Last April, the Dutch had a referendum on the EU association treaty with Ukraine. The outcome is frustratingly predictable, but it is still worth offering some details of the proceedings, especially in light of the upcoming Brexit referendum on June 23rd. The EU is proving once more that it is not just undemocratic, but even anti-democratic – and that is a lesson the British should take to heart.
After the vote
After a majority voted against the ratification of the Ukraine association treaty, the Dutch government could withdraw its ratification (which would be the democratic thing to do), or it could ignore the will of the people (which would at least still be within the definition of the referendum law). But instead, the government is doing nothing at all. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been surprisingly open about the reasons for our government not following its own law: Brussels won’t allow it.
During a parliamentary debate one week after the referendum Rutte declared negotiations about the Ukraine treaty could take place in the open only after the Brexit referendum. There are several interesting things about that single statement. Firstly, as mentioned, the EU is telling the Dutch government not to adhere to its own law. Secondly, the Dutch government itself is not following its own law by entering into negotiations for which the referendum law offers no basis, likely because the result of the referendum is displeasing to the pro-EU establishment. Thirdly, there will be talks behind closed doors in the coming months, precisely while the referendum was intended to help restore democracy and bring the process out into the open. Lastly, the EU’s leadership does not want the Dutch referendum “to interfere” with the Brexit referendum – there is only one logical explanation for this: the EU and the Dutch government intend to ignore (once again) the will of the people, but they are afraid to show that the EU does’t care about democratic votes because that would fuel the Leave campaign.
The Netherlands has a (quite young) referendum law which allows the people to organize an consultative referendum on newly passed laws, provided they can collect 300,000 signatures in 6 weeks. Then there is another obstacle, which is a minimum required voter turnout of 30% for the result to be valid. The turnout on referendum day (April 6th) was 32.2% and the treaty was rejected by no less than 61.1% of the voters. A clear success, and although our government is not bound by law to follow the people’s vote, a parliament majority had promised beforehand to do so anyway.
It was a campaign between the elite, consisting of most major political parties together with establishment news outlets, and the people, represented by a coalition of citizen groups and a popular right-leaning blog (and supported by Nigel Farage for their campaign climax). Representatives of the ruling parties (who were officially not going to campaign) were given communication guidelines, with tips like “no fearmongering”. But it is tradition to meet challengers of EU expansion with threats of chaos and catastrophe, so obviously Jean-Claude Juncker warned that a No-vote would lead to a “continental crisis” and Herman Van Rompuy insisted a No would be an embarrassment for the Dutch, adding that it would mean that the Ukrainians who have lost their lives on Maidan Square would have died in vain.
So much for that plan. Luckily the Yes-camp still had character assassination up its sleeve. The initiators of the referendum were painted as liars, clowns, senseless troublemakers, even racists (because “if all else fails”, apparently…). But the No-camp had better arguments (with an added dose of healthy anti-EU sentiment) and their clowns went on to win several televised debates.
History in the making
The Netherlands does not have much of a history with referendums, in that we have only had one before and the result was blatantly ignored when we rejected the European Constitution and got it anyway under a different name. Most of us who voted to reject the Ukraine association treaty knew what was coming, and as much as the establishment are looking for excuses to reduce the value of this result – and referendums in general – the facts are clear.
This referendum was a rebellion of the people against the elite, and the elite is demonstrating precisely why it needs to be challenged. The EU’s architects were unabashed about their disregard for democracy, but they have overplayed their hand. The EU has turned into an anti-democratic behemoth, and one of the biggest symbols of elitism in the world. What they are doing now can only be understood as an effort by the EU to avoid showing British voters how little it cares about democracy so shortly before the Brexit referendum. And that is why voting to leave the EU is the only reasonable choice: whether Britain stays or leaves, June 23rd will be the last time your vote will make any difference to Brussels.