Wednesday, May 25, 2005

France: Non; Holland: Nee; Why? The EU Constitutional Referenda

Some commentators, looking at the prospect of a non and a nee in the French and Dutch referenda on the proposed EU Constitution, have argued that voters are expressing dissatisfaction with their own governments, rather than with the draft constitutional document.
This is quite untrue. Of course, in the sense that everything national governments do is bound up with EU institutions and legislation, voters will tend to see the EU through the prism of national concerns.

But French and Dutch voters are not deciding which way to vote purely on the basis of anti-government protest, and to say so is an insult to their intelligence and to the democratic process. This is particularly clear in Holland.

In Holland, the potential nee voters are emphatically not blinded by hatred of their own government. Dutch voters can see that the proposed EU constitution is designed to shore up existing EU institutions. These institutions, to put it mildly, aren't working particularly well. Certainly not when evaluated against the interests of Holland. Overall, it is clear that these institutions should be reformed, not perpetuated in their present form.

Overall, the Dutch have always felt much more warmth towards Britain and the USA than, say, to Germany and France. Holland, like Britain, has always been a mercantile seafaring nation which looks outwards across the oceans, rather than inwards within the continent. Holland has been occupied by a succession of Great European Powers in the past. She has had to fend off the Spanish Inquisition, the French in the shape of both Louis XIV and Napoleon , and the German Nazis. This has induced a certain cynicism about grands projets and master-plans emanating from some far-off European authority.

And it is more than coincidence that, in the struggle against these enemies, Holland has always fought alongside Britain, and, latterly, the USA.

This pattern continues in today's politics.

The mismanagement of the euro is just one example which has gone down badly in Holland. The Dutch guilder went in at a rate that undervalued it. Since then, to compound miscalculation with insult, big neighbours like Germany and France have repeatedly flouted the euro Stability Pact with impunity - so that the financial incontinence of other countries' finance ministers has had to be subsidised by the Dutch taxpayer.

The corruption that is endemic in Brussels is another factor that the financially proper Dutch resent, the more so as the EU institutions appear incapable of putting a stop to it. OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud office, is itself accused of fraud by the independent European ombudsman.

As the EU's biggest net per capita contributor, Holland has every right to demand a degree of financial propriety in how its taxes are spent. But there is no sign that EU insitutions are responsive to such concerns, and the proposed constitution will merely perpetuate the faulty institutions, not reform them.

Holland is broadly pro-Israel, unlike France and Germany, and the realisation that EU funds are being used to foment disgusting anti-semitic broadsides by Islamist preachers is profoundly shocking to them. Again, the lack of interest from the EU - in this case, the Communications Commissioner, Margot Wallström, who has ignored urgent requests for clarification - is seen as arrogant and detached.

The fact that the oui and ja campaigns are being funded by European taxpayers - whilst the non and nee campaigns receive no public money - is in itself a corruption of democratic practice that cries out to heaven to be rebuked. How dare the EU Commission feather-nest its own projects in this cosy, contemptuous, voter-excluding way!

The recent attempts by EU personnel and their governmental allies to paint rejection of their document as likely to lead to a new holocaust were so ham-fisted and inept, and have been so loudly lambasted, that the blog will pass over them in silence. But holocaust- and war-avoidance, desirable as they are, have absolutely nothing to do with this draft constitutional document, and it is deeply offensive to pretend that they do, or to imply that opponents of the document wish to destroy European civilisation.

The draft constitution has been seen for what it is - a dirigiste 1970s style statist construct which has the unique distinction of being equally unacceptable both to the leftist French socialists and the internationalist, market economy-minded Dutch, both of whom, rightly, see in it a diminution of their ability to govern themselves along democratic lines.

The only constitution that will be acceptable to these groups is one which is built on a far stronger basis of democracy and self-determination. It will probably need to limit, rather than extend, the competence of supranational institutions. Either way, it needs to built up from the bottom, not the top. That hasn't happened, and that is why so many people will be voting non and nee this coming week.

No comments: