- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

WOERDEN, Netherlands — Almost the entire Dutch political establishment fanned out across the Netherlands yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to prevent a landslide ?no? vote against the draft constitution for the European Union.

Government ministers, members of parliament and other supporters hit the streets shortly after dawn, handing out leaflets, pressing the flesh and trying to persuade waverers before today’s referendum, held three days after the ?no? vote in France.

Last-minute polls conducted yesterday suggested the effort was having little effect. One survey showed the ?no? vote at 59 percent, unchanged from a day earlier, while another had it at 54 percent.

At first light, Gerda Verburg, deputy parliamentary leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Party, was at the railway station in the rural town of Woerden.

Miss Verburg, 48, arrived on her bicycle, painted in the party’s lime green colors and decked out with its stickers. She cut a striking figure, tall and with a wide streak of white in her hair.

This might be a crisis, but it is still Dutch and therefore distinctly decorous. Miss Verburg seemed almost reluctant to accost commuters.

She also refused to be downcast by polls predicting a ?no? vote of about 59 percent, saying: ?There’s always hope, at least to discuss the issues and answer people’s questions.?

Voter after voter pledged to vote ?no,? denouncing Europe and dismissing Dutch politicians as liars.

Cherry Wijdenbosch, a singer, said she did not think that lawmakers would keep their word and abide by the result of the referendum, technically only a ?consultative? vote.

More than four-fifths of Dutch members of parliament say they support the EU constitution. Nonetheless, all major parties have pledged to heed the result of the referendum, as long as turnout exceeds 30 percent.

Hans Kinker, a banker, said he would vote ?no? because the European Union was ?going too quickly. We are a little country and it is not good to give that up.?

?We have enough problems of our own. It is not good to be transformed into one big Europe.?

Miss Wijdenbosch said it was time to pause and digest the addition of 10 countries last year, most of them poorer, ex-communist nations such as Poland and the Baltic states. ?What is so wrong with standing still for a few years, rather than rushing, rushing always?? she asked.

Arie Deelen, 20, a primary school teacher, said he was voting ?no? because Europe was becoming a ?melting pot? under the European Union.

?All countries are becoming the same; we are losing our language, our identity and our Dutch traditions, as all decisions are taken in Brussels,? he said.

Behind him, scores of residents rode sturdy Dutch bicycles down immaculate multilane cycle paths, against a backdrop of green trees, crowded cow pastures, church steeples and a windmill.

Miss Verburg said she could understand her constituents’ fears and anger.

The Netherlands has not held a referendum in its modern history, and integration into the European Union was agreed by successive governments, with almost no public debate.

?This is the first time we have discussed European developments,? Miss Verburg said.

In The Hague, the crisis had brought Gerrit Zalm, the finance minister, out to meet voters for the first time in the referendum campaign. He said the referendum had been ?an interesting experiment? but noted: ?With referendums, it is difficult to have a clear, rational vote on the issues.?

Earlier in the campaign, Mr. Zalm had raised eyebrows when he warned the Dutch that if they voted ?no? it would be ?lights out over Holland.?

Asked whether he stuck by that prediction, he smiled wanly.

?I teased my colleague, the minister for economic affairs, today,? he said. ?I told him I have already bought some candles.?

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