Dutch activists amassing signatures for referendum on EU-Canada trade deal
By Thomas Escritt
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Activists in the Netherlands have gathered almost two thirds of the signatures needed to lay the groundwork for a referendum on Europe's free trade deal with Canada, which they say overly favors the interests of multinational companies.
The Dutch have twice voted down European Union initiatives in referendums, scuppering a proposed EU constitution in 2005 and in April throwing into disarray plans for closer EU relations with Ukraine.
Over the past year, the activists have gathered the names of almost 200,000 supporters who have pledged to petition for a referendum on the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) once the Dutch parliament has ratified it.
Under Dutch law, 300,000 signatures are enough to trigger an advisory vote on any bill passed by parliament. If voters reject the bill and turnout tops 30 percent, the government needs the consent of parliament to proceed, possibly by offering concessions or amendments to reflect the popular will.
A referendum defeat would throw up a further obstacle to the ratification of CETA, which was almost scuttled last month by a regional assembly in neighboring Belgium.
Activists have criticized CETA and TTIP, a planned EU-U.S. equivalent, for lacking transparency and giving undue influence to closed arbitration tribunals they say could be abused by multinationals to dictate public policy.
A motley group of campaigners - members include organizations like "More Democracy" and "Pigs in Need" - highlights concerns ranging from the claimed impact of CETA on labor rights and environmental standards to animal welfare.
"TTIP and CETA are old-school trade agreements where the interests of companies are more important than the people who live in those countries," said Niesco Dubbelboer, one of the leaders behind the referendum initiative. Continued...