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posted on 12 April 2016

The Bizarre Dutch Referendum On The EU Treaty With Ukraine

by Rudo de Ruijter

On April 6, 2016 a consultative referendum took place in the Netherlands about a law to ratify the EU treaty with Ukraine. A clear majority, 61.1%, of those voting were against it.

Previously on June 1st, 2005, a similar plurality of 61.5%, had voted 'against' in a referendum on the European constitution.

It seems justified to interprete these percentages as a clear anti-EU result, and it is. However, the numbers are not fully comparable. The referendum in 2005 was an exceptional one decided by the government. The second one is the result of a new law of 2014, allowing citizens to organize consultative referendums on new laws. Apart from numerous restrictions and obstacles this law imposes, it still has a few big defects.

The first, of course, is that it only allows consultative referendums. However, parliamentarians, although in majority in favor of the treaty, were quick to understand they would not dare to bluntly reject the result of this new referendum and declared in advance, they would respect it. (It is a European curiosity, that most of the people are against the collective unification of their countries, while most of their governments and parliaments are giving up more and more of their national sovereignty to Brussels.)

The official Dutch ballot boxes resemble Dutch garbage containers. And for those who might think, this similarity is unintended, I can add, the used ballots are made into toilet paper.

One of the biggest faults with this new Dutch referendum law is, that they consider, that when less than 30% of the entitled voters show up at the poll, the result should be interpreted as a victory for the yes camp. At this first referendum most of the yes-voters were not yet aware of this curious anomaly and by going to the poll they ended up helping the no camp reach the needed threshold of 30%. (32.2% went to the polls.) If just 1/3 of the 'yes' voters had stayed home, 'yes' would have won.

So with just 20% of the entitled voters voting against the EU treaty with Ukraine, the no-camp won. This law truly still has growing pains. It is thanks to an inquiry made by RTL news [1], that we know how those who didn't go to the poll would have voted, if they had gone: 40% of them would have voted against the treaty and 17% in favor of it and 30% didn't know. Only with this additional information, we can judge that the outcome of the referendum appears to be an approximate reflection of the public opinion and the victory of the no camp was justified.

The parliamentarians immediately reacted by saying they would not enhance this law straight after this first referendum. The reason is obvious. Sooner or later they will have to ratify this same treaty (or one that is slightly modified for the purpose of fooling the people). Then there is very little chance that the same opponents will win the referendum (should they organize one). Because those in favor of the treaty simply won't show up at the poll anymore and the 30% participation will not be reached. The parliamentarians will interprete it as a victory and once again the will of the people will be ignored, as it sooften is.


[1] Even if all of the Netherlands had voted, the result would have been NO.

April 10, 2016

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