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Saturday, 26 January 2013

A referendum on the European Union in The Netherlands and in other European countries? Let’s do it and give the European citizens a real chance to decide on their future.

Last Wednesday, 23 January, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom held his speech on the future of Great Britain in the European Union, in which he condemned the current democratic level of the European Union. Cameron stated that this democratic level should improve in the near future, if the European Union wanted to survive in its current form, thus including the British.

In order to improve the democratic level of the EU, Cameron aimed at reinforcing the power of the national parliaments in the member-states and retaining legislation and executive powers that have been transfered to the EU before. I disagreed with him on this topic:

Currently, the national parliament of Germany (“Der Bundestag”) and the constitutional court in Karlsruhe could decide over the future of the EU, through Germany’s veto. How democratic is that?!

The sad truth is that Europe’s future direction is decided upon by a few countries with a disproportionately large amount of influence: France, Germany, Italy and… the UK. If Cameron would not have messed up in December, 2011, he still would have had much influence. The relatively poor, “small” countries, like Greece, the Baltic states and the former Eastern Block countries (except for Poland) have the least influence, while they are at the same time the most dependent on the EU for their future.

I’m an advocate of the “one man, one vote” principle and I would like to have much more democratic influence on the European government bodies. The European Parliament is unfortunately a toothless tiger with too litle power.

The European Commission consists of too many (weak) politicians that are often appointed as a favor for their glorious past, not for their brilliant future. Or they are chosen, because they offend nobody with their personality.

One of the focal points of Cameron’s speech was the announcement of a national referendum on the British membership of the EU, to be held somewhere in 2017. A referendum ‘answering a simple question: Will the UK be in or out the European Union?!’

Last Wednesday, my advice to Cameron was: "if you want a referendum, be a man about it and do it at the shortest possible notice."

With this announcement, Cameron opened nothing less than a box of Pandora in The Netherlands. 

In the Dutch talkshow “Pauw en Witteman”, the fraction leader in parliament of the liberal-conservative VVD, MP Halbe Zijlstra, made something like the following statement: “a referendum on the membership of the EU?! No way, José… We tried that once in 2005 on the European Constitution and that turned into a disaster. We are not going to get burned twice”

Also the current chairman of the Euro-group, Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, replied that he didn’t like the idea of a referendum: “It won’t help us to move on”. So far for Dutch bravery…

However, that was of course not the end of the subject ‘referendum’. The more Dutch politicians try to ignore such a referendum – like a true elephant in the room -  the more people start to like the idea of it.

Today, besides the ‘usual suspects’, like politicians from far left and right and  columnists in the national newspapers, a group of high-profile professors was asking for such a referendum in The Netherlands. 

This group, featuring well-known pundits like Ewald Engelen, Thierry Baudet and Paul Cliteur, did so through an Op-Ed in the Dutch daily newspaper NRC. Here are the most important snips of this request for a Dutch referendum:

Our democratic, basic rights  are the product of centuries of contestation and mobilisation. On a national level this resulted in collective decision-making capabilities, which are funded in the constitutional state. These capabilities can count on democratic legitimacy among the Dutch people. This legitimacy lacks at a European level and will not be developed there, due to the irreconcilable differences in language, history and culture.

The result is that European integration will always be an elitist, technocratical project that can count on little enthusiasm among the population. If it just would be intergovernmental coordination – free trade, based on recognized rule – this would lead to little problems. However, due to the open borders, the rules for harmonization and the disastrous Euro-experiment, we are irrevocably forced into a political union. The path of ‘federalisation’ that Barroso and Van Rompuy pointed out last year, leaves little room for discussion.

We think that this federal path is undesirable and unusable, even dangerous. Our main complaint, however, is that it only should be chosen after a consultation of the Dutch citizens, due to the large consequences of such a decision for their future. How do the Dutch citizens look at the future of their own country. Do they want to lose their democratic influence and be assimilated by a European state, which denies us the possibility to take the fundamental decisions on our own future?.

If you believe these professors and pundits, the leaders of the European Union are like the Borg in Star Trek: they assimilate people and rob them from their most fundamental democratic rights. This sounds like a classical case of fearmongering.

The differences in language, history and culture between the European people are “irreconcilable”. Yeah right, if you look at things through such a lense, then:
  • People in Canada, the United States, Australia and New-Zealand could never have lived together, due to the irreconcilable differences, as they didn’t share the same language and culture and hardly the same history.
  • East- and West-Germany could have never reunited again, due to irreconcilable cultural differences. Just like North- and South Korea can never reunite in the hopefully not to distant future.
  • People from other countries could never live in a new country within Europe for the same reasons. 
I call this a nimby-culture (not in my backyard) from a flock of notorious scaredy-cats. Wake up and smell the coffee, guys.

The truth is that a generation is growing up and raising children within the Schengen-countries, that has never known the concept ‘borders’ in Europe. Their children never had other money than the Euro.

The Netherlands is a country so full of different people from different cultures, that children and youngsters would be confused when everybody would become lilly-white and only from Dutch parentage again!

So, to the scaredy-cat, fearmongering professors, I would say:

“Have the confidence that the European Union is a good concept; one that brought us peace and prosperity, friendship and even love with people all over Europe, in spite of its current undemocratic governance and its obvious flaws.

Accept that we are in a pessimistic time currently, with much negativism, mass lay-offs, high unemployment and people that are increasingly turning away from other countries and cultures, towards their own home-town and white-pickett fence. This is a time with soaring nationalism everywhere. A time in which people from other countries and cultures might seem scary and the thought of making friends in other countries may seem further away than ever.

Also accept that this will change again, when the social mood is improving and people regain more confidence in themselves and others. This social mood and economic crisis is a pendulum swing and it will swing the other way around in a number of years again. Don’t throw away what is good about the EU, but fight instead for what should be better in it”.

And to the scaredy-cat Dutch politicians:

“Bring up the darn referendum. You know that these professors are right, that the future of our country is decided within the future course of the EU. People have the right to decide on that themselves.

Trust the Dutch citizens in voting wisely. Don’t be so arrogant and self-fulfilled to think you know better what is best for the Dutch citizens than these citizens themselves. Don’t be afraid that they make the wrong decision on the European Union. 

But don’t wait too long with starting to lead the European Union on a real democratic basis in the future: one man one vote and much more direct influence for the European citizens. The people are worth it!

Personally, I don’t want to be governed by a bunch of mediocre European Commissioners, who were themselves chosen by a bunch of mediocre, national politicians from 27 countries. People, like PM Mark Rutte that don't know the meaning of the word "vision" and that think that political / economic panoramas for the future are something bad. 

People that did a history study, but mentally flunked at it, because they didn't understand one syllable of what they learned.

I want to choose really talented and dedicated people on the most important positions in Europe myself. I want to choose visionaries and emphatic people that I can be proud of. I am intelligent enough to do so. 

And if the Dutch and other European people will choose to leave the European Union after all, this will bring clarity in our political position too. Then you don’t have to beat about the bush anymore.”

Anyway, the EU will have my vote, in spite of its adolescent flaws and its current, undemocratic leadership. I believe in a prosperous future for Europe and its citizens…

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