Friday, September 21, 2007

A Letter from Limburg

End of Round 1

Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende announced today that the Dutch cabinet, acting on advice from the Privy Council that the new treaty does not contain anything that affects the Dutch constitution, has decided that a second referendum is not necessary. Instead, the treaty will be submitted to the House of Commons for approval in the normal way.

What Parliament will decide is still very much in the air. The main opposition parties, led by the Socialist Party, are clearly in favour of a referendum but it all hangs on whether they can scrape together a majority, and for that we must wait for the Labour Party (PvdA) and the Liberal Democrats (VVD). Despite some plain talking from Frits Bolkestein, honorary VVD member of the Upper House , the VVD is continuing to play coy. Rather than make a commitment, they want to hold out until they have seen the final treaty text.

Meantime the PvdA, who hold the key to a majority, seem to be having trouble making up their minds. The accusations of trading their agreement for concessions on a planned employment law change, whether true or not, have been rapidly acquiring the status of an urban legend and leading members of the party – perhaps so as not to rock the coalition government boat and to appease their coalition partner the CDA – have been slowly trying to distance themselves from previous commitments to a referendum, while trying not to upset the grassroots party members who are said to be very much in favour of a referendum. Internal party meetings planned for Tuesday will hopefully allow them to decide one way or the other.

The uncertainty over the referendum has not cooled the determination of the Europhiles though. The latest scaremongering comes from in the form of a statement from Minister of Education Ronald Plasterk that the only alternative to agreeing to the treaty is for the Netherlands to leave the EU. Now there's a thought ...

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