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Parliament's yes follows people's no

8 July 2008

Parliament's yes follows people's no

The Senate voted on Tuesday by a large majority to endorse the Lisbon Treaty, successor to the European Constitution rejected three years ago by the Dutch people. SP Senate leader Tiny Kox drew Premier Jan Peter Balkenende's attention to the contradiction between the parliamentary yes and the popular no of 2005, when two-thirds of the electorate voted against the European Constitution. "The two houses of Parliament form the elected representation of the Dutch people," said Senator Kox, "but the Dutch people feel on this point that they are not represented, That should cause you concern."

Tiny Kox According to Kox the treaty endorsed by Parliament is in a line of descent not only from the rejected European Constitution but from the Treaties of Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht. "In Maastricht, in 1991, the wrong path was chosen. Since then the European Union has demonstrated increasing signs of being a centralising and market-fundamentalist superstate in the making. That's something which the people of this country do not want. European cooperation is necessary, but in order to make Europe more social and more democratic. That demands a fundamentally different choice of policy. Because the Senate is unwilling to make such a choice, it will be up to the voters to correct this. They will have the opportunity to do so on 4th June 2009, when a new European Parliament is elected."

It remains far from certain whether the Treaty of Lisbon, though it may have been endorsed by the Dutch Parliament, will ever come into force. The Irish people have rejected the treaty in their referendum, and without Irish support the treaty is not going to work, a fact confirmed by Premier Balkenende during the Senate debate. Whether a second referendum will be held in Ireland is more the question. Because of this, the treaty must be amended in one way or another. If a second Irish referendum is indeed held, it seems very likely that in Austria, where on Monday the grand coalition government of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats fell over just this question, the people will be given the right to vote on the amended treaty as well. Referring to the fact that the PvdA had promised a referendum on the new treaty and then traded off this commitment during negotiations to form the coalition now governing the country, Senator Kox told PvdA (Labour) Senator Jean Eigeman that "In Austria, for the social democrats, a referendum was obviously worth more than a place in government; in the Netherlands a place in the government was worth more than a referendum."

The fact that the promise was abandoned under pressure from Premier Balkenende was a subject of great annoyance to much of Labour's support, but Balkenende denied it, claiming that "We took this decision after careful consideration." According to Kox, the whole of the Netherlands knows that the PvdA had backed down on this point. To Labour Secretary of State for Europe Frans Timmermans, who spent the whole debate looking for occasions to launch frontal attacks on the SP, Kox said, "Don't you ever ask yourself why the voters feel more and more at home with us when it comes to Europe?" Timmermans replied that he had not got the message over, but counted on the voters seeing well in advance that he was right and that the Lisbon Treaty represented a major step in the right direction. "Someone who has, ever since the Maastricht Treaty, been walking in the wrong direction shouldn't think that with one more step he can find himself going the right way," said Kox, proposing instead that consideration be given to a different European treaty. "Not a maxi-treaty such as this, or the European Constitution, but rather a short, clear mini-treaty, that doesn't emanate from 'Brussels' but which puts the protection of the interests of the citizens above all else."

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