The Dutch referendum about democracy is not democratic

European Union flags fly in front of the European Commission headquarters in BrusselsThe referendum on the EU’s treaty with Ukraine is all about democracy, say its supporters. But by disenfranchising tens of thousands of European voters, Dutch democracy is being ill-served, writes editor Robin Pascoe.

Early next year, the Netherlands will hold a referendum on a key treaty between the European Union and Ukraine.

The result of the vote will not be binding on the government, but it will give an indication of the mood of the moment in the Netherlands with regard to the EU.

The treaty’s Eurosceptic opponents say it will not only cost a lot of money, but will extend Brussel’s powers even further and reduce the ability of elected politicians to monitor the EU’s activities.

It is a pity then that only Dutch nationals will be able to have their say on this important issue. The tens of thousands of European Union citizens who live in the Netherlands will, once again, be disenfranchised.

Open borders

The referendum might be about democracy and the enactment of democratic principles but it is not a democratic process in itself.

There are an estimated 400,000 non-Dutch EU nationals living in the Netherlands, of whom 75% are of working age, and therefore paying taxes. But we have no say about crucial decisions being taken by the Dutch government which directly affect us.

It is high time the political system was altered across Europe to make sure that European nationals who take advantage of their right to live and work in other countries do not end up being disenfranchised.


There are many cross-border issues which affect us directly, but on which we have no influence.

The Dutch government plans to increase the residency requirement to vote in local elections to seven years.

The Netherlands refuses to pay a cost of living increase to Europeans who built up state pension rights here and now live abroad.

The 50-year residency requirement for a full state pension – this is by far the longest of all member states – means you can live and work in the Netherlands for most of your life but not be paid the same pension as a Dutch national who has never worked.

The Netherlands does not allow EU residents to drive on driving licences issued by other member states, even though they are completely valid.

Pension rights, driving licences, the right to vote – these are everyday issues which affect tens of thousands of people.

Become Dutch

Of course, the one way to have a vote in the national and provincial elections is to become Dutch – which means in many cases giving up your original nationality.

So stop being French and become Dutch while you work, then retire to Spain and become Spanish. Nationality shopping is not the answer to voting rights in a global economy. Is this really what we are supposed to do to exercise our rights as taxpayers in the country we are living in?

No taxation without representation is an old slogan but still very valid in 2015. As taxpayers in the Netherlands we should have the same rights as Dutch taxpayers after we have lived here for, say, five years. Now that really would be worth holding a referendum about.

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