Voters in the Netherlands have overwhelmingly rejected the proposed EU Constitution. Nearly 62 percent of them (participation was around 62.8 percent of eligible voters) expressed their disapproval of the lengthy document.
The Dutch rejection comes four days after French voters also rejected the Constitution (See IJ Website May 30). It leaves European leaders in a quandary as to where they go from here, as there is little, if any, fall back position. The decisive rejection by two of the EU’s founding members may not have killed the Constitution outright, but it has been put into a deep coma.
As in France, the result will not have any immediate repercussions on the insurance industry, even though two of its biggest players, ING and Aegon, are Dutch. The main victim of the rejection has been the euro, which has seen its value fall to an 8-month low of around 1.23 to the dollar. This could actually have a positive effect on some of Europe’s struggling economies by making their goods and services cheaper.
While some of the same concerns that affected French voters also surfaced in Holland – widespread dissatisfaction with the governing center/right party, fear of excessive immigration, resentment of the Brussels bureaucrats who run the EU, a stagnant economy – the Dutch had other problems with the Constitution. There was a widespread impression that some of its provisions threatened Holland’s progressive social policies, which recognize same sex marriage, euthanasia, decriminalize the use of marijuana and generally favor personal freedoms over state interference.
The Dutch also feel that the introduction of the euro negatively affected their economy. There’s a widespread belief that the guilder was given a lower value than it should have had, and that as a result there has been a sharp increase in consumer prices and savings have been eroded.
The central theme, however, in both countries appears to be a rejection by the voters of the elitist tendencies they see in the EU. No matter how many arguments were put forth to support adoption of the Constitution, the fact remains that the people who actually hold power and make decisions that affect the community’s citizens are not responsible to the voters.
Any future accord – and Europe does really need one – will have to take this factor into account. An EU summit, known as the European Council, is scheduled to be held June 16-17 in Brussels. The main item on the agenda is the fate of the Constitution, which must be approved by all 25-member states before it becomes effective. As two of those states have emphatically rejected the document, it’s effectively a dead letter, even though Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, has indicated that the countries that haven’t yet decided on it should go ahead with the ratification procedures.
Despite the setbacks, however, the EU will continue to function, as the current treaties, laws and regulations remain in place. The rejection mainly affects Europe’s future direction. The impression that the EU moved too far too fast in taking in 10 new countries last year, with more on the horizon, including Turkey, has left EU citizens wondering to what extent they really want to cede the powers of their respective nations to the EU.
That question is not confined to France and the Netherlands. The rejections are an emphatic warning that Europe’s electorate needs to be consulted on future plans, including enlargement of the EU.
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