Dutch 'No' expected in EU vote - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6/1/05-AMSTERDAM, Netherlands

Dutch 'No' expected in EU vote

Voters in the Netherlands have rejected the proposed European Union constitution by 63 percent to 37 percent, according to an exit poll broadcast by Dutch NOS television.

The turnout in Wednesday's vote was 62 percent, exceeding all expectations, the state-financed broadcaster said.

The Dutch rejection is seen as a body blow to the 25-nation bloc after France voted "No" to the EU treaty on Sunday.

Polls closed at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT), with the first results coming in almost immediately.

"We had hoped for a neck-and-neck race (but) ... it looks as if it is going to be a 'No' vote," Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende voted at his local polling station near Rotterdam and quipped to reporters and photographers: "You did note correctly that that was a 'Yes' vote, right?"

The referendum is nonbinding, but Dutch leaders have pledged to accept the result if it was clear and turnout was more than 30 percent.

EU constitution supporters made their final appeal to Dutch voters on Tuesday, saying the charter would streamline decision-making in the European Union and create a single foreign minister to give Europe more sway in international affairs.

Balkenende and 80 percent of members of the Dutch parliament supported ratification. But with the French voting "No," the case for a Dutch "Yes" vote went from firm favorite to underdog.

Critics of the charter fear the Netherlands, with just 16.4 million people, will be engulfed by a superstate headquartered in Brussels and dominated by Germany, France and Britain.

Some voters said "No" to voice their discontent with an unpopular Dutch government.

Many are angry about price increases that followed the introduction of the euro in 2002, and some fear that Turkey will soon be admitted to the union, worsening tensions between Dutch Muslims and the non-Muslim majority.

The Dutch "No" will leave European leaders with no clear plan for how to proceed on the constitution, which was intended to ensure the enlarged EU runs smoothly. Ten nations joined the bloc last year.

Meanwhile, concerns that the charter is now close to death helped drive the euro down to seven-month lows against the dollar and unsettled stocks and bonds.

The Netherlands is one of the bloc's founding members and is a nation accustomed to saying yes -- on such matters as Amsterdam's infamous sex parlors and legalizing drugs.

But the murder almost seven months ago of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and the earlier killing of populist politician Pim Fortuyn prompted a major rethink in this once most liberal of countries.

A suspected Islamist militant is charged with Van Gogh's death. But the Dutch public appears to feel threatened and poised to rebel.

"The whole referendum is not about the constitution. It may be more about the ... euro. Some people are angry about that, so they will now vote for what they wanted to vote five years ago," says political analyst Maurice de Hond.

The outcome of the Netherlands vote will be watched almost as closely as the French rejection, which rocked Europe's political establishment.

It set off a shakeup in Paris, with Dominique de Villepin taking over as prime minister from Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

"The result raises profound questions for all of us about the future direction of Europe. About the challenges in the rest of the world and the ability of Europe to respond," British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said after the French vote.

After the French result, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was too soon to say if the UK would press ahead with a referendum of its own.

So far, nine countries have ratified the constitution: Austria, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia by votes of their parliaments; and Spain by a referendum.

Several countries have indicated their efforts to ratify the treaty will continue, in the hope that the French and Dutch remain the only members to shun the treaty by the time the process ends in October 2006.


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