Last week the Netherlands held its first referendum. A number of groups used the new law that says that a referendum must be organized if more than 400.000 people sign a petition to that effect. Of course, there are a few other conditions, and you cannot simply let the people decide about all and sundry. Last week a petition to hold another referendum was refused. It concerned a Dutch citizen who wanted the be crowned the Pharaoh of the Netherlands. He was sure a majority of the nation would see this as a good idea if asked in a referendum!
Anyhow, the referendum that was held a few days ago was not intended to satisfy a person with Pharaoh-ambitions, but was about a treaty between the European Union and the Ukraine. Twenty-seven of the twenty-eight countries of the EU have already ratified this treaty, and the Dutch goverment was planning to do likewise, but the initiators of the referendum wanted to throw a wrench in the works. They succeeded. For most of the day it seemed that their attempt would fail, as it appeared that the number of voters did not reach the election threshold of thirty percent, but when the voting stations closed it became clear that just over thirty-two percent had cast their votes. Over sixty percent voted ‘Nee’. So, a majority felt that the Ukraine should not be allowed to benefit from such a treaty. My strong ‘yes’ vote did not change the end result.
Listening to the debates of the past weeks between those who wanted the treaty to go through and those who thought it was wrong to go that way, made me conclude that both groups had some valid arguments. But weighing things carefully, I decided that there were solid enough reasons to vote ‘yes’. However, it cannot have escaped the onlookers that many of the people who voted also had other hidden agendas. For most of the ‘no’-voters this referendum was a way of venting their anti-EU frustrations. For large groups in Dutch society ‘Brussels’ has become a scary thing. Many may not be able to put their objections into reasoned arguments, but they have become convinced that it is high time to retrieve our endangered national sovereignty. And, they say, ‘Europe’ costs each Dutch citizen buckets full of money. This was, for instance, the case when recently the Euro had to be saved and the Netherlands had to contribute billions of Euros. I am sure that last week many voters let their gut feelings, that somehow we must have ‘less Europe,’ determine their vote.
Moreover, the government failed to convince the voters that this treaty did not imply that the Ukraine would be allowed full membership in the EU any time soon. The majority believes that this would be the first step to full EU-membership, however strongly this was denied.
There is, I believe, much reason to be worried, The referendum clearly showed the enormous distrust in the country towards the government. The people somehow have this gut feeling that we may soon become totally subject to ‘Brussels.’ This was the main reason why something that was positive for all, was voted down.
In many ways this resembles a process that is also visible in the Adventist Church. During the world congress in San Antonio, now almost a year ago, a majority of the delegates voted against a proposal that would allow for more participation of women in the church, in a major part of the world. In theory the vote was about a proposal to allow for some regional autonomy with regard to this issue, but other things played out in the background. A widespread gut feeling—a sense of deep unease—that this would simply lead to some other undesirable developments, led many (in an atmosphere of deep distrust) to vote ‘no’.
We currently see something similar in the Dutch Adventist Church. Next June a special session will be held. On the agenda is the question whether the Dutch church does sufficiently follow the rules of the world church. The constitution of the Netherlands Union allows for the possibility that a special session be convened when at least six hundred people sign a petition to that effect. This recently happened. Among these 600-plus people who gave their signature certainly is a group that knows exactly what the issues are, but many have signed because they just have a vague sense of unease—a gut feeling—that some things must be terribly wrong in the governance of the church in Holland.
The referendum law was accepted by a majority in the Dutch parliament. I did not think this was a good iea, and I still think that way. We choose leaders to govern the country. If we feel, after some time, that they do not do a good job, we can replace them in the next election. That is a democratic model that, I believe, in the end works best. Likewise for the church. We must trust our leaders and let them do their work. If we feel they do not do a proper job, we can replace them with other leaders at a next regular session. However, as long as the rules also allow for a different way of decision making (referendums or special sessions), everything possible must be done to ensure that reasoned arguments and facts, rather than gut feelings, dominate the process.