Dutch voters will go to the polls on March 21 for a referendum on the Security Act 2017, a law which grants the authorities extended surveillance rights. As in many other states, such legislation has raised concern in the Netherlands that the government is snooping on emails and other personal communication. Unlike most countries, however, Dutch voters can currently do something about it thanks to a 2015 law that means the government must hold an advisory referendum if 300,000 voters call for one. But the Dutch government now plans to overturn this right in the future. On February 22, a majority in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, voted to scrap the referendum law. It’s unlikely that the vote will be undone by the Senate when it comes to vote on the issue.
The March plebiscite on surveillance powers, which is happening at the same time as local council elections, might well be the country’s last advisory referendum.
The Advisory Referendum Law was the brainchild of three MPs from the social liberal party, Democraten 66 (D66) – a party founded in the free-spirited and idealistic 1960s – the Socialists and the Green Party. The law was supported by these parties and rightist populist Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV). It was opposed by the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) – the party of current prime minister Mark Rutte – and the two small Christian Democrat parties, the CDA and ChristenUnie.
Its aim was to hold politicians to account. While the result is non-binding, it is only quorate if more than 30% of voters turn out – in which case it’s difficult for Dutch politicians to ignore the result.