Pro-European Dutch leader not 'afraid' to hold EU referendum
The spectre of a Dutch in-out referendum on EU membership was raised yesterday by the leader of the junior coalition party, Labour, igniting a fresh debate about austerity budget cuts and revealing clear differences with prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals.
In surprise comments – which some analysts have characterised as “Cameronitis” – Diederik Samsom said he would not be in the least “afraid” of holding a referendum because he was confident a clear majority in the Netherlands would vote to remain part of the European Union.
“If the question is a straight in or out of the EU, the majority, even the Socialists, will vote to remain inside,” said the staunchly pro-European Mr Samsom.
“In my opinion what will become clear is that the only people really in favour of leaving the union are Geert Wilders and the PVV , which is nothing new.”
Mr Samsom’s comments caused dismay in the ranks of his coalition partners, the Liberals, whose leader in parliament, Halbe Zijlstra, immediately slapped down talk of a referendum – recalling the country’s resounding rejection of an EU constitution in June 2005.
“We are not in favour of referendums and we are not in favour of a referendum on Europe,” Mr Zijlstra said. “This country had one in 2005. That was the first – and hopefully the last.”
Last night, Mr Wilders responded to Mr Samsom’s comments, saying his Freedom Party had no intention of launching a campaign for an in-out referendum.
He said he believed the run-up to the European Parliament elections in June 2014 would be a more appropriate time for a national debate on issues such as the austerity cuts which were being “forced” on the Netherlands by Brussels.