Over four centuries ago, in 1581, several provinces in the Low Countries signed the Act of Abjuration (Plakkaat van Verlatinghe), a declaration of independence from decades of Spanish rule. This ushered in a period of unprecedented prosperity, when Amsterdam became one of the richest cities in the world, and a beacon of liberty and innovation. These United Provinces also formed the nucleus of today’s Dutch state, which ranks among the most prosperous and free in Europe.
The Netherlands continues to assert its place as a centre of international trade, and as the seat of global justice. In recent decades, however, the Dutch spirit of independence and enterprise has been undermined by the gradual encroachment of European integration.
First and foremost, European integration has occurred at the expense of Dutch democracy. Despite a clear “no” vote in the 2005 referendum on a European constitution, the EU proceeded to implement the same document in all but name: the Lisbon Treaty. Similarly, a clear majority of voters rejected Dutch participation in the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine last year. Once again, citizens were sidelined by their government and by Brussels. It is evident that, on a European scale, the preferences of Dutch voters are of little importance.
On March 15, the Netherlands goes to the polls in an historic election. Pollsters predict several new political movements will enter the Dutch parliament at the expense of traditional governing parties. Clearly, there is an appetite for new ideas.
Rather than fearing what divergence from the status quo could bring, Dutch voters appear to be ready for renewal. After decades of democratic erosion, many are seeking to regain control of their currency, their borders, and, most importantly, their democratic institutions. The spirit of 1581 is once again sweeping the nation.
This election is about far more than choosing between political parties on the ballot. It is about restoring the ability of Dutch people to chart their future. On March 15, voters need only ask themselves a single, key question: do you wish to govern yourselves, or do you wish to give that power away?