,000 in the pro-Constitution campaign shortly before the referendum didn't win any hearts or minds either. To be fair - there were sound and valid pro-Constitution points being made, but they simply got lost in the noise.

Why the anti-Constitution camp won

Among the 'no' voters there are a number of distinct groups: the traditional left, the traditional right, the anti-establishment left and the anti-establishment right. And, possibly, a section of the electorate who judged that after the French 'no' the Constitution was dead anyway and who voted 'no' just for the hell of it.

Traditionally there are a couple of left-wing strongholds in the Netherlands, in the relatively poor areas with high unemployment. It used to be that in those places the Communist Party, when we still had a Communist Party, could be relied upon to win all local elections by a wide margin - and even though we have social security now and these parts of the country are doing better economically, the traditional left is still very much around. It's this traditional left part of the electorate that accounted for the strong majority of 'no' votes in, most notably, the very north-east of the country.

At the other end of the traditional political spectrum we've got the Dutch bible belt - protestant Christians to whom God, the royal family and the nation form a sacred trinity that leaves no place for the European Union. Also many of these people live in rural areas, where fishing policies and the culling of herds during the foot and mouth disease outbreak hadn't made the EU popular. This section of the electorate required very little campaigning, they knew where they stood, and there were several bible belt towns with over 90 % 'no' votes.

Among the anti-establishment left we find the most successful campaigners of the lot - the Socialist Party. They're a political party with an active membership and an activist tradition, and it showed - they were instrumental in achieving the majority of 'no' votes (apart from the pro-Constitution camp's own efforts, that is).

The anti-establishment right, represented by MP Geert Wilders, got a great deal of press, but I don't think they actually played such a significant part. Wilders has a small but faithful following (I think the latest polls indicate that, were general elections held today, he would win two or three seats in our 150-seat parliament) who, like the traditional right, know what they want: national autonomy, no immigration, and no EU-membership for Turkey. Numerically, though, I suspect that his following constituted only a small section of the 'no' vote.

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