Dutch Voters Reject E.U. Constitution

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 1, 2005; 4:54 PM

THE HAGUE, June 1 -- Dutch voters resoundingly rejected the proposed European constitution on Wednesday, following the lead of France in blocking efforts to cede more political and economic authority to a European central government.

The Dutch people have spoken," said Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who lobbied for approval. "Of course, I'm very disappointed." He said the government would accept the results of the non-binding referendum and not try to override it.

Exit polls released shortly after the polls closed at 9 p.m. local time showed that voters rejected the European charter by a nearly two-thirds margin, with about 63 percent against the measure and 27 percent in favor. It was the first nationwide referendum in modern history in the Netherlands and turnout was heavy, with about 60 percent of registered voters casting ballots.

Like the French, many Dutch voters said in interviews that they were concerned the 25-member European Union had grown too much, too fast in recent years and that they feared giving more power to European bureaucrats in Brussels to regulate everyday life across the continent. Others characterized their displeasure as a protest vote against the Dutch government, which had lobbied for passage of the constitution.

"Europe is big now and that's a good thing," said Peer van der Wonde, a 52-year-old artist and furniture designer, shortly after he voted "no" at city hall in The Hague."But we have to be careful. In the last 10 years, the people in Brussels have tried to minimize the input of regular people in democratic decisions."

All 25 member nations of the European Union must ratify the constitution before it can take effect. Nine countries had approved the charter until Sunday, when France defeated the measure decisively in a national referendum, a devastating political setback that may force the EU to drop or rewrite the document. With the Dutch following suit, European leaders said they would convene in Brussels at a previously scheduled summit June 16-17 to decide what to do next.