festina lente
  sic orbis iter
hurry slowly *   thus the world goes backwards *

or EU wit a handbrake

failed to persuade
Hardly one hour after the estimated voting figures for the referendum on the European convention were met by real numbers - No 61,6% and Yes 38,4% - all three Dutch public television channels switched to some other program with no relation to this political landslide. No more commentary, no more debate, a lost case, better not talk about it anymore. This media silence told it all, the television interviews and debates just before the referendum were only meant: to make people vote 'yes' for the EU constitution, including some representation of 'no' voters to give the programs a fair and balanced outlook. Not only Dutch politicians had failed in persuading the nation to vote 'yes', also the medium of television had failed to exert its influence. In the preceding two weeks Dutch television screens had been filled - on any moment of the day - with an almost constant parade of politicians, trade union leaders, writers, artists, sports people, scientists, commentators and whatever other opinion makers, all voicing their conviction or mimicking their doubt. Would one have counted the number of Yes and No voters in these programs and noted the media time allotted to each of them, the percentages would have been the referendum outcome in reverse. No-voters did have access to television, but they were often marginalized by the traditional focus on authorities of most programs makers. With a 85% majority in parliament for the Yes-vote, who dared to publicly oppose the prime minister, members of the cabinet, or party leaders? Journalists do not have the guts to interrupt a member of the government when they evade critical remark from the audience. When some well founded critique by a professor in economics Arjo Klamer on European decision making was shunned by the prime minister, the television presentator happily started another subject and let Balkenende get away with it.

an unique opportunity to withold their mandate
At first the government thought that their own authority and access to 'free publicity' of newspapers, radio and television (releasing statements, arranging meetings and giving interviews) would be sufficient to make the nation vote 'yes' (in the government budget 200.000 Euro had been reserved for this "free" exercise). An 'independent referendum commission' had been set up by the parliament who had the task to reduce the fat constitution book with its 341 pages and 448 articles to a small and thin flyer of 18 pages, that would easily fit in all the letter boxes of the Netherlands, though many people claim never to have received it. When opinion polls brought to light that this did not work and instead a negative attitude toward the European Union was growing, time had run out to organize a thorough national information campaign on such a complicated matter. The last page of the somewhat neutral flyer of the referendum commission had a text in a blue cadre explaining what would happen when a member state would say 'no' to the treaty to ratify the constitution: "... the treaty will not come into force" (...) Probably new negotiations will take place about the content of the treaty" (p18 of the flyer). This closing sentence must have been read by many people, who by just skimming the text must have been alarmed by the notion of 'qualified majority' (giving bigger states a heavier vote than smaller ones), the possibility of imposed changes of national social security systems, and a common foreign policy in the realm of security and defense. It gave them some idea of the powers they were about to delegate for an indefinite time to a whole new class of almost untouchable faraway European bureaucrats. It made them realize that this was an unique opportunity to withhold their mandate to show their government the way to new negotiations, to another kind of treaty, another way of European union. Most surprising was the reaction of the prime minister who, once he understood that many people (rightfully) had concluded that new negotiations about the treaty would follow after a 'no', was constantly denying this option, saying that the Netherlands were in no position to re-negotiate and it was either 'yes' or face the consequences of becoming an European outcast.

2005 "Summary of the treaty to establish a constitution for Europe", cover and last page of the leaflet of the official referendum Commission, with in the blue cadre (badly readable also in the original) the question and answer what will happen when you say 'no'.

a public waste of public money
The tactics of 'free publicity' had proven to be insufficient so the government made available a special yes-campaign budget, colloquial called "het oorlogspotje" (little pot of war) with a few million Euros (amounts quoted vary between 1,5 to 3,5 million) to try and change the tide. More and more journalists, trade union leaders, former prime ministers, leaders of other countries and top functionaries of the European Union were mobilized to try and bridge the gulf between Dutch politicians and their electorate. In the last week before the referendum the government financed - with one million Euro - a European constitution quiz, "Wat Stem Ik?" (what do I vote?) produced by the commercial television station RTL4., with a disproportioned representation and time allocation of 'yes' and 'no' voters, and a series of manipulative questions to which people could react by sending in SMS votes through their mobile telephones. During the show popular presentator Reinaut Oerlemans could not evade some stinging questions on who financed the show and why they had chosen as a 'neutral commentator' a former European parliamentarian (Nel van Dijk) of the Dutch Green-Left party known for her pro constitution position. The whole show was a public waste of public money, when one takes in account its purpose to stimulate the 'yes' vote. So in a way, unwillingly, the government has been supporting the 'no' campaign by its clumsy and obvious propaganda methods for a 'yes'.

scattered and small initiatives
The official allocated budget for stimulating public participation in the referendum was initially 400.000 Euro but rose to just over one million to be divided between 'yes', 'no' and 'neutral' initiatives. Three hundred organizations and initiatives applied and 45 were selected (17 pro, 14 contra and 14 neutral, the ones that promised to organize debates with all views or stimulate voting as such). The money division was somewhat equal with the 'pro' getting just over four hundred thousand and the 'contra' just under this amount. In reality it meant that a whole range of scattered and small initiatives was let lose that could only reach a small part of the Dutch population. For instance the Socialist Party (SP) did get a meager 35.000 Euro for one of their leafletting 'no' actions, while the social democrat 'yes' campaign of the PVDA scored 46.000 Euro. The Liberal Party break-away populist politicians Wilders did get some money for leafletting against the Euro and Turkey, but, strange enough all the left over fractions of the Pim Fortuyn party failed to get a penny for their 'no' campaign.

those who will not live by the law...
The media campaign of the government had started off badly with the former Dutch ambassador of the European Union in Brussels Bot (meaning 'blunt' in Dutch), now Liberal Party (VVD) minister of foreign affairs, advising those voters who might be doubting, or vote no "out of cynicism", better not to go to the ballot box. Next came the minister of Justice Donner, trying to convince a meeting of his Christian party (CDA) that they should vote 'yes' if they did not want to endanger their future and face new wars, like the one in Yugoslavia. Another reference to the war in the Balkans could be found in a twenty seconds pro EU convention television clip of the Liberal party with an image of a hall full of coffins with the sign Srebernica, an opening sequence with a Holocaust image and a closing sequence of the bomb attack on the train in Madrid.

The complete (withdrawn) Liberal Party television clip has been posted on the internet by the people of "geen Stijl" (bad show) a 'weblog' that scrutinizes Ducth news. They organized an email complaint campaign with letters to the Ducth Television Advertisement Code Commission. Even before this commission could react, the Liberal Party withdrew the planned boradcast. Text of the four screen shots: Holocaust picture: "This never again! start of European collaboration 1952"; Srebenica picture: "The threat lies in wait! A better collaboration is needed"; Madrid picture: "A future with peace, safety and properity! One European constitution"; "jan Mulder, member of European parliament".*

This strong visual statement was not appreciated by the public and hasty withdrawn. For a while this doom and ruin argument lingered on in political speech: if you did not vote 'yes' the terrorists would get you; when Europe would not unite in a strong way greedy global players would outsmart us; when you did not vote for a free market the next generation would be no better than slaves; and so on.

Images of Charles Heston's 'The Ten Commandments' come to mind, with Moses confronting the sinners that worship the golden calf, showing them the two law tablets written by the finger of God: "you are not worthy to receive these ten commandments", "you shall drink bitter waters", "there is no freedom without the law"...

You see the prime minister confronting the rejoicing 'no' crowd indulging in their crooked wickedness, throwing the law tablets at them and shouting: "those who will not live by the law shall die by the law", after which the ground splits open and a hellish fire swallows all the sinners that failed to come over to his side.

This comparison fits and does not make sense at the same time, because is the Euro not the new golden calf and has Giscard d'Estaing been the finger of God, and do those who live by the ten commandments need 448 new articles to be on the right side, and what about those who died in the flames, should we be sorry for them because they did not manage to take the right decision at the proper moment?

a Dutch cheat
The sudden need of the Dutch government and parliament to ask the citizens to cast a vote, either for or against a juridical document with hundreds of pages and articles, which is supposed to be some sort of European constitution, has bewildered many in the Netherlands. For five decades there has been a slow and gradual process of European economic unification - without any real consultation of the Dutch population on major decisions. Participation in European elections has been low, 30% in 1999 and 39% in 2004, which is far below the European Union average of around 50%. Dutch politicians like to boast about their leading and pioneering role in European integration, but in all those years they must have marched so fast that they lost sight of their rear-guard. So the Dutch who do not commute between The Hague, Brussels and Strassbourg started to ask questions: Why are we asked something now? Why where we not consulted before on more simple but essential subjects like the introduction of the Euro at the end of the previous century, as happened in some other EU countries? (though opinion polls of that time show that a majority of the Dutch would have voted for the introduction of the Euro). The rising of prices since the introduction of the Euro has been experienced by everyone and remains a constant topic, though this has systematically been denied by politicians, monetary specialist, and even the Dutch Consumer's Union. Those who protested were told that most of it was due to a rise of VAT and environmental taxes and normal forms of inflation. Still one of the main arguments for voting 'no' has been what many Dutch see as the undeniable negative effect of the introduction of the Euro. This opinion was strenghtened this last month by an interview with one of the directors of the Dutch National Bank in which he revealed that the Dutch guilder, at the moment of the introduction of the Euro, had been undervalued in the order of 5 to 10%. It did not help that some economists explained that this was necessary because of the Dutch export position and that such kind of 'slight' over- or under-validations would soon be leveled out by the working of internal and external markets. The major part of the Dutch felt cheated, wanted revenge. and the referendum on the European constitution was a chance to do something with their frustration, they changed it into a belated referendum on the Euro. This aversion against the European 'monetary union' easily spreads to the 'political union', as one is supposed to advance the other. The Euro is .the most important vehicle for the creation of the European Union..

geo-political world views
Macro economic and geo-political arguments came to the fore in a negative way in most of the government arguments for advancing and taking part in a new and strong supra-national European state. In their words 'economic super powers' in Asia and America are out there, trying to conquer the global market and us Europeans are left with no other choice than becoming a 'super power' ourselves. At no moment other possible visions have been proposed, like questioning the Chinese state and its lack of democracy, civil society, and hampering of labor union activity, all leading to exploitive ways of production which makes China such an unbeatable competitor. Neither has the United States with its wars as a propelling economic force been called into question. When one scans the full text of the proposed European constitution, not once will one find the word 'super-power' and in no way the EU is profiled as a strong fighter on an aggressive global market.. On the contrary, in 'article 3' EU "relations with the wider world" are sketched positively: "the Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests", immediately followed by a whole series of restraints and good intentions to counterbalance possible bad effects of European self-interests... "It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights...". One wonders which historical ghost are haunting the minds of our politicians, when they sketch their competitive world maps with 'the yellow danger' in the east and the 'dollar threat' in the west. All this seems to come from a similar mind-set as the world views of geo-politicians like Ratzel, Mackinder, Kjellen and Haushofer just a century ago, who saw a competition between maritime powers, Eurasian heartland and Pan-American, Pan-European and Pan-Russian zones of influence.

1934 "Europe wake up!", book cover of Pan-European movement initiated by count Coudenhove-Kalergi, (notice Switzerland as the center of Europe and Great Britain not being part of Europe)
1958 "Peninsula Europe", book cover of Cold War period that speaks of a "red-yellow tidal wave" and the need for Europe to unite (notice that Turkey is part of the red-yellow threat and Great Britain now belongs to Europe).

"If we don't want to fall behind Europe must integrate and unite!" has been, in all kind of variations, the most used argument of the pro-constitutionalist in the last weeks preceding the Dutch referendum.

to marrry free and fair
Maybe the Janus-head concept of 'free and fair trade', which is used several times in the text of the constitution, is the cause of much of the doubt and confusion on the part of the voters. "Free trade" which according to the constitution text will be realized by an "open market policy" that strives for "progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade" and favors "free and undistorted competition". "Fair trade" that will help to eradicate poverty, will create just working conditions and will give "consumers a fair share of the resulting benefits". It can hardly be true that both elements 'free' and 'fair' can be combined in one consistent policy. So which one will dominate? Can one do away will all forms of local, regional or national protectionism without any disadvantage for a particular sector of society that depends on it? What about relocation of production facilities within in the EU, from the West and North to cheaper labor areas in the less regulated states of Eastern Europe? Will and can that all be done in a 'fair' way? Or should one go for the argument that in this way these factories and other production facilities will at least remain within European bounds instead of resettling in India or China? French voters did not believe that their political establishment would be capable to marry the 'free and fair', so 55% voted 'non'. Dutch voters ignored their prime minister who tried to evade a repetition of such a vote by making the surprising public statement: "We Dutch know what we want"..., "We couldn't care less what the French have voted", and so the Dutch did, and added an extra 6 % to the French 'no' vote.

your members have something to explain to you
Today the Dutch cabinet has withdrawn its proposal to ratify the new European constitution, notwithstanding a 85% parliamentarian majority that would have voted for it. No minister, no party leader found it fit to draw personal consequences of this defeat. All political parties that had urged their members to vote for the constitution had a percentage of sixty to seventy that did not follow their advice, except for the small democrat party in the government coalition, D66, where more than half of the members followed the 'yes' vote advice of their leader. On the side of the 'no' vote parties, made up of the small Socialist Party, the orthodox Christian Party and the remnants of the right wing Pim Fortuyn list, seventy even up to ninety percent voted 'no'. It is not just the major part of the political parties that have to come to grasp with the opinion of their electorate, also the trade unions have something to explain to their membership as all the major unions advised to vote for the constitution.

fading national structures
What has changed since yesterday is the fact that 'no' voters are no longer marginalized as being stupid, ignorant, cynic or regressive. There are suggestions that one should try and listen to them, with the exception of some Brussels parliamentarians who still dared to say that many Dutch 'no' voters had not understood what the constitution was about. It is clear that the European project is a reality and will not disappear because of this referendum, but there is a strong sign that eagerness to speed up the process of centralizing European power has been recognized as a danger to many, that a more gradual process of change and integration is needed, be it a federation or confederation of European states or maybe in the long run these national structures may fade and be superceded by a Europe of regions.

Hurry slowly, festina lente has been the message of this referendum or in the words of the director of the main Dutch polling institution Maurice de Hond: the biggest group of Dutch no-voters are not Euro-sceptics, they want another form of European collaboration:

"a European Union with a handbrake".

Tjebbe van Tijen, Amsterdam 2 June 2005


These two emblems come from a digital version of an early seventeenth century political emblem book from the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel.
Titel: Emblemata Politica : In aula magna Curiæ Noribergensis depicta ; Quæ sacra Virtvtvm suggerunt Monita Prvdenter administrandi Fortiterqve defendendi Rempublicam / [depicta ... Petr. Iselburg glyptes. CIC ICC XVII.]. [Georg. Remus. D.]
Verfasser: Isselburg, Peter ; Remus, Georg *1561-1625*
Erschienen: [Nürnberg] : Iselburg, [1617]
Drucker: Isselburg, Peter
Umfang: [7], 32 Bl. : 32 Ill. (Kupferst.). ; 4
Fingerprint: emn- d.d, r:l. l,r. C 1617Q
Anmerkung: Bibliogr. Nachweis: Landwehr, 372
Georg Remus ist Textverf.
Fingerprint erstellt nach Ex. der HAB Wolfenbüttel
Vorlageform des Erscheinungsvermerks: Petrus Iselburg Excudit.
Turtle emblem =
Cancer emblem =