On this day June 1, 2005

In their first national referendum in over two hundred years, Dutch voters rejected the ratification of the proposed Constitution of the European Union.

The referendum was a consultative referendum that was held on 1 June 2005 to decide if the Netherlands would ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union.

According to a poll [1] by Maurice de Hond, 30 % of the Constitution’s opponents used the referendum as an opportunity to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the government, instead of confining their deliberations to the contents of the treaty that was put before them.

At the time of the referendum, the Netherlands’ centre-right coalition government, led by Jan Peter Balkenende, was suffering a period of unpopularity as it tried to push through cuts in public spending, and there was widespread disillusion with the country’s political elite.

Some matters relating to the European Union that motivated the “No” vote were also not strictly connected to the provisions of the Constitution. The debate over the accession of Turkey to the European Union, as well as countries of Eastern Europe, led to fears of an increase in immigration, or an outsourcing of jobs to new member states.

Furthermore, the Netherlands had not held a referendum on the euro, and amidst concern that its adoption had led to an increase in the cost of living (combined with Dutch citizens’ status as the largest net per capita contributors to the EU), around 30 % of the voters took the opportunity to “take revenge” on the political establishment for seeking to advance European integration in a manner that did not engage the public to the extent that it could have done.

A larger group of voters, however, voted “No” for reasons that were connected to the Constitution itself. 48 % thought the new Constitution was worse than the existing treaties, and 44 % cited the declining influence of the Netherlands in the EU, with the treaty as an important motivation. Linked to this was a fear of being dominated by the powerhouses of the European Union (particularly the United Kingdom, France and Germany).

The perception of an aggressive and ruthless style on the part of the “Yes” campaign also put off many. The Minister of Justice, Piet Hein Donner, warned that a rejection would raise the chances of war and stated that “the C in CDA [for ‘Christian’] implies that you vote in favour of the constitution.” The Minister for Economic Affairs, Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, said that “the lights would go off” in the case of a rejection and that The Netherlands would become “the Switzerland of Europe.”

The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy withdrew a controversial television broadcast, in which rejection was connected with the Holocaust, the genocide in Srebrenica and the terrorist attacks on March 11, 2004 in Madrid. This seriously damaged the “Yes” campaign.

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