The ‘no’-campaigners claimed a major victory, saying they won over the establishment. Saying they won because the Dutch people refused to be dictated by Brussels any longer.
Months later, the UK did the same. Brexit, by a Dutch liberal MEP perceived as Braccident, shocked the European establishment. The Dutch government and most politicians, nor a majority of the media, did not see the result of the United Kingdom actually leaving the European Union coming.
Across the board, with the exception of several populist parties, politicians and political parties are concerned. The European project is of vital importance for the open economy of the Netherlands. The European Union has brought stability and peace to a wrought continent. As a founding member of the Union, the Netherlands has always taken pride in the success. For the last two decades, the Netherlands has been a strong supporter of open trade within the Union and beyond, a fighter for our freedom and a supporter of our common interests. However, anti-EU sentiment has been growing steadily. With the global financial and economic crisis, that sentiment has gotten more traction. It got momentum, that resulted in the ‘no’ vote for the Ukraine-referendum and might continue into the general elections in March 2017. Anti-EU parties have sprung up, and together with Geert Wilders’ populist party for freedom might get a large share of the seats in the House of Representatives.
The motivation of the UK’s leave is unclear to the rest of Europe: is it purely anti-EU sentiment? Or is it a national political crisis? A vote against the establishment? Whatever the reason, a large part of Dutch (civil) society thinks leaving the Union is not an option. As a matter of fact, businesses and regions – especially Amsterdam – see the UK leaving the Union as a chance to change the EU from within to a better working Single Market, and with that, be a better area for new international businesses to settle.
When negotiations for the leave-procedure start, the Dutch political landscape will have possibly changed. With the general elections in March 2017, the government effectively goes into hibernation until a new coalition government is formed. Prime Minister Mark Rutte will keep his job and lead the Dutch delegation, together with Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders. It is likely the Dutch government will be harsh on the UK in the negotiations, while simultaneously preparing bilateral trade talks to cope with the loss of investment and trade due to the UK stepping out of the Single Market. Leaving the Union should have major consequences for Britain, while on the other hand the Dutch export market need the UK for their livelihood.