Referendums a threat to democracy: Dutch Council of State
The thoughtless use of referendums and other forms of "people's democracy" sooner or later undermines the functioning of the Dutch representative democracy and the rule of law, according to Piet Hein Donner, the vice president of the Netherlands most important advisory body the Council of State, in the Council's annual report, the Volkskrant reports.
Donner writes that he looks back on the past year "with a vague feeling of disquiet". "European integration, Atlantic safety, the democratic rule of law, the basis of the postwar government policy, is starting to show fault lines that became clearly visible in 2016", he writes. "Such developments are harbingers of larger shocks."
Politicians who organize referendums create false expectations among the voters, according to the Council of State. In practice the voters have less power than they believed and they thus have too high expectations of referendums. Last year the Ukraine referendum was held. While a majority of the 30 percent voter turnout voted against the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, that treaty will likely still be implemented. The Tweede Kamer, lower house of parliament, already agreed to the treaty after some compromises were included and the Senate is expected to agree next week. New referendums are already emerging, such as one about the European trade agreement with Canada, according to the Volkskrant.
According to the Council of State, politicians who want to organize referendums must realize tat it does not go well with the Dutch parliamentary system, in which elected representatives act on behalf of the population. Referendums take responsibility from the legislator and gives to the citizen, who not always knows and understands the Constitution and can not take that responsibility, Donner warns.
The rule of law is under pressure in the Netherlands and abroad, Donner writes. In Poland and Hungary the judiciary was reorganized after an election victory, which damages the independence of the judge. Election majorities are increasingly being used to achieve something the court should rule on, according to Donner. He fears that "legal relations" will give way to "power relations" if this continues.