Dutch govt rules out referendum on EU treaty

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AMSTERDAM, Sept 21 (Reuters) - The Dutch government decided today it would ratify the proposed EU reform treaty without a referendum, removing a threat to the treaty's prospects.

European Union leaders agreed in June on a blueprint for the treaty to overhaul the enlarged 27-nation bloc's institutions, replacing a more ambitious EU constitution that was rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005.

The Netherlands had the biggest anti-constitution vote of the four member states that held plebiscites, with 62 per cent of voters saying ''No'', partly because of concerns of a loss of national identity and hostility to further EU enlargement.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said a referendum is not necessary this time as the treaty lacks constitutional elements.

''This is a normal change of treaty and only needs a normal procedure to approve it,'' he told reporters today. He said the new treaty needed only parliamentary approval.

Balkenende's Christian Democrats have always opposed a referendum but their Labour coalition partners supported one in last year's election. Balkenende said today the whole cabinet supported the decision.

The decision was in line with advice from the Council of State which advises the government on legislation and governance. The treaty is due to be finalised next month.

The Socialist Party, which is the main opposition party in parliament, said today it would propose an initiative law to force the government to hold a referendum.

The decision not to hold a referendum was a motion of distrust against the people,'' the Socialist Party said in a statement. It is unclear whether a majority in parliament would support the law.

Dutch media reported that lawmakers of Balkenende's coalition partner Labour ware divided on the subject.

According to an opinion poll published today by Peil, 58 per cent of Dutch citizens would like to see a referendum, and this time 55 per cent would vote to approve it.

The Dutch decision to ratify could be a relief for the British and Danish governments which are resisting demands for a referendum.

Only Ireland is constitutionally bound to hold one.

In Denmark, the constitution requires a referendum if the new treaty amounts to a transfer of sovereignty. Recent polls showed more than 50 per cent of Danes wanted a referendum, but the government has said it would not take a decision until it studied the final text of the new treaty.

The Danes had scheduled a referendum on the draft treaty in 2005 but cancelled it after France and the Netherlands voted no.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said the French parliament will ratify the treaty after he played an influential role in securing the agreement.

REUTERS GT BD2322

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