Dutch voters fired a second shot to the heart of the European project, rejecting the first-ever EU constitution after a campaign that exposed deep divisions over the direction of the continent. An exit poll released as soon as voting closed showed more than 63% of voters had rejected the treaty, ignoring calls by all political parties to back the text.
In the Netherlands, analysts agreed the Dutch "no" vote was not a rejection of European integration but a warning about its pace, coupled with a sense of disillusionment with politics in general. The stinging defeat, three days after nearly 55% of people in France also voted it down, is a second, potentially fatal blow to a treaty cherished by EU officials but viewed warily by much of the population.
The latest setback in another of the European Union's six founding members deepens the crisis among EU leaders who say the treaty would harmonize how the bloc is run and ensure long-term economic and social progress. Although the referendum is not binding on the government, all the political parties had said they would respect the result if turnout reached at least 30%.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso warned any countries thinking of abandoning the treaty not to be so hasty. He said it "will not be wise" for EU leaders "to come with new initiatives or unilateral decisions that could make it more difficult to reach a consensus" at a June 16-17 summit. In the wake of the French vote, media in Britain were already citing senior government sources reporting that London could call off its plans for a referendum.
The constitution, which has already been ratified by nine countries, aims to streamline decision-making in the EU following its historic enlargement last year, when 10 mostly ex-communist countries joined.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005