Dutch political leaders are this week redoubling efforts to boost the Yes campaign for next month's referendum on Europe's constitutional treaty, as polls increasingly suggest voters will reject it.
Ministers have been forced to abandon plans for a short sharp campaign and instead have stepped up their efforts to win backing for the constitution after a series of opinion polls pointed to a widening lead for the No camp.
With just three weeks left until the vote, ministers plan a series of television and newspaper interviews amid criticism that mainstream politicians have not done enough to shore up support for the constitution, which aims to streamline and modernise the enlarged EU of 25 states.
In Brussels there has been growing dismay at the almost complete lack of a Yes campaign in the Netherlands. “I think it is more than likely they will say No,” said one gloomy EU commissioner.
A Dutch No vote on June 1 could prove fatal to the constitution, particularly if it comes on top of a French rejection in a referendum just three days earlier on May 29. But, in contrast to the fiery and high-profile campaign in France, the referendum has largely failed to capture public attention in the Netherlands.
Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, minister of economic affairs, told De Telegraaf newspaper in a story published on Tuesday that if the vote was lost “in the long run the lights will go out and we will lock our country out of Europe”.
A survey by pollster Maurice de Hond publicised on Saturday showed an increase from 40 to 42 per cent in support for the No side, while the Yes camp lost one point to 38 per cent. This result echoed previous surveys that put the No camp in the lead, although a government-commissioned poll last month gave a slender lead to the Yes camp.
The constitution must be ratified by all EU states. The Netherlands will go ahead with its referendum even if France rejects it. Diplomats in Brussels say it is impossible to predict what will happen in the event of a Dutch No vote. Smaller countries that have rejected an EU treaty in the past have been asked the question again in a second referendum, as happened in Ireland and Denmark.
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