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September 04, 2017

Dutch referendum: never again?

The Dutch political class was badly shaken by the consultative referendum which opposed ratification of the EU-Ukraine association agreement in April last year. The agreement still hasn't been ratified despite the European Council's attempt to accommodate the result of the referendum by attaching an interpretative declaration to the agreement, partly because the Dutch political parties are taking over five months already to form a government out of the parliament returned by the March general election. But one thing the four parties negotiating the next cabinet seem to agree on is the need to scrap the consultative referendum law. According to Telegraaf, Mark Rutte's VVD and the Christian parties CDA and CU are all in agreement. The left-liberal D66, which was a big advocate of the referendum law on the grounds of democratisation, is now dissatisfied with the way the referendum law has worked in practice. D66 would prefer referendums to be binding, which would at least give clarity about a vote's meaning, but there seems to be little chance that the reform will go in that direction.

Nevertheless, the delay in forming the next government may mean that another referendum will sneak in before the door is closed. A group of students from Amsterdam are calling for a referendum on a new wiretapping law, which is set to come into force on January 1st. The Dutch Council of State on Friday confirmed that the students have gathered the requisite 10,000 signatures which now gives them another six weeks to gather at least 300,000. If they succeed, there would have to be a referendum within six months. The wiretapping law will come into force on January 1st regardless, even though the referendum law provides that laws should be suspended when there's a referendum pending on them. The caretaker interior minister Ronald Plasterk from the PvdA argues that there is time pressure for the law to come into force due to the need to fight terrorism more effectively, and that the parliament supports this. 

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September 04, 2017

Why trade unions stay quiet on French labour reform

Françoise Fressoz wonders why the French unions are so calm about the labour law reform. A year ago, these sorts of proposals would have sealed the fate of a government. But under Emmanuel Macron, there is no united front of trade unions, the most effective weapon against any French government. The CGT is now alone among the unions in rallying against the reforms in September, supported by La France Insoumise. The FO will not participate and the CFDT prefers to protest in its own way later in October. And, at the same time, the reform proposals never went that far. 

How is this possible? Not only did Macron promise this reform on the campaign trail, and will push it through by presidential decree avoiding lengthy and loud debates in parliament. In their negotiations the government also sold to the unions that negotiating at the level of branches and companies could actually increase their influence. The FO is strong in the branches and the CFDT is well-placed to benefit from company-level negotiations. And the bonus is that, while the reform now gave the employers what they wanted, the unions have no reason to complain. One wonders who the real winners of the reform are, after all.

We also noted in the Greek press that the French labour reform foreshadows the visit of Macron in Athens. The Greeks had hoped to send a message of hope and support from France, but the labour reform law is the opposite of what Syriza wants to promote in Greece. The visit could thus easily end up in a PR disaster. But Tsipras still has high hopes for a good relationship to Macron as a way to find a counterbalance to the austerity messages from Berlin. 

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