Friday, June 03, 2005

They took a leak...

The Netherlands have confirmed their autonomy: 62% out of 62% of the electorat who showed up at the poll stations last wednesday said 'neen' to the European Constitution (which is actually a treaty and not what is normally understood by 'constitution'). The Dutch are not alone in this: the French also refuted the constitutional treaty by 55%, and chances are that the Danish and maybe the British - if they get a chance - will also reject the proposal of a new European administrative order.

Personally I think that renewal of the European administration is an inevitabel necessity, if Europe is to compete with China and other Asian sleeping giants in the not too far away future. It is also quite naive to expect the US to protect Europe militarily and economically: that country has a huge deficit, its military power is waning - it can't even control Irak, and soon will be facing many problems inside its own boundaries. Moreover, remaining militarily dependent on the US almost unavoidably means getting involuntarily involved in its imperial adventurisme. In order to cope with these rapidly changing conditions, Europe shouuld invigorate itself and brace itself with an efficient and powerful administration.

Having said that, it is obvious that not only Europe needs to be refashioned, but that the Dutch political system needs to be thoroughly renovated as well. If 62% of the votership resoundingly rejects a proposal that has been supported by 80% of the members of parliament, including the major oppositional parties of Labour and the Green, and that has been actively campaigned for by government ministers and party leaders from allmost all established factions, then there is a problem. The problem is only aggravated by the insistent and persistent denial of the problem by those very same politicians: 'the vote was about Europe, and not about us' was about the most heard sound byte. Political leaders who had passionately campaigned for the Constitutional Treaty suddenly decried the speed, the scope, the costs and the notorious intransparency of 'Europe'. The prime minister, who had signed the Treaty and sent it to Parliament for ratification, promissed 'the day after the night before' that he would firmly represent the 'people's view' on Europe in Brussels. Nobody felt the urge to ask the prime minister to step down after this rather humiliating defeat. The parlementarian debate about the referendum can best be summarized by a popular Dutch phrase: 'ze deden een plas, en alles bleef zoals het was' ('they took a leak, and all remained the same..').

Major questions remain unanswered, and major problems remain unsolved. First of all, nobody seems to take any responsibility for Dutch European policy. All politicians agree that the vote was not 'about them'. But who else but them championed the European integration? One of the few issues on which there is a broad consensus among Dutch political parties of (almost) all denominations, 'Europe', was confronted with an even broader opposite consensus among the Dutch population. Instead of adopting the 'voice of the people', as practically all politicians who defended the European Constitution only two days ago, they should now go back to their voters and say: 'We've done our best, and we thought we did what was best for the future of the country, but you think otherwise. Let us know what it is that you want, and choose a new parliament'. That is, the most logical conclusion of thie unprecedented defeat would be new elections.

The most collateral damage of this referendum has been done to the credibility and legitimacy of the established political parties and their leaders, including Labour and GroenLinks. They, as well as the parties in power, should go back to the voters and ask for a new mandate. In new elections they could also advance their views on the future of Europe, so the voters would not only have the choice of either accepting a proposed constitution of rejecting it wholesalesly. On the basis of the outcome of new elections, parliament could even reconsider the ratification of the Treaty.
It is foreseeable that the political establishement, having choosen not to act upon the voters' massacre, will have to face doubts and questions from the far-right as well as from the far-left opposition about who they represent and with what authority they speak. It comes as no surprise that neither left or right wing oppositional party demanded new elections (apart from Wilders), because they know very well that in the coming two years the authority and legitimacy of the established parties will simply erode. In the near and foreseeable future, some major issue will occur in which the Titanic of the political establishement will meet its iceberg. The tide of populisme can only be contained if political leaders now have the courage to confront their voters.

Apart from the future of Europe, the future of the Dutch political system should also be an issue in upcoming elections. The referendum has made it clear once more, that the so-called 'representative democracy' no longer functions. The majority of the population no longer feels represented by the political parties, and the dismay and discontent of the voters is easily exploited by the negative rhetorics of radical parties at either side of the political spectrum. The leaders of the political establishment know nothing better to do than to embrace the newly discovered tool of the referendum: for every controversial of sensitive issue you call a plesbisciterian vote, and by respecting its outcome nobody will be able to accuse you of elitisme, arrogance, and paternalisme. If the outcome goes against your policy, you're even better off: you can show that you take the vox populi seriously! Responsability, leadership and long term policies are thus all thrown overboard into the vast but unpredictable sea of popular sentiments, grunges and fears, and in the end nobody will be accountable for the wreckage when the Titanic eventually hits its iceberg.

And how is our prime minister together with his minister of foreign affairs supposed to represent the Netherlands in European platforms in a remotely credible way? How can he be taken seriously by other heads of state and government if he proves to so flexible as to first defend the treaty (not eschewing references to WWII and Auschwitz) only to return at the conference tables to reject it as vehemently in the name of his people? Other leaders will certainly ask themselves on behalf of whom PJB is talking, and whether he will still say the same things tomorrow or next week? And how is he going to represent which part of the Dutch nation: can he still rely on a discredited majority in parliament, or should he consult with the winners of the referendum, the Socialist Party, the fundamentalist Christians, and - even worse - the self proclaimed populist hero Geert Wilders? Just to save our PM these embarrassing questions the leaders of the political establishment should have the decency to call for new elections.