Dutch Senate approves scrapping advisory referendum

Ballot for the referendum on the Intelligence and Security Law, 21 March 2018
Ballot for the referendum on the Intelligence and Security Law, 21 March 2018Photo: Zachary Newmark / NL Times

A narrow majority in the Eerste Kamer, the Dutch Senate, voted in favor of abolishing the advisory referendum. Dutch parliament previously approved this measure, also with a narrow majority, and with that the referendum is officially scrapped.

In addition to the 38 senators of the four coalition parties, opposition party SGP also voted for scrapping the referendum, bringing the total votes to 40 senators for, 35 against, RTL Nieuws reports.  

In the Rutte III coalition agreement, the VVD, CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie decided to scrap the advisory referendum because it confused voters and did not bring "what was expected of it". Last year the Council of State warned that 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.

So far the Netherlands held two advisory referendums, one on a cooperation agreement between the European Union and Ukraine and one on the new Intelligence and Security Law. In both cases the majority of voters voted against, resulting in the government having to make changes to their plans in order to appease the concerns of the public. 

Of the four government parties, only the D66 was in favor of keeping the referendum. But in the end the entire D66 faction in the Eerste Kamer voted for abolishing it. According to chairman Hans Engels, there are too many problems with maintaining the referendum. "That is due to the non-binding character", he said before the vote.

D66 Minister Kasja Ollongren was responsible for the abolition as Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations. She is not melancholy about the referendum being abolished, despite her party having to change position, she said, according to the broadcaster. "We are together in the coalition and are keeping to the agreements", Ollongren said. According to her, the abolition was a "very careful process". "We are going to think about an instrument that works well." She called the advisory nature of the referendum a "major disadvantage".