Richard North, 09/04/2005  

Although the headline grabs attention – which is what it is supposed to do, after all – I am not sure it's right.

The line in question comes from The Independent today, over the by-line of Stephen Castle in Brussels, who claims that "yes" campaigners on the EU referendum in the Netherlands face a battle in their poll against massive apathy.

Despite an official campaign launch this week of the Netherlands' first referendum for two centuries, Castle writes, the constitution has inspired almost no debate. And, while polling evidence is mixed, an Interview-NSS/Nova survey suggests that 66 percent of voters would stay at home instead of casting a ballot.

That poll puts support for the treaty at 11 percent, as opposed to 8 percent against, although another Maurice De Hond/NOS poll suggests that 30 percent are in favour, 38 percent are against and 32 per cent don't know.

The results, however, suggest that something more than apathy is involved, the showing being equally compatibly with indifference – the population opting out of a project that they consider "belongs" to the political élites which, as in other member states, are in favour of the constitution.

If it is indifference, though, it is spreading. Lousewies van der Laan, deputy leader of the D66 social liberal party and a supporter of the constitution, is worried that "the government is doing nothing, the business community is doing nothing. Everybody is waiting for everybody else, which means there is no debate."

With some similarities to the UK therefore, the "no" campaign is getting a great deal of exposure. Says van der Laan, "They are well-organised and have lots of money, and the yes campaigners are lagging. Often if you can define the terms of a referendum, you tend to win it."

Interesting comment that last one. That is where we need to be.

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