Stefan is a Dutch freelance journalist.
The Dutch referendum, 2 months on
In the Dutch referendum of April 7th, 61% of Dutch voters casted their votes against an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU. In theory this should lead to a rejection of the association agreement. However, things are looking dim for democracy as a repetition of the Dutch 2005 referendum, in which Dutch voters voted against a European Constitution that was eventually still implemented, seem imminent.
On April 6th Dutch voters voted against the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. About 61% of Dutch voters voted against a controversial agreement that has sparked the Euromaidain revolution in 2013. Although the results of the referendum were not binding the weeks leading up to the referendum saw intense campaigning and all parties promised to respect the results of the referendum.
In the Dutch law conserning the referendum it is written that the government is not obligated to follow the results of the elections. However the law does state that:
“ If [the referendum] concerns the approval of a treaty, than a decision will be made as quickly as possible if a proposal of law will be submitted that will only concern the withdrawl of the law or of approval of the initiative to cancel the agreement, in case of the treaty has already come into effect”(1)
Wih other words, the Dutch government can choose to ignore or to accept the treaty on which a referendum was held. But it has to make a decision as quickly as possible. This decision should only concern accepting or rejecting the treaty on which the referendum was held.
In a recent parliamentary debate, prime minister Rutte (pictured voting) however has stated that he will not choose to ignore the outcome of the referendum. Hence a ‘yes’ in favour of the treaty is out of the question. He however also doesn’t chooses a ‘no’, and thereby the government seems to violate the referendum law. Prime minister Rutte explained that if a ‘no’ is chosen, it will result that The Netherlands will be excluded from further talks on the Association Agreement on a European level. Hence, by not saying ‘no’ or ‘yes’ Rutte hopes, at least formally, to keep influence on the implementation of the agreement.
Furthermore prime minister Rutte has delayed a decision on the referendum. In front of parliament Rutte has explained this delay as follows:
“As soon as possible, why not the coming weeks? Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. And our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way, that is the 23rd of june. That has to be over with before people [In Brussels – SB] openly want to talk about this.”(2)
Hence a decision has been made to postphone a decision on the referendum. The reason for postphonement is that the timing is very inconventiant from a political point of view for the upcoming Brexit referendum.
However, both these decisions seems to violate the referendum law. Because, again, the law states that a decision has to be made as quickly as possible, solely dealing with the acceptance or rejecting of the treaty. Whether or not the decision of the Dutch government is unlawful is up to the court to Judge.
Rutte seems to violate the law because the only way to test whether a violation has taken place is by a decision of the court and this is exactly what is being done at the moment. After a failed resolution by parliament in order to force the Dutch government to take a position on the agreement, the organisation ‘Forum for Democracy’ has sued the Dutch state for not complying with the with referendum law.(3)
Whether or not a repetition of Dutch referendum of 2005 will occur, in which voters voted down a treaty they would eventually still get but with a different name, is to be seen. For now the next part of the game will be either played in court or after the Brexit referendum.
1 – http://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0036443/2015-07-01 – Art. 12 lid 3Of Art. 15 lid 2 – Betreft het een wet tot goedkeuring van een verdrag, dan wordt zo spoedig mogelijk beslist of een voorstel van wet zal worden ingediend dat uitsluitend strekt tot intrekking van de wet of tot goedkeuring van het voornemen tot opzegging van het verdrag, indien de binding aan het verdrag reeds is aangegaan.
“As soon as possible, why not the coming weeks? Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. And our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way, thatis the 23rd of june. That has to be over with before people openly want to talk about this. This does not mean that behind the sences nothing can take place. But the official conversations in Brussels can only lead to conclusions, and what us concerns, as quickly as possible after the 23rd of june.
Tot slot Voorzitter, zo spoedig mogelijk, waarom niet de komende weken? Om de Simpele reden er dat ook het VK referendum speelt. En onze politieke taxatie en ook de eerste signalen die we krijgen van onze Europese partners is dat we dat eerst weg willen hebben, dat is 23 juni. Dat moet eerst voorbij zijn voordat men openlijk hierover wil spreken. Dat betekend niet dat er achter de schermen niets kan gebeuren, maar het openlijke gesprek in Brussel hierover kan pas tot conclusies leiden en wat ons betreft heel snel na 23 juni.