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Registered: 07/26/04
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Liberal Dutch fear the new Europe
    #4150335 - 05/08/05 03:11 PM (13 years, 20 days ago)

Liberal Dutch fear the new Europe
May 09, 2005 - theaustralian.news.com

THE ancient Dutch town may have been the birthplace of the euro, but do not expect the burghers of Maastricht to show much enthusiasm these days for the currency of Europe, let alone its proposed constitution.

Far from it. On Great Canal Street, not far from the central square, they were seething in indignation last week at the prospect of European legislation infringing on tolerant Dutch laws if a European Union constitution is adopted.

"We have a Dutch law allowing us to sell all this in full freedom," said Abraham Beyl, 58, a sex shop proprietor, gesturing towards pornographic films, magazines and sex toys. "I am afraid that European law would be that much stricter."

The constitution might not say anything specific about sex shops, he acknowledged, but it could gradually oblige Holland to abandon liberal laws on pornography, prostitution and euthanasia.

The constitution, he warned, could also spell doom for "coffee shops" such as the Club 69 next door, in which cannabis is legally sold and consumed by satisfied-looking customers, including teenagers. "Holland would have to conform to its neighbours," said an assistant behind the counter. "Not the other way round."

A perceived threat to Holland's famous tolerance is by no means the only reason for Dutch hostility to the proposed constitution that will be put to a referendum on June 1. For a founding member of the EU, Holland is sounding distinctly Europhobic as inhabitants rail about maladministration in the Brussels bureaucracy, big price rises since the introduction of the euro, and about the possibility of European enlargement stretching to Turkey.

The last is a particularly sensitive issue. Hostility to Muslim immigrants has grown amid the perception that extremists are running amok in Dutch cities.

After the killing in 2002 of anti-immigrant politician Pim Fortuyn, filmmaker Theo van Gogh was slaughtered as he cycled along an Amsterdam street last November by an Islamist said to have practised the killing at home on a sheep.

Geert Wilders, another popular anti-immigration politician, was forced into hiding after threats from extremists that he was the next to be "beheaded".

Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister, has been roused to action, handing out copies of the constitution on the streets of the Hague in an attempt to persuade people that there is nothing to fear, at least from Europe.

Whereas the French appear to have stemmed the rise of the once dominant no campaign in their referendum on May 29, the Dutch are proving resistant.

According to the latest opinion poll, 52 per cent intend to vote "nee" to the constitution, which provides for an EU president, a foreign minister and an independent defence capability.

The Dutch referendum is not legally binding but the Christian Democrat-led coalition has promised to abide by the result if the turnout is 30 or higher, which polls suggest is likely.

In theory, a no vote by any country would put paid to the constitution, which must be approved by all 25 member states. Yet while EU officials chant a "no plan B" mantra, plans are being drafted in Brussels to create at least an EU foreign minister if France or Holland votes no.

The battle is not yet lost, however. Atzo Nicolai, Holland's European Affairs Minister, rejects concerns about the risk to liberal Dutch laws. "It is one of the most asked questions," he said last week. "I can explain to everybody, Don't worry. On the contrary. The constitution is very clear that these kind of things are national issues."

His words do not carry much weight in Maastricht, where the treaty that led to the euro zone was signed in 1992. "Excuse me for being a bit cynical," said Rino Sorano, a 30-year-old decorator, "but people round here have very little faith in politicians. They said the euro was a good thing."

He and other residents expressed deep nostalgia for the guilder, which was the Dutch currency until 2002. "Everybody earns much less nowadays," said Wendy Van de Leygraaf, 32, of the New Age Big Bud shop, purveyor of cannabis pipes, hallucinogenic mushrooms and "natural ecstasy pills. I've heard stories of people murdering their families because they cannot live on what they are earning."

In the sex shop next door, Beyl reached for a packet of condoms. "These cost E24 ($40)," he said, 'but before (2002) they always cost 24 guilders. So now they are almost twice as much. It is the producers who have taken advantage of the change of currencies to ramp up prices. It has made people very angry."

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