The Dutch Follow Suit

The Netherlands has followed France's lead and rejected the EU Constitution.

Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected the European Union constitution Wednesday, the prime minister said, in what could be a knockout blow for the charter roundly defeated just days ago by France.

Less than an hour after the polls closed, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende conceded defeat in his campaign to ratify the constitution and said the government would respect the results of the overwhelmingly "no" vote on the referendum.

"Naturally, I'm very disappointed," he said in a televised statement.

An exit poll broadcast by state-financed NOS television said the constitution failed by a vote of 63 percent to 37 percent, an even worse defeat than the 55 percent "no" vote in France's referendum

Turnout was 62 percent, far exceeding even the most optimistic expectations and a reflection of the heated debate in recent days over an issue that has polarized Europeans. Dutch liberals worried a more united EU could weaken liberal social policies, while conservatives feared losing control of immigration.

Although the referendum was consultative, the high turnout and the decisive margin left no room for the Dutch parliament to turn its back on the people's verdict. The parliament meets Thursday to discuss the results.

The constitution was designed to further unify the 25-nation bloc and give it more clout on the world stage. But the draft document needs approval from all the nations to take effect in late 2006, and the "no" vote in both France and the Netherlands founding members of the bloc was a clear message European integration has gone awry.

With these two members rejecting the Constitution, it's as good as dead. This is a mixed result at best. Europe needed the free market reforms that the EU will someday provide it, this rejection continues the social welfare state for nations like France, the Netherlands, and Germany. That's not good for the global economy at all.

But the Constitution's defeat also maintains the sovereignty of these nations - not the diplomatic counter to the U.S. men like Chirac and Schroeder had wished their EU to be.

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