Last weekend I was approached by a young woman who was campaigning for a ‘No’ in the upcoming Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. Although her flyer contained mostly flawed arguments, she did tell me something sensible: “Whether you’re for or against, you should go out and vote.” At first, it was difficult to disagree with her. However, after I’ve seen all the cards on the table, it has become clear to me that I should not vote at all tomorrow.
To be honest, I was quite surprised by my own conclusion. I have always been critical of people who deliberately stay at home during elections. If you complain about politicians (as most Dutch people do) then you should use the most effective tool to make things better: your vote. Going one step further, I would say we have a duty towards past generations who fought and died for having this opportunity. Anyway, voting an sich seemed to be a predetermined choice, irrespective of for whom or what I should vote.
However, with the introduction of this particular consultative referendum things have changed. What is different about this referendum is that it’s actually not very democratic. This might sound contradictory but it’s true, in the following two ways. First, the technicalities of this referendum do not properly reflect ‘the will of the people’. Let’s assume precisely 30% of the eligible population will cast their vote (this is not a too unrealistic assumption since voter turnout predictions are low), and that just over half of them votes against the association agreement. Then about 15% of ‘the people’ will have decided to ditch something they know, presumably, very little about. Luckily we have national and European representatives who do, and will be able to make a more informed and less emotionally-charged decision.
Neither can I claim to know enough about the agreement to make a well-considered decision, which is the second reason why I will not vote in this case. Since it reduces the complex issue of EU-Ukraine cooperation to a simple yes-or-no-question, this referendum is an ill-chosen tool to formulate a proper decision. In fact, this referendum is not really about Ukraine anyway! The initiators of the referendum explicitly said they do not care about the association agreement with Ukraine. Instead, they want the Netherlands to leave the EU. If this is your real aim, fair enough, but don’t confuse people with dubious arguments about some specific geopolitical issue – and waste €40 million in the process.
I’m curious whether you agree with me and, if not, what you are planning to vote. Ironically, the intention of this blog is to encourage people to do something. Yet just for tomorrow, take a break.