Friday, September 21, 2007

A Letter from Limburg

The fat lady ain’t singing yet

In the early hours of this morning, the Volkskrant published a report that the ‘opposition’ parties SP, GroenLinks and D66 had decided to jump the gun on the Raad van Staat’s official decision and are going to submit an “initiative law” calling for a referendum on the new EU treaty (the process takes about 2 weeks).

If the PvdA support it, they will have a majority in the Dutch House of Commons and the government (lead by the CDA who are fundamentally opposed to referenda on the grounds that the Netherlands has what they call a ‘representative democracy’ and not a ‘direct democracy’) cannot stop it being sent to the Upper House for approval. Sources are quoted as saying that the PvdA will support the motion, and one wonders if there is any connection between the fact that the PvdA has not been able to budge the government an inch in its plans to change the employment law to may it easier to sack people (until now, any proposed sacking had to be referred to the Employment Office for approval before it could be effected). It had been muted (amidst accusations of ‘cattle trading’) that the PvdA was willing to withdraw its support if the proposed legislation change was scrapped.

Meawhile, Pechtold (D66) called on the government to do the logical thing; if there was a referendum on the constitution, there had to be a referendum on the treaty as A follows B, and you couldn’t now “tell the populace to shut up”. Halsema (GroenLinks) went a step further and claimed that it was a “motion of no confidence in the population” not to hold a referendum. However, the best was yet to come, and from a quite unexpected corner.

In time for the breakfast commute, Frits Bolkestein (who at 74 still holds a position as “honorary member” of the Upper House for the VVD) published an almost inflammatory article calling on the government to stop treating the electorate like little children who are unable to weigh the pros and cons for themselves, and agree to a referendum. It has been assumed up until now that the VVD would block the ‘initiative law’ in the Upper House, making a referendum impossible. Now it’s not so certain; the fat lady ain’t singing yet.

(I can't resist sharing rest of Bolkestein's article. If I were Sarkozy my ears would be burning like miniature Olympic torches! Watch this space.)

Bolkestein speaks!

With a first degree in economics from the University of London, a Masters in Law from Leiden, and membership of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Frits Bolkenstein is certainly no lightweight. He had a long career in industry - for 4 years he was head of Shell Chemicals in Paris, and then in 1978 he seemed to have appeared almost from nowhere on the Dutch political scene in 1978, followed by an almost meteoric rise to Minister for Foreign Trade, and at one point it looked like he was being groomed for premiership. Well informed, outspoken and not afraid to tackle the ‘thorny issues’ face on, he had a public charisma that made him almost as many friends as enemies. You either liked him or hated him, but you had to respect him for being prepared to “call a spade a bloody shovel”.

From 1999 to 2004 he was a member of the European Commission, and since then has been involved in an Amsterdam think tank. He continues to hover around the sidelines of Dutch politics as “honorary member” for the VVD in the Dutch Upper House and his opinion still appears to carry a lot of weight with both politicians and the general public.

True to form, in a quite outspoken article, Balk summarily dismisses the threats of balkanisation should the Netherlands say ‘no’ as absolute nonsense, going on to reprimand the Europhiles for not knowing better and lacking commonsense for even considering saying such nonsense.

With a side-swipe at what he calls the “miserable” United Nations anti-racism conference in Durban 2001 which, he claims was only hailed as a success because a declaration was signed by the EU, the European Parliament is next in the line of fire for hailing Sarkozy as a saviour while giving Balkenende the cold shoulder … while it was Sarkozy that should have been treated with suspicion.

Time for Sarkozy to get both barrels for wanting to remove the independence of European Central bank. “French politicians cannot stand it when there is something outside the field of political control, such as the ECB.” But the bank cannot serve two masters, he continues; if Sarkozy succeeds, it will be the end of the European Monetary Union.

Warming to his task, Bolkenstein accuses Sarkozy of economic patriotism, where French companies are given preference over non-French companies, in direct conflict with European treaties, but annoyingly suported by the Kaczynski brothers in Poland and by the Hungarian opposition leader Viktor Orban. No-one seems to care about free and undistorted competition and the words are missing from the new treaty displaying a “disconcerting lack of insight into the nature of the economic process”. Protectionist ideas, he claims, that will set the EU back twenty years. France, however, is a big country and the Netherlands a small one, so France can get away with a ‘no’ vote while the Netherlands gets threatened with doom and gloom. The Netherlands has an interest in a truly open market for goods and services, but the French are obstructing it.

The modifications of the treaty are minor and of subordinate importance, he claims. Liberals are not in favour of referenda, but if the changes are small it is only logical to hold one. If the government refuses, people will accuse the politicians of sneaking the constitution through the back door after they failed to get it through at the front. That will, he concludes, only increase eurocynicism.

It ain't over until the fat lady sings ...


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