Dutch Deliver Second Blow to EU Constitution

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - For the second time in a week, a European country's voters have delivered a resounding referendum defeat to the draft European Union constitution, deepening the crisis faced by the 25-nation bloc.

With most votes counted, around 62 percent of voters in the Netherlands have said "no" to the new constitution, with those in favor hovering just above 38 percent, according to figures available late Wednesday.

Although the vote is not legally binding, a "disappointed" Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said his government would respect the voters' decision.

But he also urged other European governments planning referendums to press ahead - a comment that will resonate particularly in Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair faces an electorate deeply divided over the European project.

Blair's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the two consecutive "no" votes "raises profound questions for all of us about the future direction of Europe."

The Dutch referendum came three days after voters in France rejected the constitution in a result widely attributed to antipathy towards the government, economic grievances, as well as concerns relating to an increasingly free market E.U.

The 55 percent "no" vote in France prompted President Jacques Chirac to reshuffle his government, replacing unpopular Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin.

In the Netherlands, leading "no" campaigners are calling for Balkenende to resign and for new elections to be held, although so far the Dutch leader has resisted.

Like the debate in France, Dutch voters have also been voicing concerns about a slow-moving economy. Other issues driving the "no" campaign in the Netherlands included worries about immigration and security, and concern about Brussels making decisions that could impact on liberal Dutch policies.

The draft constitution aims to streamline workings of a union that expanded from 15 to 25 members last year.

It also provides for a single E.U. foreign minister, and is meant to help facilitate the move towards a common foreign policy.

All 25 members are meant to ratify the new constitution by October next year.

So far, only Spain has done so by referendum, while another eight have ratified by simple parliamentary vote.

Other countries either planning a referendum or yet to decide include Britain, Poland, Luxembourg, Portugal, and the Czech Republic.
See Earlier Story:
French Gov't in Crisis After Voters Reject EU Constitution (May 31, 2005)

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow