Referendums as Tyranny

THE HAGUE/BERLIN | | niederlande

THE HAGUE/BERLIN (Own report) - The possibility of invalidating the will of the majority is being considered, in view of today's EU referendum in the Netherlands, where the population will vote on the EU's Association Agreement with Ukraine. According to polls, the opponents of the agreement were still in the lead. This is even more significant, because the referendum's initiators see the referendum also as a vote against the EU and the EU oriented elites, who seem to be losing influence over public opinion also in the Netherlands. A subsequent referendum on the Euro, for example, cannot be ruled out. The EU Commission President's patronizing interventions in the Dutch debate, no longer have an effect. Proponents of the EU's association agreement are, therefore, using anti-Russia sentiments and threat scenarios to try to reach their goals, warning that a "No" would strengthen "Putin." The CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation points out that the referendum is non-binding and could be ignored by the government in The Hague. A negative outcome of the referendum could also possibly be nullified with a "technical solution." German media are debating the very principle of national referendums on EU issues, calling them a "minority tyranny."

Targeting EU Elites

The citizens of the Netherlands are voting in a referendum today on the EU's Association Agreement with Ukraine. The deal already had been approved last year by the Dutch parliament and, to a large extent, implemented since January 1. However, according to a provision introduced in the Netherlands on July 1, 2015, a referendum can re-evaluate legislation recently passed by parliament. Originally, this new provision was to counter the significantly increasing alienation from the political elites in a growing segment of the population ("disenchantment with politics"), which is accompanied by a loss of influence. In this case, however, the EU elites' central expansion project is being unexpectedly put into question. A rejection of the Association Agreement with Ukraine would have to be considered as a clear rejection of the entire German/EU policy toward Eastern Europe over the past few years. In fact, the referendum's initiators are pursuing even more ambitious goals. Being critical of the EU, they hope to mobilize the population not only against the association agreement but also against the alliance itself, and are already eyeing the possibility of subsequent referendums, for example against the Euro.[1]

Establishment Nervousness

In view of today's referendum, the EU's establishment has become increasingly nervous because, according to polls, the opponents of the association agreement are maintaining a clear lead. Already last year the threshold of 300,000 valid signatures needed to qualify for a referendum was largely surpassed, with 428,000 supporters. Opinion research institutes announced the "No" was clearly leading, with a 52 percent to a 36 percent "Yes," and a dwindling number of undecided. The establishment is particularly nervous because, it is, after all, not the first time that the Dutch population has rejected one of the EU elites' central projects. With a 61.5 percent "No" vote, the population had clearly rejected the EU Constitutional Treaty on June 1, 2005. The EU establishment was hoping that this time only a small segment of the population would be interested in the issue, missing the threshold of 30 percent for the validity of the referendum. But, this has been put into question by an intense debate on the issue.

Loss of Influence

The EU elites' loss of Influence over the population once again poses a problem. The establishment lacks the means of reliably influencing voters. Already in January, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned the Dutch citizens and insisted that it should be "well understood" that this question "extends far beyond the interests of the Netherlands." A rejection of the association agreement could lead to a "continental crisis."[2] However, rather than favorably change public opinion, Juncker's intervention provoked angry protests from the citizens. Even representatives of the governing parties had to admit that top-down meddling is counterproductive. Nevertheless, in early March, Juncker interfered again: "Knowing the good sense of the Dutch, I assume that they will vote 'Yes'," declared the EU Commission President.[3] In The Hague, it is not being ruled out that this sort of patronizing lecturing could further increase disgust with the EU's establishment and rather than insure a majority in favor of the association agreement, be more conducive to benefiting its opponents. This loss of influence affects also the Dutch EU-oriented parties. "The citizens do not believe us anymore," one party functionary complained.[4]

Resentment as an Instrument of Influence

To compensate for the establishment's loss of influence, those favoring the EU's Association Agreement with Ukraine are currently playing the anti-Russia card. Whoever rejects the agreement, strengthens "Putin," it is widely claimed. Anti-Russian sentiments and specters of ambiguous threat scenarios are used, in hopes of mobilizing and compelling the population to once again align itself with the establishment's political agenda. This technique of argumentation is beginning to take hold also in other EU member countries - including Germany. "Let's say Vladimir Putin would be interested in further exacerbating the controversy with the European Union," asked a recent news article in a German journal - couldn't he do it by initiating a referendum on the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine in the Netherlands?[5] Although the author must admit that there is "no evidence" that the referendum's initiators were influenced by Moscow, "however, even if the plot did not originate in Moscow," the article continues, "it is obviously playing into the Kremlin's hands."

Technical Solutions

In case these threats and the incitement of anti-Russian hostility prove insufficient to induce the Dutch population to vote "Yes," other considerations have long since been elaborated for dealing with a possible "No" vote. According to the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the referendum is "non-binding." "The Dutch government is not obligated to implement the results."[6] However, The Hague is advising the use of caution. "To declare already that we will not accept a "No" vote, would show an arrogance that we are unaccustomed to," Foreign Minister Bert Koenders was quoted to have said.[7] But a "technical solution," for example, a sort of "adjustment protocol." on the other hand, is, of course worth considering.[8] Besides, Brussels has experience with "technical solutions." Thus, following the negative referendum results in France (May 29, 2005) and the Netherlands (June 1, 2005), the aborted EU Constitution was minimally modified and re-introduced as the "Lisbon Treaty," albeit, this time, (except in Ireland) without referendums. Ireland's two negative referendums (June 7, 2001 - Treaty of Nice, and June 12, 2008 the Lisbon Treaty) were repeated (October 19, 2002 and October 2, 2009), following comprehensive indoctrination of the country's insubordinate citizenry. Both repetitions gave the desired results. The July 5, 2015 Greek referendum shows that it also poses no problem simply to invalidate the referendum results.

Festival of Political Folly

And yet German media has begun to challenge the fundamental idea of referendums on European policies. Maybe "the problem" lies "in the belief that more direct democracy is per se a good thing," according to a recent article in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung," but, that is not the case.[9] The author of this article, makes reference to an earlier article appearing in early March in the weekly, "Die Zeit," whose author alleges that referendums, such as the current vote in the Netherlands "can hardly be called democratic," only "a fraction of the European electorate will be able to cast a vote on matters concerning Europe as a whole." Therefore, this can "well be called a 'minority tyranny'."[10] The author, a professor of European Policy at Oxford, calls this a "festival of political folly."

[1] Thomas Kirchner: Referendum in den Niederlanden: Ein Tritt vors Schienbein der EU. www.sueddeutsche.de 03.04.2016.
[2] Thomas Kirchner: Eine Prüfung für Europa. www.sueddeutsche.de 12.01.2016.
[3] Juncker schließt Beitritt der Ukraine für Jahrzehnte aus. www.faz.net 03.03.2016.
[4] Oliver Morwinsky, Moritz Junginger: Referendum in den Niederlanden. Länderbericht der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, April 2016.
[5] Matthias Krupa: Maidan in Amsterdam. www.zeit.de 04.04.2016.
[6] Oliver Morwinsky, Moritz Junginger: Referendum in den Niederlanden. Länderbericht der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, April 2016.
[7] Michael Stabenow: Hoffen auf die Weisheit der Niederlande. www.faz.net 04.04.2016.
[8] Oliver Morwinsky, Moritz Junginger: Referendum in den Niederlanden. Länderbericht der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, April 2016.
[9] Thomas Kirchner: Referendum in den Niederlanden: Ein Tritt vors Schienbein der EU. www.sueddeutsche.de 03.04.2016.
[10] Jan Zielonka: Ein Festival politischer Dummheit. www.zeit.de 05.03.2016.