Just setting up in sunny Amsterdam, where I’ll work for a couple of weeks. In Brussels last week, the talk was all about whether Belgium would split, creating an independent Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, and a French-speaking nation in southern Wallonia. Why? Because three months after the general election, the political parties have failed to agree on a new, national government, and even an intervention by the King has failed – so far. So amid all the doom and gloom, it’s worth nothing that there’s visible support for the supposedly unloved Belgian state.
Like a patient undergoing aversion therapy, the European Union is painfully learning to kick the referendum habit. The Dutch government decided last Friday it would ratify the EU’s Reform Treaty without a referendum. The British and Danes intend to follow suit. Less well-known, at least outside France, is that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in Paris is thinking of joining the club – albeit from a different angle. They want to change a clause added to the French constitution in 2005 that requires a referendum to approve the entry of all would-be new EU member-states after Croatia, which is expected to join a few years from now.
The principle behind aversion therapy is pretty simple and not very nice. To suppress an undesirable habit, you make the patient associate it with unpleasant side effects. So, if you are the EU and you have a habit of holding referendums, you make sure the referendums go the wrong way.And that they certainly have, on several occasions between 1992 and 2005. Aaarghh! Can you feel the benefits already?