Dutch voters fired a second shot to the heart of the European project Wednesday, rejecting the EU constitution only days after France did. The result plunges Europe deeper into a serious institutional crisis.
The size of the 'no' vote was bigger than expected
An exit poll released as soon as voting closed showed 63 percent of voters in the Netherlands had rejected the treaty, ignoring calls by most parties to support the text.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he was "disappointed" by the result but promised to honor the outcome. "It is a clear outcome. Of course I am very disappointed ... The government will respect the vote," he told reporters.
The stinging defeat, three days after nearly 55 percent of
people in France also voted it down, is a second, potentially fatal blow to a treaty backed by EU officials but viewed warily by much of the population.
"It is a clear 'no'," acknowledged Gerda Verburg, a parliamentary deputy in Balkenende's Christian Democrat party. "I understand some of the arguments of the "no" camp but it is a shame that we cannot continue with the constitution," she told Dutch NOS television.
Socialist Party supporters celebrate in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, June 1, 2005, after the announcement of preliminary results of the referendum on the proposed European Union constitution.
The exit poll by the Interview-NSS bureau for the national ANP news agency and Dutch public radio and television put the turnout at a very high 62 percent. Although the referendum is not binding on the government, it had pledged to respect the result if turnout was at least 30 percent.
The latest setback in another of the European Union's six
founding members deepens the crisis among EU leaders who say the treaty would streamline how the bloc is run and ensure long-term economic and social progress.
Balkenende said the process of ratifying the treaty should
continue in the rest of Europe "to know where each country stands." Leaders across the EU on Wednesday echoed that call.
In the wake of the French vote, media in euroskeptic Britain were already citing senior government sources reporting that London could call off its plans for a referendum. The constitution, which has already been ratified by nine
countries, aims to streamline decision-making in the bloc following its historic enlargement last year, when 10 mostly ex-communist countries joined.
In the Netherlands, analysts agreed the Dutch "no" vote was not a rejection of European integration but a warning about its pace, coupled with a sense of disillusionment with politics in general. "In the Netherlands, more than 40 percent of the people think that Europe is moving too fast with the euro and enlargement with eastern European countries followed by Turkey," said Maurice de Hond, director of one of the main polling institutes in the Netherlands.
The "no" vote against the treaty "is telling politicians: 'Stop
and listen to us," he said.
Balkenende sees no fallout
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende casts his vote in the referendum on the European constitution at a polling booth in Capelle aan den IJssel, Netherlands, Wednesday June 1, 2005.
Balkenende's center-right coalition has approval ratings of only 19 percent, but while heads have rolled in France where the prime minister was replaced after Sunday's defeat there, observers say there will be no political fallout in the Netherlands.
Here, it was the Dutch parliament that pushed for a referendum against the wishes of the government, which had wanted the assembly -- where more than 80 percent of lawmakers favor the treaty -- to decide.
Surveys also show that the Dutch fear a rapidly expanding EU could swallow up their nation and that focusing power in Brussels could eventually force the Dutch to revise liberal laws on cannabis, same-sex marriages and euthanasia.
"This is a free country here," Soraya, a prostitute in
Amsterdam's red light district told the AFP news agency, referring to legalized prostitution in the Netherlands. "We don't want Europe to come and change that."