| A Dutch voter makes his preference clear at The Hague. (AFP)
Amsterdam, June 1 (Reuters): The Dutch voted in a referendum on the EU’s constitution today with polls showing they will join the French in decisively rejecting the treaty, deepening a crisis in the bloc.
Sunny weather encouraged many people to cast their votes in the Netherlands’ first national referendum, but there was little sign the warmth had softened opposition to the constitution in one of the bloc’s six founding members.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s Centre-Right government and the Opposition Labour party campaigned for a “Yes” vote, but opinion polls pointed to a solid “No” majority, increasing since France shunned the charter three days ago.
Many Dutch feel short-changed by the introduction of the euro and are concerned about losing clout in an EU enlarged to 25 member states. They are particularly unhappy with being the biggest contributors per head to the EU’s multi-billion euro budget.
The unpopularity of Balkenende’s government ' over public spending cuts, slow growth and unease about immigration and security ' has also fuelled a “No” campaign spearheaded by Opposition parties from the Left and Right. “I will vote ‘No’. There is no reason to vote ‘Yes’. The economy has got a lot worse since the introduction of the euro,” said artist Ouechkin Andriei, 56, before voting in Amsterdam.
The treaty, designed to make decision-making easier after the bloc’s enlargement from 15 to 25 member states last year, needs the approval of all members to enter force. A Dutch “No” might prompt eurosceptic Britain to shelve its referendum.
A second rejection after France would deliver a heavy blow to EU leaders’ hopes of streamlining decisions in an expanded bloc and could further weigh on the euro , which fell to its lowest level against the dollar in more than seven months.
Dutch polling stations opened at 0530 GMT for the more than 12 million Dutch eligible to vote and will close at 1900 GMT, when a national exit poll is due. Interim results with about half the vote counted are due at around 2000 GMT, with a final outcome expected at 0000 GMT.
Gerard Drieman, a middle-aged man from Amsterdam, said he wanted to stall the EU’s expansion, which could take in Turkey. “This is an opportunity to stop it, or rather delay it, because we cannot really block it. They will do whatever they want,” he said after casting his “No” vote.
Pensioner Eddy Haighton joined the Prime Minister in voting “Yes” in Capelle aan den Ijssel, near Rotterdam:
“It will be a ‘No’ vote for all kinds of other reasons but not the real ones. Referendums are always a bad idea because people vote guided by emotions. They don’t want change.”