The More the EU Changes, The More It Stays the Same
Americans have a saying: say hello to the new boss, same as the old boss. In the Netherlands we do not have such a cynical expression, but today I wish we did.
The EU countries have come up with a new treaty which is, in many ways, quite similar to the old treaty then called a 'Constitutional Treaty.' The main difference between the new and the old treaty is its name: the new EU treaty is not called a 'Constitution,' but merely a treaty.
Two years ago, some countries decided to organize a referendum to ask their people what they thought of the treaty. Both the French and the Dutch people were able to vote in favor or against it, but the results caught leaders by surprise. First the French rejected the Constitution, then the Dutch did the same. The loud and clear 'no' voiced by the French and the Dutch forced the different European leaders to go back to the drawing board. And this year they came up with a new plan.
The problem many people have with the new plan, however, is that it is too similar to the old one. Since most people voted against the old treaty, they are now inclined to vote against the new one, too. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende realizes this all too well and has, therefore, decided not to organize a referendum this time around. Naturally this decision has caused quite an outcry. The main opposition party, the Socialist Party (SP), asked the Prime Minister whether he would block a law from Parliament calling for such a referendum. Parliament can create laws, thus, the socialists hoped, they could very well be able to force PM Balkenende to do what he did not want to do.
The PvdA (Labor) was worried that the party would be split over the debate. If Parliament forced the government to organize a referendum, they reasoned, it would be quite possible that a major political firestorm would break out. The same would happen, they said, if a referendum wasn't organized. After a long and intensive debate, the PvdA decided that Balkenende was right and that a referendum is not necessary: a majority of the Dutch Labor party has decided not to support those who call for a referendum. This is the opposite of what the PvdA said during the campaign last year. One of their most important points was that if a new treaty was created, a new referendum should be organized because the Dutch people should have the last say on it. As usual in politics, priorities and principles seem to have changed once the PvdA got into a position of power.
In Britain, the situation is not much different. During the negotiations for the new treaty, the powerful countries of Europe were rolling over the floor with each other: they were all trying to be the most powerful country --and to get as much financial support as possible. The result of the battle between France and Britain is that France's Nicholas Sarkozy seems to be quite happy with the results of the negotiations earlier this year. The trading of horses has resulted in quite a good deal for the French. The EU will - if the treaty gets ratified by the member states - have a foreign policy chief (or High Representative of the EU), which would help the EU become "a decisive player in the global arena" as Sarkozy wants. Perhaps more importantly, Sarkozy got his way in regards to what kind of market Europe will have. I won't be "an internal market where competition is free and undistorted," but simply "an internal market." One wonders what kind of internal market the French President has in mind.
As said, Britons are not happy either: Britain's conservative leader David Cameron commented back in June that the new treaty looked remarkably similar to the old one. In response, former Prime Minister Tony Blair explained that some details had most certainly changed and, as an aside, that the calls for a referendum - which the British people want as well - are "absurd." His successor, Gordon Brown, shares Blair's views and stands behind the new treaty.
While the results of the new treaty have left France and Germany reasonably satisfied, Britain and the Netherlands are discontent. The wishes of the Dutch people have been ignored. It is my opinion that the Dutch were wrong to vote against the Constitutional treaty in 2005. I also believe that the new treaty is acceptable, and even commendable, and therefore should be approved. However, the Dutch government may very well have made a tragic mistake by asking the Dutch for their opinions in 2005, only to tell them to accept whatever is decided for them in 2007. Not only is it likely that the Dutch will turn against the EU even more - because they feel that they're not involved enough - it is also very likely that the PvdA will suffer tremendously whenever new elections are held.
As it is, the PvdA leaders have already been accused of having deceived the voters in 2006. The Laborites were already doing badly in the polls, but this decision is likely to make them do even worse. It is quite likely that the PvdA will become smaller than their main rival on the left, the SP, during the next elections. In other words, some argue that the PvdA has committed political suicide by choosing 'realism' over 'honesty and honor.' And that's bad news for every pro-EU politician and voter because the SP is a EU skeptic. If it were up to the Socialists, the Netherlands would pull out of the EU as soon as possible and close the borders to 'the evils' of capitalism, liberalism and the free market. Even worse from the perspective of a conservative liberal such as myself: it seems that the PvdA only agreed to support PM Balkenende if he was willing to make it more difficult for employers to fire (their) employees. Those who know a little about the Netherlands know that Dutch employers already have great difficulty firing their workers as it is; this policy will - in the long run - hurt innovation, discourage individuals to set up new companies, and discourage existing companies to hire more employers.
And so the decision not to organize a referendum has a tremendous impact: not only on the EU (in a positive way), but also on the political future of the Netherlands (negative), on this country's economy (negative), and on the future of the PvdA (negative for them, positive for me). The Laborites aren't just dedicated to blowing up their own party, they also seem to be dedicated to blowing up the country's economy.
Job well done.