NieuwsuurMarijnissen (SP) defends the bill for the introduction of a binding corrective referendum in the Senate
It has been a topic of discussion in politics for decades, but this time it might just work: the introduction of a corrective binding referendum. The private member’s bill appears to have a large majority in the Senate today. However, this is not yet a settled matter.
A corrective binding referendum means that voters can still reject laws that have already been adopted. Because it concerns a constitutional amendment, a two-thirds majority in both Houses must vote in favor. And after the elections, the bill must pass the Senate and House of Representatives again.
At the beginning of this year, SP MP Renske Leijten submitted a proposal for the introduction of a binding corrective referendum. At the time, Leijten called it a strengthening of democracy because “a growing group of people do not feel represented by politicians and policymakers”. The House of Representatives agreed in February. Today, SP leader Lilian Marijnissen defended the proposal in the Senate and a large majority also seems to vote in favor of it.
Paul Bovend’eert, professor of constitutional law at Radboud University, says that a referendum “can be a nice addition to the representative democracy we have in our country.”
Bovend’eert also thinks that a referendum can contribute to restoring confidence in politics. “By involving citizens more in government and politics, you gain more trust. You can at least offer voters the opportunity to oppose bills that the majority of them do not like at all.”
Night of Wiegel
In 1999, the introduction of a corrective referendum came very close, but it failed due to the unexpected vote against it in the Senate by VVD member Hans Wiegel. This event became known as the ‘Night of Wiegel’. The second purple cabinet fell as a result of this crisis.
Since then, several consultative referendums have been organized. In 2005 on the European Constitution, in 2016 on the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine and in 2018 on the Intelligence Act. In all cases a majority voted against.
Because these were advisory referenda, politicians in principle did not have to worry about the outcome. In the case of the referendum on the European Constitution, the government did so: the bill was withdrawn. After the other two referenda, the government parties decided to adjust the bills in order – in their view – to respect the outcome.
“Everyone found that very unsatisfactory. Rightly so,” says Bovend’eert. “That is why a binding referendum is now pending, in which the voters will actually make the final judgment on the bill.”
No race run
VVD and CDA have traditionally been against anchoring a referendum in the constitution. Other parties, such as PvdA, GroenLinks and D66, regularly changed their opinion. “The two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment has never really been in sight,” said Bovend’eert.
Even now, the race is not yet over, but because the CDA has significantly fewer seats than 25 years ago, and parties such as BBB and NSC have said they are in favor of the referendum, the change in the law now seems to have a chance of success.
What may help is that the SP does not say anything about the precise details, such as politically sensitive matters such as the turnout percentage that must be achieved. This must be arranged at a later stage in another law.