Dutch government warns of consequences of rejecting another EU treaty

The Netherlands's position in the European Union (EU) will be jeopardized if the country rejects another EU treaty, senior Dutch politicians have warned.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen and Minister for European Affairs Frans Timmermans both made the comments on Tuesday, almost two years after the Dutch vetoed the draft European constitutional treaty in a referendum, Dutch daily the Volkskrant reported Wednesday.

Timmermans told the press in The Hague that Dutch membership of the EU hangs in the balance if the Netherlands rejects a European treaty in a referendum once again.

He said a second "no" will raise the question of whether the Netherlands wants to continue with Europe or not. "A second round is the last round. There will not be another occasion to make changes to the treaty," he said.

Timmermans said the Netherlands should remain at the core of Europe and not retire to the sidelines.

Commenting on Timmermans' remarks, Foreign Minister Verhagen said: "He is right. If we say no once again, the consequence will be that the rest of Europe will move on and we will be left behind.The caravan moves on."

Dutch opposition parties dismissed the foreboding comments from Timmermans and Verhagen. In the run-up to the referendum in 2005 the cabinet also predicted that a rejection of the treaty would not bode well for the Netherlands.

The Dutch government has not yet decided whether a new treaty will be subject to a referendum.

EU leaders hope to reach a general consensus on a new treaty next month, which will replace the draft EU constitutional treaty. Germany, which holds the EU presidency, is pushing for a timetable which will ensure that a new treaty be approved by national parliaments in time for European elections in 2009.

The Netherlands, as well as France and Britain, wants to drop the treaty's name "constitution", the post of an EU foreign minister and the EU anthem and flag, to allay public fears that the treaty would create a European superstate and take away powers from national capitals.

The Czech Republic and Poland have voiced reservations about the constitutional treaty and want it scaled down.

However, the 18 of the 27 EU countries which have already ratified the constitution hope to retain as much of the original document as possible.

Timmermans said Tuesday that the Netherlands is willing to settle for decision-making by a majority instead of the right of veto in certain policy areas. But he would not specify which policy areas this should apply to.

Timmermans said he wants to collaborate closely with France and Britain on the new treaty. But he fears that the new French president Nicolas Sarkozy may be willing to sacrifice more than the Netherlands is.

"Sarkozy probably wants to be seen as a bridge builder and could then probably compromise quite a lot," Timmermans said.

The state secretary foresees serious problems if the EU fails to reach agreement on a new treaty during the next summit on June 21 and 22. "Then everyone will bring everything up for discussion, " he said.

From a tactical viewpoint, Timmermans also prefers that a new accord be reached under current EU president Germany.

If Germany fails to get a consensus among the member states by the end of its EU presidency, the country might see it as a major defeat and will start making extreme demands, Timmermans said.

Germany is a fervent proponent of the European constitutional treaty in its original form and this would spell trouble for the Netherlands. "I prefer the Germans as president than as a party," he said.

Source: Xinhua

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