Parliamentary ratification only

Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’

The EU strategy of the new Cabinet Balkenende-IV had to reconcile two seemingly contradictory objectives. First: to avoid the prospect of a second referendum on a new treaty and, thereby, potential isolation in the EU. Second: the need to address the gap between politics and electorate as regards the EU, which had emerged after the 2005 referendum. The above led the government to take a somewhat hybrid position in the treaty negotiations, focusing on the delivery of ‘safeguards’ against unwelcome EU influence.

During the negotiations, the Dutch government had emphasised the need for a stronger role for national parliaments in EU policy making, as well as a clear division of competences between the EU and the member states, obviously with the aim to demonstrate the competences of the latter. But the core argument in the treaty debates, as defended publicly ‘at home’ and in national parliament, were the alleged constitutional aspirations of the new treaty. Removing all constitutional references and state-like symbols (the EU’s flag, its anthem and the use of notions such as ‘minister’ and ‘EU law’) from the treaty, it was argued, would do justice to the concerns of the citizens as expressed in their rejection of the Constitutional Treaty. After the negotiations, the government could therefore herald the results and advocate the new treaty for doing right to many of these concerns. By effectively playing out its position as ‘demandeur’ during the negotiations, the government was able to present the Lisbon Treaty at home as fundamentally different from the 2004 Constitutional Treaty draft.

In September, a key report by the advisory Council of State ruled out the legal need for a referendum, since the new treaty was judged not to include "constitutional" elements. Sceptical opposition parties in parliament judged the changes as cosmetic, but when the Labour (PvdA) faction unexpectedly came out in favour of parliamentary ratification, the referendum issue could be effectively buried. This political manoeuvring led to critical reactions and debates in the media, but did not result in political damage for the coalition. The current timetable is to have parliamentary debates on the treaty around summer, so that formal ratification by both the Second and the First Chamber can take place in the fall. Parallel to this political process, the government will unfold its new EU communication strategy, which was issued in December. In the coming years, public debates, publicity campaigns, podcasts and structural attention for the EU in educational programmes will be actively facilitated and supported by the government, with the aim of enhancing public debate and knowledge of the EU in the Netherlands.

The installation of the Committee of the Wise at the European Council summit in December 2007 did not initiate much public or political discussion. Foreign Minister Verhagen stressed that the debate on the future of the EU should not be narrowed down to a selected group of ‘wise’,  whilst the odd critical reaction focused on the potential influence of this scenario exercise on the ongoing enlargement negotiations with Turkey.