Will the Dutch follow Britain out the door?


THE HAGUE: Britain’s vote to leave the EU has sent shockwaves across the Netherlands, a founding father of the European community, but despite a push by euroskeptics analysts say a “Nexit” referendum is unlikely soon, if ever.

“Now it is our turn,” trumpeted Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-Islam far-right Freedom Party (PVV), just after the results landed.

With Dutch MPs gearing up to debate this week the seismic impact of the Brexit vote, the fallout is set to dominate the political scene ahead of elections due in March.

How it is viewed in this small trading nation of 17 million people — which unlike Britain is part of the eurozone — may largely depend on the kind of deal the Brits get as they head out the door.

Wilders has promised to make a referendum on a “Nexit” a central plank of his party’s election campaign.

And he is already eyeing the premiership, with polls having consistently shown in recent months that the PVV could emerge the largest party in the 150-seat parliament, although not with a majority.

‘Dim chance’

“People don’t feel connected to a European commission or a council of men they don’t know… that they didn’t vote for,” Wilders told Agence France-Presse, insisting the Dutch people had a right to their say.

But holding a binding referendum would require a change in the Dutch constitution, and a two-thirds majority in both chambers of parliament — something that would take years to achieve.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who ardently called for Britain to stay, said Friday he believed there was little “interest” in a ballot on the EU.

Wilders vowed that if he is tasked with forming a coalition government, “I would govern with parties that would want such a referendum.”

But former Dutch diplomat Boudewijn van Eenennaam told AFP there was only a “very dim chance” of that happening as “at this stage all the other political parties are not prepared to work together with Mr Wilders.”

The Dutch have however already twice voted convincingly against the European project. More than 61 percent of the Dutch rejected the draft European constitution in 2005.

And in April this year, they dealt the EU a further blow by rejecting its cooperation treaty with Ukraine in a non-binding ballot pushed by grassroots euroskeptics.

At their heart though the Dutch people are basically pro-Europe, and “everyone realizes that their future is in the EU,” said Van Eenennaam, an expert with The Hague Institute for Global Justice think-tank.

“My strong conviction is that there is far from a majority who would like to have a referendum, and certainly not on whether to leave the European Union,” he said.

A la carte deal?

He pointed out that for Britain “as an island, it’s relatively easier to get out of the union” unlike The Netherlands which geographically is part of continental Europe.

Analyst Peter Van Ham said the Dutch mood would depend on whether EU leaders give the Brits a “kneecapping” for daring to leave, or decide to treat fairly a country “that twice saved them in two world wars.”

“If the UK gets a good deal, a kind of Switzerland deal, access to the markets, a pick-and-choose, a la carte kind of deal,” he said, then voters’ impressions that being out of the EU would be like “being North Korea would be less likely,” he told AFP.

After crisis talks in Berlin at the weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel there was “no reason to be nasty” in the exit negotiations.

But Van Ham, senior research fellow at the Clingendael think-tank, warned some “people in Brussels are true believers and the European project is very dear to them.”

They might feel it best to “put some pressure on the UK for a while in the hope that the ghost of euroskepticism will be defeated,” he said, adding “I don’t think” it will be.

A poll under the headline “Afraid of Nexit” by the leading conservative daily De Telegraaf Saturday appeared to show the Dutch remain wary of cutting loose from the EU.

People believed a Nexit “would be bad for our wallets. And without Europe, the Netherlands will have less presence on the world stage,” De Telegraaf wrote.

The survey of 1,000 people found if a vote were held today, a majority of Dutch people — 51 percent — would plump to stay in the EU with some 34 percent choosing to go. Some 13 percent were undecided. AFP



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