Balkenende wants to push 'Lisbon' through the Senate

7 July 2008

Balkenende wants to push 'Lisbon' through the Senate

On 8th July, the last day before the summer recess, the Senate must pronounce judgement on the Treaty of Lisbon, the successor to the European Constitution, killed in action in 2005. Where the government and the lower house of Parliament granted each other three months to sort out the tangle of proposed amendments, protocols and declarations formulated last year in Lisbon, the Senate has been given just three short weeks to come up with a considered verdict. In order to make this possible, the government answered in absolute record time – within three days – two hundred detailed questions from the Senate. On the same day that these answers arrived, the Premier informed the Senate that a comparable number of questions over the Netherlands' involvement in the war in Iraq could be expected to take six (!) months. The Premier's extreme haste in the case of the Lisbon Treaty demonstrates how fearful he is now that doubts are growing all over Europe as to the direction and organisation of the European Union.

Tiny Kox by Tiny Kox, leader of the SP group in the Senate

Three years after the Dutch electorate blocked the European constitution, a majority of Dutch voters still have little confidence in the manner in which Premier Jan Peter Balkenende and his fellow heads of government are going about the business of organising European cooperation. The public sees 'Brussels' not as a protection, but much more as a threat, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on the eve of the French Presidency of the European Union. The recent Irish 'no' to the Lisbon Treaty demonstrates the gap between Brussels and the citizens of the member states. Elsewhere too, large groups of citizens see this Brussels as a threat to national democracy, social rights, privacy, even to peace and stability, now that the Lisbon Treaty is opening the door to making the EU into not only an economic and political, but a military union, one which can operate beyond its borders, and without the approval of the United Nations. The concerns of the Irish people are comparable to those of the Dutch, who also feel increasingly that a second referendum on Europe has been snatched away by the deal drawn up between Balkenende and Labour Party leader Wouter Bos, when they agreed to form a government together.

The Premier is aware of these views and he fears that the political barometer will at any moment swing, and begin to show a sensitivity to them. The supporters of many parties are ultimately sceptical about the Netherlands' policies with regard to Europe. That is why Balkenende wants to present us with a fait accompli, and why he is pressing the Senate, against its nature as the national constitution's 'chamber of reflection' to say 'yes' to the European treaty as quickly as possible.

The Dutch government's extreme haste stands in stark contrast to how things are elsewhere. The presidents of Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Ireland have all for different reasons let it be known that as things stand they will not be adding their signatures to the Lisbon Treaty. The German Federal President Horst Kohler has made his signing conditional on a decision of the German constitutional court in Karlsruhe as to whether the Lisbon Treaty is in conflict with the German Basic Law, the country's constitution. A decision is not expected until 2009, and Kohler’s signature will therefore be delayed until then. The Czech President Vaclav Klaus will not ratify it, because the treaty, following the Irish 'no', is, according to him, dead and can now be buried, and new negotiations must begin. In addition, in the Czech Republic too the treaty has been brought before the constitutional court. The Polish President Lech Kaczynski will not sign because he is counting on new negotiations, in which he hopes to win extra concessions for his country. The Irish President Mary McAleese is forbidden from ratifying the treaty by the Irish Constitution because she cannot sign any treaty rejected by the people in a referendum. Only a modified treaty, followed by a new referendum can give her any new room for manoeuvre, Whether such a referendum is achievable the Irish government cannot say. If a second Irish referendum is held, then Austria will hold one too, Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer has announced. He hopes that, by giving the Austrian people a voice in the development of Europe, he will be able to do something about the EU's unprecedentedly low level of popularity in his country.

Under Dutch constitutional relations, the head of state (in our case, the Queen), cannot refuse her signature if both houses of Parliament have approved ratification. That means that on 8th July the seventy-five members of the Senate will have the last word. My party will be advising other groups not to say 'yes' to the Treaty of Lisbon. Firstly, because as far as content goes it is as similar to the European Constitution, rejected by the Dutch electorate en masse, as are two peas in a pod. And secondly because the Treaty will, as a result of the Irish 'no', will in any case never come into force in this form and certainly not on the date envisaged. Why should we now bind ourselves to a text which is is certain will soon be renegotiated?

Through recent developments elsewhere in Europe we have been given time to think this through, so let's make a virtue of necessity. Our population is definitely in favour of European cooperation. But must this cooperation, in the spirit of 'Lisbon', remain centralist and market-fundamentalist? Or could it perhaps be primarily democratic and social? Let us put this question to the voters at the elections for the European Parliament on 4th June, 2009,

This article first appeared in the daily newspaper de Volkskrant of 7th July, 2008

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