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Minister Bot: "Europese Grondwet is dood en begraven" (en)

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot has said the EU constitution is "dead" for the Netherlands, rejecting EU leaders' recent pleas for a resuscitation of the charter.

After meeting his Austrian counterpart Ursula Plassnik in The Hague, Mr Bot stated on Wednesday (11 January) "we have discussed the constitution, which for the Netherlands is dead," according to press reports.

Austria, which currently holds the EU presidency, aims at a revival of the treaty, with its leader Wolfgang Schussel declaring on Monday "the constitution is not dead. It is in the middle of a ratification process."

But Mr Bot poured cold water over these hopes, reiterating that it is out of the question that the Netherlands will ratify the constitution.

Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected the text in a referendum in June last year, following a French "no" three days earlier - and the ratification of every single member state is necessary for the treaty to enter into force.

"No" forever?

Supporters of the constitution have drawn hope from the fact that technically, The Hague's refusal to ratify the treaty only applies to the current cabinet period, with parliamentary elections due in May 2007.

Talking to EUobserver on Tuesday, European communication commissioner Margot Wallström asked "is this a no forever or can it still be changed", hinting at a change of the Dutch and French political leadership next year, with France holding a 2007 presidential poll.

But Dutch insiders point out that it would be political suicide for any politician to raise the issue, even after the elections.

The Labour party led by Wouter Bos, which is tipped to win the poll, has become markedly more euro-critical following the constitution referendum.

No quick solutions

Mr Bot also said that "quick solutions" cannot save the constitution, nor can "cherry-picking" from the text.

The comment comes after concrete, though contradictory proposals from Berlin and France aimed at reviving parts or the entirety of the charter.

French president Jacques Chirac has urged closer co-operation in individual policy areas covered by the constitution, while German leader Angela Merkel has proposed attaching a declaration on the "social dimension of Europe" in a bid to save the charter in its entirety.

Lousewies van der Laan, a liberal Dutch parliamentarian and former member of the European Parliament, on Tuesday attacked Ms Merkel's constitutional drive, asking "what part of the no is it that you don't understand?"

Ms Van der Laan, who herself supports the constitution, termed Ms Merkel's and other proposals to resuscitate the constitution "deeply offensive to the people who said no", adding "this gives people the impression that they are not being taken seriously, that Europe is being constructed over their heads".

Wallstrom wants longer reflection time

Commissioner Wallstrom yesterday signalled the same concern, saying that attempts at "constitutional engineering" are "dangerous," arguing that Europe should take more time to listen to its citizens first.

According to the commissioner, the so-called reflection period, agreed by EU leaders last June after the French and Dutch referendums, should be extended and "ideally last until the next European Parliament elections" in 2009.

Until that time, no concrete efforts towards ratifying the constitution should be taken, she said.

Dutch subsidiarity initiative

The Dutch support the idea of a longer reflection period, and intend to use it for the further promotion of the idea of "subsidiarity", a Dutch official said.

The subsidiarity principle, enshrined in the EU treaty, states that the EU shall only take action when action at member state level is ineffective.

According to research, one key reason why the Dutch voted "no" to the constitution is that they believe the EU interferes too much in national politics.

The official hinted The Hague might put forward concrete proposals to better apply the principle as part of the reflection period.


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