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The Netherlands:
European Union referendum victory against government, big money, and big media

Herman de Tollenaere 

In The Netherlands, on 1 June there was the referendum on the proposed European Union constitution. With an even bigger majority than in France, the majority voted no: 61,6%.

There were clear differences in the vote among different social classes.

In Rozendaal, one of the richest villages of The Netherlands, with many manor style houses for rich people, and an electoral bulwark for the three party Rightist government coalition, 62,7% voted Yes, contrary to national trends. Among all local authority results, rich Rozendaal was the one with the biggest Yes result. Consistent with the call of the Dutch big business association VNO/NCW to vote yes. Its leader, at a meeting with 1500 business tycoons present, claimed each and everyone present would vote Yes.

Second and third in Yes voting were similar rich villages: Bloemendaal with 60,6%; Heemstede with 57%. Rich villages like that are the bulwarks of especially government party VVD (as hardline pro "free enterprise" as British Tories, though more "secular").

On the other hand, in Pekela, a mainly workers' village with a history of strong Leftism and strikes, 81,5% voted no, higher than the national average. In communist bulwark Reiderland, 85% voted no.

Also, the constitution was apparently still more unpopular with younger than with older people. One day before the official referendum, there was a national "mock" election for secondary school students. 69,9% of students voted no.

Even in the pious Christian farmers' village where Prime Minister Balkenende, main pro Yes campaigner, is from, Kapelle, 65,4% voted no. In Urk, a Christian fishing village where the Prime Minister's Christian Democrat party usually gets over 30% of the vote, 91,6% voted no.

Prime Minister Balkenende said: 
 the people have spoken clearly. I am very disappointed. " 

However, he wanted other countries to continue to try to get a Yes vote for the constitution. This is flogging a dead horse.

Harry van Bommel of the Socialist Party said the no vote should mean the end of the neo-liberal economic policies of the European Union.

Many people say that now that the Dutch government lost the referendum, they should resign.

Against big odds

Similarly in many respects to the French vote, the Dutch No vote is basically a grass roots victory against enormous odds.

Supporters of a Yes vote have spent thirty times as much money as No vote supporters.

Most of this being taxpayers' money by the pro constitution Rightist Balkenende administration (allies of George W. Bush. According to pollsters, probably the most unpopular government in Dutch history with now under 20% support).

Like in France, the majority of official leaders of political parties represented in parliament supported a Yes vote.

The most important party in united opposition to the constitution is the Socialist Party: third party of The Netherlands in membership size (over 44.000), but with only 8 seats in a parliament of 150.

Jan Marijnissen, the popular Socialist Party leader, became ill, so he could not campaign. Another big handicap for the constitution opponents.

Also most media one sidedly propagated a Yes vote. They gave lots of space to people like Arend-Jan Boekestijn, known for his Rush Limbaugh style propaganda for the Iraq war because of these terrible atomic bombs which Saddam Hussein supposedly had, and now much at ease with constitutional proposals with mandatory higher military spending, but no similar stipulation for working people's benefits. People like that got lots more media space than critics.

In spite of these odds, like in France, opponents won.

As in France, most Social Democrat and Green voters voted No, contrary to their party leaders. As in France, the less well off a voter is, the more likely she or he is to vote no (in France, of blue collar voters, 80% voted no).

And the 70% no vote among Dutch students which I mentioned earlier would also confirm the French result of young voters being more likely to vote no.

More people voted in the referendum than in the European elections in The Netherlands last year: over 62%, while hardly over 30% voted at European elections.

In the Dutch city of Leiden, anarchist and other No voters watched the results together on a big TV screen, celebrating victory with bottles of champaign.

What voters said

Dutch TV 2 on 1 June interviewed people who went to vote in the European constitution referendum.

One of them was an active member of the PvdA, sister partij of British Labour, German SPD, etc. Though that party's leaders supported a yes vote, he would vote against.

He lived in Amersfoort city. There, there is a zoo. Dutch EU commissioner Ms Kroes wanted to ban government subsidies to that zoo, as she thought, in the spirit of the EU constitution, that, eg, zoos should be commercial businesses.

That, according to this PvdA activist, was an example of why one should be critical of European Union policy.

Another voter said: The United States constitution starts with: We, the people ... However, this EU constitution is not for the people, but for big businessmen and professional politicians.

Another voter was angry at government party VVD leader Van Aartsen. Van Aartsen had said, when the No vote won in France, that linked No voters in The Netherlands to French racist Le Pen.

That voter reacted: Well, is Mr Van Aartsen forgetting that in Italy, the neo-fascists support the proposed constitution?

To daily NRC, even Johan de Feijter, 31 year old adviser to the European Commission, said: I am voting against, as politicians use bad arguments to persuade people to vote yes.


June 2005


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