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Opinion

Opinion: Deceiving Dutch voters

Only a third of the Dutch voted in the refendum on Ukraine's closer association with the EU. Nevertheless, their "no" is a blow to Europe. But the referendum relied on a deception of the voters, says DW's Barbara Wesel.

This referendum was a malicious event. The outcome gives the impression that the majority of the Dutch are against an EU-Ukraine association treaty - and implicitly against the EU.

Referendum under false pretences

The organizers of the referendum have happily said it themselves: They asked the citizens a question on a foreign policy agreement and would construe the negative response as a rejection of Europe. The whole thing was done under false pretenses. Both the leader of the Dutch EU-skeptics, as well as figures from the "New Right" who support Geert Wilders, are celebrating and have achieved a goal: to flip Europe the finger.

In the process, they had resorted to all means of deceiving the voters. They said it was about an accession of Ukraine to the EU. They took advantage of possible dubious deals involving President Poroshenko to mislead citizens and even let rumors fly that the downing of Flight MH17 was perhaps caused by the Ukrainian and not the Russian side - the latter being welcomed with a warm hello from the Kremlin. Furthermore, they told people that democracy means letting them vote on any action of their government in Europe.

Arbitrary referendums destroy political capacity

Barbara Wesel

DW Brussels correspondent, Barbara Wesel

Because of this debacle, some commentators are describing all of the Dutch as Euroskeptics - something they just don't deserve. In fact, only one fifth of Dutch citizens said no to the Ukraine treaty. And many citizens said directly before the vote that they didn't really know what the referendum was about. The argument, therefore, that the nearly 70 percent of the electorate who didn't vote are to blame for the negative outcome is nonsense. Why should you take part in a referendum whose question you think is nonsense and whose goals you do not share?

This kind of voting always comes back with the familiar mix of popular discontent, political frustration, the feeling of a lack of influence and anger at the establishment - and indeed some real opposition to a Europe which is perceived as distant and strange. But that can't be changed single-handedly. A large organization of 28 member countries, which constantly negotiates difficult decisions and compromises, cannot ask its citizens every time. This is the meaning of parliamentary democracy: We must trust our governments in their decisions. And those in doubt simply shouldn't vote them in again.

Do Europeans really want to destroy Europe?

What makes this type of referendum so dangerous is that agitators can elicit just about any expression of opinion imaginable from the citizens - even an outcome that would harm the citizens' own interests. The Dutch are closely intertwined with Europe. Their wealth is based on trade and services in the internal market. If you ask them the straightforward question: Do you want to destroy the EU and sit, lonely and poor, within the confines of your small country, what would be the answer?

But now, in a great offensive, Europe must explain to people that there can be no going back to the past. The nostalgic glorification of the nation state only lives on because no one can remember how parochial, how poor, and how laborious life was before the European Union.

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