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Nee-derlands

Posted by Richard Thursday, June 01, 2006

The day of days...And so it was, a year today that the European dream came crashing to earth, as the Dutch voted "nee" in their own referendum, just three days after the French "non".

We promised not to gloat when the exit poll came in predicting 63 percent for the "nees" with the "ja" camp trailing badly at 37 percent – but the temptation proved irresistible. It was worth it just to see Barroso for once without that silly smirk in his face. One could see he had been "nee-capped", although the smirk quickly reappeared.

The result immediately had the not-so-fragrant Margot suggesting that there would be debate on "exactly what kind of 'no' this was" – that was before she invented her "plan D for democracy".

A year later, though, lessons have definitely been learned. Dutch prime Peter Balkenende – but not for very much longer at this rate – has told his adoring electors that he would "prefer to avoid" a new referendum on any new treaty. He believes that, in future, ratification should be left to parliament. "Referendums are risky affairs," he says, adding, "If you can avoid one that would be my preference." Too right, Pete! They might say "no" again.

With that, Balkenende still thinks a new treaty is necessary, but he is rather worried by the result of an opinion poll last week which showed Dutch opposition to the idea was now six percentage points higher than a year ago, But, showing that hope does occasionally triumph over experience, he believes opposition will fall away if the EU proves its worth and banished the impression that the Dutch are governed from Brussels.

Needless to say, the man welcomes the extended period of reflection but, given that he faces a general election next year, we trust that, after the vote, he will have plenty of time to take advantage of the extension. He might then be able to work out how he is going to convince the Dutch people that they are not governed from Brussels, when they are, er… governed from Brussels.

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