The Belgian Parliament to nobody’s surprise has ratified the European Constitution. The Lower House followed the Senate’s endorsement with 118 votes in favour, 18 against and 1 abstention.
However, it is not over, not by a long chalk, let alone the shouting. The 18 votes against were those of Vlaams Belang (still called the Vlaams Blok by some news agencies). The point is that because of the 1993 constitutional reform the ratification has to be completed in the three regional parliaments.
The no camp has protested at the lack of any discussion in the country or even the media of the constitution and its implications, pointing to the different situation in France and the Netherlands. In both those countries, the extended discussion has led to a significant lead for the no side in the opinion polls.
Not surprisingly, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, has firmly announced that there was no point in any more discussion. Instead he reassured everyone that the effects of the Constitution
“… will not be as tangible as when the euro was introduced, or the borders suppressed”,not necessarily a useful argument.
Of the three regions, the one to watch is Flanders, where the Vlaams Belang has a majority. Verhofstadt himself is a Fleming, which is probably why he hates the Vlaams parties with a passionate hatred.
Meanwhile, over the border in the Netherlands, two opinion polls have put the no side well in the lead.
A poll for RTL television indicated 54% would vote No, with 27% voting Yes. A poll by Centerdata, also published on Thursday, showed 50.9% against the constitution and 28.6% for it.
Among all the various reasons produced by the political establishment to explain the seemingly incomprehensible Dutch attitude – fear of immigration, dislike of the government, dislike of integration that is going too fast – there are a couple of interesting comments by the Socialist MP Harry Van Bommell, one of the leaders of the No campaign.
He is adamant that an important consideration is the threat to the sovereignty of small countries like the Netherlands, presumably not exactly alleviated by President Chirac’s promise that the Constitution will strengthen Franco-German control.
But there is something else, and it ought to be taken into account by our own politicians:
“Mr Van Bommel also said Dutch people were being pushed towards a No vote because of the "ghost stories" being told by the government.Quite so. Enough to make the mildest of people annoyed.
"The justice minister has even said there is a chance of war in Europe if there is a No vote - referring to the break-up of the former republic of Yugoslavia.
"The people in this country sometimes are not completely informed about what is going on, but they are not stupid. They are angry at the government for the fact that they are insulting their intelligence."”