Dutch Voters Follow French in Rejecting EU Constitution
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Another defeat today for the European Union Constitution. Voters in the Netherlands have soundly rejected it. Some 62 percent of the vote was no. Holland is the second nation to reject the constitution. Voters in France turned it down on Sunday. The two countries have been the main backers of European integration. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from The Hague, the results have thrown Europe's future into question.
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ANTHONY KUHN reporting:
At a tram stop outside the main train station, campaigners were still working the rush-hour crowds on polling day.
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Unidentified Man: (Singing) Exchange it all, so it...
KUHN: Dutch parliamentarian Lousewies van der Laan was making a last-ditch effort at getting people to vote yes. She says that an integrated Europe is needed to manage transnational problems.
Ms. LOUSEWIES VAN DER LAAN (Dutch Parliamentarian): Europe is now where America was 200 years ago, and all the arguments you've had about what should be done at federal level, what should be done at state level is precisely the arguments we're having now. What should be done at European level? What should we do in each country itself?
KUHN: Some Dutch voters didn't want to be seen as the first to strike down the new charter, but the French did that for them, so people here largely voted as they felt.
Ms. AHMIN ZELSA(ph): My name's Ahmin Zelsa. I'm a teacher. First of all, the euro came, and I think in the beginning we were happy about the euro. But later on we weren't that happy at all because everything got more and more expensive.
KUHN: Dutch voters feel the guilder was undervalued when the country switched to the euro. They're also unhappy that they pay the largest per-capita contributions to the EU even though they're not the wealthiest member state. Locals also discussed the constitution at the Plein, a central square ringed with cafes and government ministries.
Mr. ROBERT PLUKE(ph): Hi. I'm Robert. I'm Robert Pluke. I voted no, and the reason why is--I'm not against the European Union at all. It's a fact that's been coming for years, and it's not going away. Only I think now it's going too fast. We're now at a point that even politicians themselves don't know how to explain it to the normal people.
KUHN: Many Netherlands residents voiced concern about Turkey's potential accession to the EU. The country is still reconsidering its multicultural society in the wake of the assassination of two anti-immigration figures: politician Pim Fortuyn and filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The debate has pushed independent parliamentarian Geert Wilders into the spotlight. He's called for a five-year moratorium on immigration from non-Western countries, but he insists he's no xenophobe.
Mr. GEERT WILDERS (Parliamentarian): But the facts are that we have a lot of problems with non-Muslim immigrants and Muslims especially in Holland. If you look at the list of dependency on social schemes, if you look at criminal acts, if you look at domestic violence, they are all number one and two of all those lists.
KUHN: Dutch leaders were dismayed by their citizens' unprecedented show of opposition to the constitution. They thought they had a solid mandate to speed up integration into the EU. But Mendeltje van Keulen, an EU expert at the Clingendael Institute, says that the government made its case and asked people their opinions too late.
Ms. MENDELTJE VAN KEULEN (Clingendael Institute): Indeed, there was a consensus among political elites, but the general public only followed these elites, and there was no public debate about European integration in the first decades of integration.
KUHN: All major Dutch political parties backed the draft constitution. The referendum is not binding on the government, but today's unexpectedly high turnout of over 60 percent means the Dutch government will have to respect voters' wishes. European leaders will ponder their next move at a European Council meeting later this month. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, The Hague.
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