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SP Senators set Premier stiff homework: 105 questions on the Lisbon Treaty

24 June 2008

SP Senators set Premier stiff homework: 105 questions on the Lisbon Treaty

The cabinet of Minister-President Jan Peter Balkenende hopes to organise a Dutch 'yes' to the Lisbon Treaty as speedily as possible. In Parliament's lower house on 18th June the government successfully pulled this off, but in the Senate not every political group is willing to see a repeat performance. The SP, for one, is refusing to rush into a decision. In the end, while the lower house is the main legislative chamber of the Dutch national parliament, the Senate is there to exercise surveillance over the quality of the legislation proposed.

In the introduction to a list of no fewer than 105 written questions presented today by the SP, the party's Senators note that Premier Balkenende and Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen signed the treaty as early as 13th December 2007, but that after that three months went by before it was brought before Parliament's lower house. The lower house then itself took three months to deal with the matter, and yet the Senate has been given only until the summer recess to do the same. That is why the first of the lengthy list of questions asks “Why the pressure from the government for the Senate to complete its part of the consideration in three weeks?”

In order to make it clear what the Senators – who in the Netherlands are part-time politicians who maintain their regular jobs and generally meet only once a week – must complete inside three weeks, you have to break the problem down. The proposal for a national law is only three pages long, but the treaty to which this law refers has in the Dutch version 271 pages, plus 146 pages of amendments, thirty-six protocols, twenty-six declarations and an extensive table of concordances. Because the treaty takes the form of a series of amendments and cross-references to the existing consolidated European Union treaty, all that it indicates is what will remain unchanged, what will disappear and what will be added following the rejection of the EU Constitution, which the Lisbon Treaty replaces. A truly monumental task. No easy-to-read, public-friendly version is available, although there is an information memo which itself stretches to 97 pages.

“Would it, all things considered, not be more responsible to grant the Senate a somewhat more reasonable term in which to deal with this?” reads question two. And question three follows this up with “what interest will be served by an overhasty ratification?”

The list continues with more than a hundred further questions, amongst which can be found these:
“Who in the government has read all of the protocols and declarations, fathomed them out and come to a judgement? And is this person prepared to submit to a brief quiz?”

The government wants per se to see the treaty ratified before the summer recess. But the Senate meets for the last time on 8th July. This means that the government, whatever happens in that short period of time, must give an answer to 105 written questions from the SP. And the SP's Senate group has already announced that if the answers are incomplete or unsatisfactory, supplementary questions will be put....

The exciting question is therefore whether and how Balkenende will fulfil this task in a satisfactory manner in so short a time.

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