I hope the United Kingdom will vote to LEAVE the European Union on the 23rd of June.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to throw the UK out. What I hope is that after the UK’s departure, the EU may start to disintegrate and we may get rid altogether of this, in my opinion, totally undesirable political, economic and monetary union.
As a Dutch citizen, I consider that BREXIT would not only be best for the UK, but also for The Netherlands and, as a matter of fact, for all other countries in Europe.
I celebrated the Dutch NO in the referendum about the Constitutional Treaty in 2005. I wasn’t old enough to vote at the time, but I would certainly have voted NO if I could have. I have always been sceptical of European integration, especially of political union and the euro, and I considered the Constitutional Treaty was taking integration way too far.
This was, and still is, my opinion. This opinion was shared by 54.68% of the French and 61.5% of the Dutch.
As we know, the wish of the majority was not respected.
We know what happened. The Constitutional Treaty did not disappear.
After the NO, the Constitutional Treaty was revised by the European leaders, supposedly to do justice to the NO votes in France and The Netherlands, but no substantial changes to the treaty were made. Only its name changed; it was re-baptised as the Lisbon Treaty. The Dutch government considered that with these changes it wasn’t necessary to hold another referendum and pushed the treaty through parliament. The same happened in France.
Let me repeat myself just in case you didn’t get the point: 1) In a referendum, a majority of the people said NO to the treaty. 2) The name of the treaty was changed, but the treaty itself was not modified. 3) The treaty was adopted by Parliament, completely disrespecting the majority’s decision.
Do you think this is normal?
I was so appalled by this undemocratic ratification procedure of the Lisbon Treaty that I wrote a letter to the Dutch Prime Minister at the time, Mr. Jan Peter Balkenende. I wrote that I greatly admired him and that I had voted for him at the 2006 elections (I was old enough to vote then), but that I could not understand why he opposed a new referendum. By doing this, I said, he and his cabinet disrespected the outcome of the referendum.
After a month I received a letter back from Mr. Balkenende, in which he thanked me for writing to him, and explained that he was of the opinion that a new referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was not necessary because it was substantially different from the Constitutional Treaty. Specifically, in the Lisbon Treaty, the constitutional nature of the Constitutional Treaty had been eliminated.
I knew this to be a lie. The Lisbon Treaty was not substantially different from the Constitutional Treaty. Only the name changed.
Don’t take my word for it. Former French President and President of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which drafted the Constitutional Treaty, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing himself admitted there was no substantial difference between the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty. He publicly declared the following to the European Parliament: “The difference between the original Constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content. (…) In terms of content, the proposed institutional reforms – the only ones which mattered to the drafting Convention – are all to be found in the Treaty of Lisbon. They have merely been ordered differently and split up between previous treaties.”
So, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing recognized that the Constitutional Treaty was not substantially different from the Lisbon Treaty. Mr. Balkenende knew this, but told us the opposite.
In his letter to me, Mr. Balkenende also enclosed a copy of the transcript of the parliamentary debate about the decision not to hold a new referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. In this debate, he said, all opinions about the matter had been voiced. And that was it.
A decade later, I still can’t get my head around this. After an open debate in the Dutch House of Representatives, a majority of 150 Members of Parliament agreed that is was enough to change the name of the treaty and that the outcome of the referendum could be ignored. What they really said was, of course, different: they said that they had listened to the people and that the will of the people had been taken into account by the amendments to the treaty, which really were only cosmetic changes. The Senate rubberstamped the vote of the House of Representatives and none of the High Councils of State complained, nor did Her Majesty the Queen.
So much for transparency and accountability. So much for democracy.
I was very surprised that Mr Balkenende, a Christian-Democrat, did not honour his party’s name by behaving in such an undemocratic way. (The smaller conservative Christian parties in The Netherlands also say that the Christian-Democrats, aren’t behaving in a Christian way, but that’s a totally different debate.) It’s undemocratic to first call for a referendum and then to ignore the outcome of this referendum. No discussion possible.
I was even more surprised at the weak public debate that was sparked by this very unorthodox and undemocratic ratification procedure of the Lisbon Treaty. I expected generalized indignation in the media. Of course some people did voice their concerns, but I can’t remember there was a public outrage about this so evidently authoritarian imposition of a treaty the people had rejected. Overall, most opinion leaders just seemed so happy that European integration could move forward.
In his letter, Mr. Balkenende also emphasized that he was a believer in representative democracy, and that direct democracy is not really part of the Dutch constitutional framework. As a political scientist, I am aware of the debate about the pros and cons of direct democracy, but I found this argument very strange. This was not about preferring representative democracy over direct democracy. This was about openly and wilfully ignoring the will of the people!
In surprising honesty, Giscard d’Estaing also stated in his address to the European Parliament: “The proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary.”
Yes, that’s what he said. Referenda are a threat. That’s the real reason why the Dutch and French governments never organized a new referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
I can’t think of any moment in history where this has happened. Even in the worst dictatorships, it has never happened that the people are first consulted about a particular measure, and then when they say NO, the measure is imposed anyway.
But in the EU this is common practice.
It happened with the ratification referendum of the Lisbon treaty in Ireland in 2008. After voting NO, the Irish were bullied into organizing a new referendum the following year.
It happened again with the Greek bailout referendum in 2015. Although the people rejected the measure, it was imposed anyway, and even under much harsher conditions.
And it is happening yet again with the referendum about the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement that was held on April 6th in The Netherlands. 61% of the people rejected it but the Dutch government is holding back the execution of the decision of the people until after the British referendum, notwithstanding Article 15.2 of the Advisory Referendum Act, which says that execution should happen “as soon as possible.” A parliamentary motion to force the government to execute the law was rejected by the government parties. Prime Minister Mark Rutte declared publicly that 95% of the treaty is about trade, and that by executing the decision made by the people, this 95% would also be discarded. I don’t get it. The Dutch voters rejected the treaty, so why is Mr. Rutte implying that 95% can still come into force?
These examples just tell you everything about the nature, the anti-democratic nature, of the EU.
At any rate, it is fair to say that representative democracy is not working in European countries. The majority of the population is opposed to the European project, but somehow the representatives they elect almost always turn out to be overwhelmingly pro-European.
And when the people, through referenda, tell their political representatives to stop European integration, they are ignored. You can’t tell me this is right.
I have never voted for the Christian-Democrats again, and have only voted for (moderately) Eurosceptic parties ever since. I must confess I also sometimes decided not to vote, because I didn’t see it making any difference. What’s the point of voting if the outcomes of referenda are ignored and if the majority of MP’s always turn out to be incorrigible Europhiles?
At university, I denounced the undemocratic nature of the European project everywhere I could. I published opinion articles in newspapers and on weblogs. I challenged politicians, journalists and academics. Everywhere, I was ridiculed and I was labelled as an extremist, a nationalist and a reactionary. I am none of those things. But I cannot be silent about the unacceptable undemocratic nature of the EU.
I wonder whether it’s not really the EU supporters who are extremists. They are imposing treaties and brushing referenda aside.
I remember once, Mr. Frans Timmermans, who is now the Dutch European Commissioner but was then the Dutch Undersecretary of State for European Affairs, came to my university for a debate. He gave a very socialist speech about the benefits of the EU to counter global capitalism and neoliberalism. When given time for questions, I told him publicly what I thought about the whole European integration process, and asked him when this madness would stop. He pushed all my concerns aside and started to point out how good the EU has been for European peace and prosperity.
That was in 2007. It’s now 2016, and I don’t see this peace and prosperity. Looking at Islamic terrorism, an unmanageable refugee crisis, and the ever-growing contempt for democracy of the EU, it’s hard to see the peace. And the failing euro, absent economic growth, rising unemployment and the combined housing, banking and debt crises, can hardly be considered as prosperity.
In the meantime, the European institutions continue to behave as undemocratically as always, and demand more power (and less accountability) to solve these issues. But the answer to the problems cannot be more EU. It’s getting rid of the EU altogether. Can’t anyone see the EU is making things worse?
Don’t let anyone mislead you about the economic and political benefits of being part of the EU. The EU is in crisis, the euro is in crisis and the whole system is falling apart.
There is perhaps one positive thing about the Lisbon Treaty. It explicitly includes the possibility for a member state of the EU to leave the Union. Now the UK has the opportunity to deliver itself from this paralyzing yoke. The 23rd of June is truly the single most important event in the political history of this century. As a Dutchman, I call on all Britons to vote LEAVE, and contribute to the dismantling of the European project.
I lost faith in politics and in democracy. If the LEAVE camp wins, I may believe again.