Benschop backs voters’ right to block EU in referendums

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol 7, No.11, 15.3.01, p7
Publication Date 15/03/2001
Content Type

Date: 15/03/01

By Simon Taylor

DUTCH European affairs minister Dick Benschop is calling for citizens to be given the right to overturn major EU decisions.

In an interview with European Voice, Benschop said that people should be able to challenge laws decided by the EU institutions in order to improve the democratic legitimacy of the Union.

"It's a right for citizens to have Europe-wide referendums on decisions by European institutions," Benschop said.

The number-two at the Dutch foreign ministry, who will play a major role in drafting his country's official position on the future of Europe, said "corrective referendums" would introduce much-needed elements of direct democracy into the Union's policy-making process.

"We need brave steps," argued Benschop, who is also calling for the Commission president to be directly elected.

EU diplomats reacted with caution to his call, raising concern that Union law-making could get bogged down in legal challenges.

"You would have to be careful because you would not want the Union to become another Switzerland," said an EU constitutional expert, referring to Bern's need for popular votes on all major decisions.

Several member states allow referendums under their own law. But giving citizens the right to challenge major decisions taken by EU leaders would meet with opposition from countries concerned that controversial or strategic policies, such as the launch of the euro or eastward expansion, would be overturned by a sceptical or cautious public.

Last year Commissioner G√ľnter Verheugen provoked a wave of protest when he called for a public vote on the next enlargement, prompting accusations from candidate countries that he was looking for new ways to delay admitting new members.

Asked if EU citizens should be able to challenge all types of decisions - including, for example, admitting Turkey - Benschop said there should be referendums on any laws agreed by the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament.

But he cited tax policy as one area that could be excluded from legal challenge.

Benschop insisted that the debate about the shape of the EU should go beyond the the scope agreed at Nice. "We cannot and should not limit the agenda for the discussion on the future of Europe," he said, adding that bold measures were needed to improve the transparency of European institutions. He also called for an urgent debate on EU farm policy to tackle the challenges of world trade talks and enlargement. "If you started discussion in a year's time with the problems it would cause for enlargement and the WTO the mess it would make is incomparable," he warned.

Dutch European affairs minister Dick Benschop is calling for citizens to be given the right to overturn major EU decisions.

Subject Categories