Dutch Europhiles seek late surge

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The Independent Online

Facing defeat in Wednesday's referendum on the European constitution, Dutch Euro-enthusiasts are pinning their hopes on a surprise "yes" vote in France today to give their flagging campaign an 11th-hour lift.

Facing defeat in Wednesday's referendum on the European constitution, Dutch Euro-enthusiasts are pinning their hopes on a surprise "yes" vote in France today to give their flagging campaign an 11th-hour lift.

Opinion polls suggest Dutch voters will deliver a clear rebuff to the EU. But Michiel van Hulten, campaign director of the umbrella group arguing for the constitution, said: "I think it will depend on France. If they vote 'yes' it will strengthen our vote. If they vote 'no' that will kill it off. But I think a 'yes' vote here is still possible."

A founder member of the EU, the Netherlands has a history of solid support for the pro-European cause, but has undergone an acute identity crisis since the murder of the maverick anti-immigration campaigner Pim Fortuyn and last year's slaying of the film-maker Theo van Gogh, a controversial critic of Islam.

EU officials know that a double rebuff from France and Holland this week would deliver a lethal blow to the constitution, which needs to be ratified by all 25 member states to come into force.

Issues dominating the campaign in the Netherlands include inflation after the introduction of the euro, the role of small countries in an enlarged EU and immigration. But Mr van Hulten believes that "the main phenomenon has been the complete distrust of politicians and the role they are playing".

Sitting on a bench in Delft's main square, Jan Hoezen emphasises the inflation created by the euro's introduction. "They said before that it would not be too expensive but most things cost more," he said. "We are a small country and, in the EU now, only the bigger countries will have a big say."

Across the square, Lennie Immers outlines similar worries, arguing: "I am not against a united Europe. What I am against is that small countries won't have a large say because they will not have a large enough population [under the new voting system]."

Supporters of the constitution were thin on the ground. Ruth Verhmeulen, running a charity stall, will back the treaty because of a clause that allows citizens to propose new laws if they can get one million signatures on a petition. "I believe in the good side of people," she said.

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