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Harry van Bommel looks back at campaign against European Constitution

8 April 2008

Harry van Bommel looks back at campaign against European Constitution

Interview with Harry van Bommel by Ece Atikcan, Ph.D. Candidate at the McGill University,

What were the main issues raised in your campaign against the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) in 2005?
“The themes of our campaign were three-fold: loss of sovereignty, neoliberal market, and militarization.”

Could you explain what ‘loss of sovereignty’ means more specifically?
“We focused on losing veto rights, specifically small countries’ loss of veto power in
policy areas such as justice and home affairs.”

Was the public concerned about these issues? In other words, did these themes represent problematic issues in the society?
“Yes. The first argument, concerning loss of sovereignty, had a major impact. The second argument concerning the neoliberal market was also important. For instance, the services in public sector, specifically public housing was a problematic issue. Brussels interferes into this policy area due to the competition policy, and this decreases opportunities of cheap housing. This is very problematic for the poor. People could relate to that very much. There were similar concerns in the society regarding the public health, education and transportation spheres.”

Do you think the yes campaigners were effective?
“No. The yes camp did not really campaign. They were very late and arrogant. They thought that the public was pro-EU, but actually people never had a say before. We started to campaign half a year before the referendum.”

How effective were the yes camp’s arguments?
“They were not effective. They made a check-list. They always brought up the past. We argued that this was about the future of Europe, not the past.”

Was the ‘no’ vote a pure socialist no, or would you say that there was a populist tone as well?
“There was a basket of arguments. People sometimes have wrong reasons to come to the right conclusions. I never mentioned Turkey’s membership, but if that is somebody’s trigger to vote ‘no’, that is fine by me.”

How was your campaign budget formed? Did you receive any contribution from the state institutions?
“No. I had to campaign within my party first. At first, no one believed that a ‘no’ vote would be possible. Then I received funds from my own party, € 200.000.”

Even though there were significant socioeconomic problems in the society, the Labour Party remains in favour of the Constitution. Why do you think the Labour Party did not campaign against the Constitution?
“Labour Party has a long tradition of Euro-optimism. They believe that social and economic problems can be solved by Europe.”

Was there a significant change in the SP’s vote share in the 2006 general elections?
“Yes. In the 2006 general elections, the SP gained 14 seats (from 9 to 25).”

During your campaign, were you in touch with the civil society groups who were also
against the Constitution, such as the ‘Comité Grondwet Nee’?

“Yes.”

I am also interested in the transnational linkages among the no campaigners. Were you
in touch with your counterparts in France during your campaign?

“Yes. Actually I just came back from Ireland, I was helping them in their campaign against the Lisbon Treaty. They have a very similar situation there. And yes we worked together with the French communist party to set the agenda.”

Did you meet with them on a regular basis?
“Yes. We met on a weekly basis, we still do. After the referenda results, I have been there to discuss the results.”

I am not aware of any such transnational networking among the right-wing no campaigners. Have you noticed any such networks during the campaign?
“No. Because of the nationalist character, the nationalist agenda, there isn’t a similar network.”

During your campaign, were you in touch with the Trade Unions?
“Yes. They were not against the Constitution, they are related to the Labour Party.”

Do you think the media has paid sufficient attention to your campaign?
“Yes. I was on many channels, my friends said they got sick of my face.”

The Bolkestein Directive was a major component of the public debate on the Constitution in France. Did you use it here in the Netherlands as well?
“It was not as important here. I tried but it did not work too well.”

How about the Euro?
“The layman thinks it is important but it actually has nothing to do with the Constitution. For people, Euro and the Euroscepticism are closely linked. It was a major issue in that sense. But we did not use it in our campaign materials. Our leaflets had 10 points and the Euro was not one of them.”

Did you use any other concrete shortcuts in your campaign to mobilize people?
“The loss of sovereignty argument was major. We had some leaflets that showed a map of Europe without the Netherlands.”

Do you think the French ‘no’ affected the Dutch ‘no’?
“Yes. It takes guts to say ‘no’. The French ‘no’ raised awareness and showed people that they can say ‘no’ too.”

Do you think the logic can also go the other way round, meaning that once the French say ‘no’, the Constitution is dead anyway?
“My opinion is the first one, but you should investigate this, could be.”

Thank you very much!

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