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Europe

Press Review: A Dutch Coup de Grace

Newspapers across Europe on Thursday performed the last rites over the near lifeless body of the EU constitution, knocked to the ground by a one-two punch from French, and now Dutch voters.

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It's party time for Dutch eurosceptics

Dutch voters spurned the EU constitution with an overwhelming 61.6 percent voting "no", ignoring their leaders in a widespread revolt fed by fears of immigration and an increasingly powerful European bloc swamping their country's identity. It was an even bigger rejection than the French registered in a referendum three days earlier, when nearly 55 percent said "no" to a charter that was supposed to set the ground rules for an expanded European Union.

"If France's vote dealt the treaty a critical blow, Dutch have now delivered the coup de grace," said The Guardian newspaper in Britain. The Independent pronounced the treaty "dead and gone."

Likewise, in Spain. "Three days after the French rejection, the even clearer 'no' from the Dutch to the European constitution confirms that this long project is in its death throes," said the country's influential paper, El Pais.

"This second rejection confirms the breadth of the European crisis," warned the French daily Le Figaro.

To come into effect, the constitution must be ratified by all the 25 European Union member states. European leaders said the ratification process must go on, but none made clear how the charter could survive after being rebuffed by two founding members of the Union.

Dutch papers called on the country's political parties to "bridge the chasm" with the people." The result of this first national referendum is a slap in the face of the government and of a large majority of parliamentarians who have for weeks campaigned for the 'yes'," the Christian center daily Trouw said.

But some of the Dutch press also lamented the voters' decision. "This result, like the French 'no' is not good for Europe," bemoaned mass circulation The Telegraaf. "The voters have stepped on the brakes when stepping on the gas is necessary to make Europe count in the world," the paper said.

EU-Referendum Niederlande Passant auf Fahrrad

Speaking in tounges: the Dutch say "no" and want it understood all over the world.

In Germany, the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung blamed the complexity of the treaty itself and the quality of the Dutch "yes" campaign. "The referendum in the Netherlands showed how absurd it was to vote for a text that is nearly 500 pages long," said the Munich-based paper. "Unlike in France, many voters did not know which box to tick. A "yes, but" or an "apart from" would have been much better than a clear "yes" or "no," it said. "Unfortunately, the Dutch government failed to answer the arguments of euroskeptics. Its "yes" campaign came too late and was too vague."

The charter is now "pretty much a dead letter" according to the analysis in the International Herald Tribune. "That will have a great effect, stalling further European integration, making France unpopular elsewhere in the EU and possibly sending the euro, the common currency and a symbol of European unification, into a downward spiral."

In all the gloom, British papers found some reason for cheer, saying the Dutch rejection could offer Prime Minister Tony Blair's government a chance to guide the EU toward needed reform when it assumes the chairmanship of the rotating EU presidency on July 1. The Independent said Blair "has an opportunity to canvass, and even forge, a new consensus." Such a consensus would include reviving the most urgent though least controversial reforms in the treaty, which were the end to the rotating presidency and the appointment of a foreign minister, it said.

The conservative Daily Telegraph said Blair should take advantage of the "no" votes and have Britain "recover control over all those aspects of domestic policy which do not directly impact on the internal affairs of another member state. "These include taxation, industrial policy, social policy, asylum and immigration policy and employment law," the daily said.

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