The funeral of a dream of the elites

Simon Jenkins on The Peasant Revolt in France and the Netherlands:

I remember a French embassy official during Britain’s last referendum on the EU in 1975 (when only the Shetlands voted no). He warned me that “France will be European as long as Europe is French”. When that ceased to apply, “France will dispense with Europe. It will destroy it”. Last week he was proved right. France embodies the nation as saboteur.

The Netherlands result seemed to require a different reading. At an informal seminar in a Concertgebouw cafe on Thursday, I heard a group of Dutch writers gasp at what their countrymen had done. A loyal European state that once viewed the EU as a bulwark of prosperity and security in a hostile world had voted a massive “nee”.

This outcome once seemed inconceivable. Every political party, every newspaper, every trade union, the entire Dutch establishment, had campaigned for yes. Over Amsterdam’s central square, the Dam, towers a royal palace filled with the emblems of world trade. Yet Holland had gone for what was in truth a chauvinist rebellion. Nor were there any fancy excuses. The pundits agreed that the people were voting not just against an unpopular prime minister but against the euro, immigration, the loss of the Dutch veto and Europe in general. This was new.

The Dutch government had tried to scare them into a yes. It used television footage of Auschwitz and Srebrenica to imply that a no vote meant war. It said that electricity would fail and lights would go out. The economics minister, Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst, took leave of his democratic senses and declared the referendum stupid because the Dutch people “are being allowed to vote on an issue they know nothing about”. The prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, pleaded with the electorate not to “humiliate me when I go to Brussels”, an invitation no red-blooded democrat could refuse.

Three years ago the Dutch gave their leaders a warning by flirting with the gay anti-establishment politician Pim Fortuyn, since dead. Now they let rip. As the columnist Leon de Winter remarked: “The Dutch people looked at what was on offer and immediately smelt a rat.” The referendum was “Pim Fortuyn part two”.

The Who’s Who of the Netherlands voted, pleaded, cajoled, and entreated unanimously for the EU Constitution. In response, the Dutch people turned out in a record 63%, and voted 62% against the Dutch elite from every walk of life. And they weren’t just the Crazy Dutch who voted no, since they were ratifying the stunning ten point defeat of the Constitution in France a few days earlier. The Constitution died on a Sunday; the funeral was held on Wednesday.

The metaphor is apt. The Euro-politicos are in a state of shock, proposing tinkering with this or that element of the document and its approval process (Economist); the Telegraph has put forward a proposal for a charter for an EU Commonwealth. Slow down. There will be plenty of time for those steps. As for now, it is important to get past denial. Doesn’t the Euro-budget fund grief counselors?

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