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Dutch decision

Mark Mardell | 17:12 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2007

As expected, the Dutch cabinet has decided not to hold a referendum on the Reform Treaty.

There are rumours that after a decent interval we'll find out that some policies the Dutch Labour Party didn't like have been dropped.

The prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, said that it was a normal treaty and only needed a normal ratificiation procedure, otherwise what was parliament for?

Sounds familiar?

frans_timmermansBut as I explained earlier, the government decision may not be the end of the story.

Dutch Europe Minister Frans Timmermans, one of the Labour members of the cabinet, told me he thought the government's arguments against a popular vote were "pretty convincing". But he acknowledged the parliament could still decide to organise a referendum - as it did in 2005.

Listen to my interview with him here.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 06:05 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

It remains to be seen whether Dutch Labour Party deputies can be lured with pork, just like their collegues in the Dutch cabinet were, into changing their public long-held position.

I suspect that pork will be addtionaly spiced to make sure that
Dutch voters are not allowed so say "no" again to thinly disguised EU Consitution, and thus don't encourge Danish and British voters to follow suit.

  • 2.
  • At 06:38 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

This decision is an total and utter disgrace.

1.the 'new' treaty is well near exactly the same thing as the 'old' one (which in their arrogance Chirac and co called constitution).

2.Balkenende (the PM) is rumoured to be eyeing a cozy job in Brussels or the UN.

3.we Dutch rejected the 'old' treaty because we didn't want more power transfers to Brussels. In the 'new' treaty this hasn't been changed at all so how can they claim its something new when it so clearly is not.

But fortunately, the quislings haven't won this yet. We still have parliament and a majority constituted by parties who promised a referendum in their manifestos (sound familiar, Britain?).

When will politicians finally acknowledge that we don't want more powers to Brussels. We want intergovernmentalism not supranationalism.

  • 3.
  • At 06:57 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • sweetalkinguy wrote:

Why is it that "Den Haag" is always translated as "The Hague" rather than "The Hedge", especially when the Dutch seem so keen to sit on it?

When is a treaty a constitution? When the politicians say it is. Politicians are not trusted, and the less they are trusted, the more they have to resort to half-truths and spin. Then, like the little boy who cried "wolf", nobody believes them even when they are telling the obvious truth. In both the UK and the Netherlands, they will be damned if they do not hold a referendum, and damned if they do.

In my opinion they will have referendums, but with such bland and inoffensive questions that the result will be meaningless. Of rather more importance is the strength of the Euro in the money markets and the reforms which Old Nick is trying to introduce in France.

  • 4.
  • At 08:27 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Joseph (Maastricht) wrote:

The Netherlands are currently going through huge internal debate about the liberal policies that they have followed for 60 years. At the heart of this debate is immigration (especially that of Muslims) and what being a member of the EU really means to the Netherlands.

The UK may think that it's current level of migrants is high, but compared to the Netherlands it is just a drop in the ocean.

It is calculated that by 2040 the Netherlands will have a Muslim majority, this is causing huge debate amongst the voters and it turn is causing them to be very sceptical and mistrustful of the EU.

This mistrust of the EU and it's open border policies is spreading across to Belgium and Germany, so I would suggest that the BBC should start to reflect what the EU citizens are really thinking, and should start to report the fact that the old left-wing views of mainland Europe have changed, and are now very much of the right of centre viewpoit.

This might be a view that the BBC does not wish to share, however, it is a true view, and one that I am better able to judge after living in the Netherlands for 13 years than the BBC reporter.

  • 5.
  • At 08:47 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Jur wrote:

Interestingly, this point gets a lot of buzz on the BBC website, while the crisis in the Dutch liberal party has gone unnoticed.

Although I can see how a Dutch referendum would affect the wider EU and Britain, and therefore be considered newsworthy, the liberal split is also a significant event in Dutch politics. The Liberal party is one of the three major parties and a regular government coalition partner.

It is also a significant point because it is the second member of the right wing of the party with a strong focus on immigration to leave the party in four years, showing how the immigration issue is redrawing the contours of Dutch politics.

  • 6.
  • At 09:02 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

The fact of the matter is we Dutch folks don't approve of this cabinet and don't trust most politicians in Den Haag.
This last thursday a poll conducted by the TweeVandaag TV show among something like 26000 people showed a full two thirds of respondents disapprove of this BRAND NEW(!) cabinet.

What does this have to do with this new and improved EU treaty?
Well, it is these same politicians we don't trust who are supposed to reassure us the treaty is for our own good.
Ever since Pim Fortuyn's assassination in 2002 there's been a slumbering mistrust of every word they utter. So if a politician says "This treaty will lead us forward", and instead people constantly feel we're going nowhere naturally we're gonna construe those words as "I'm lying through my teeth again."
This treaty will allow The Unaccountables in "Brussels" to squeeze the last eurocent out of us, give nothing in return and they'll never listen to an insignificant 3.5% of the EU's population eventhough we pay far more into the coffers than we receive.

Just two years ago I was firm believer in the EU.
I also voted "yes" the first time around.
I honestly didn't know much about the first Constitution but it wasn't because I wasn't looking for information. There was just a cheery pamphlet's worth of information on it printed at the last moment to get us warmed to vote "yes".

I'm glad it didn't pass since today I know more and thoroughly disapprove of giving away more power to an obscure bunch of unelected foreigners who know nothing about us and think cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all legislation works for the entire continent.

This website's own report about the Lynx' demise and Strawberry cultivation in Spain illustrates that.
And don't get me started on the road around Augustow!
What a debacle!

It seems to me the only voices heard in Brussels are the lobbyists'.
Well they can have eachother. Just leave us be and stay out of our wallets!

  • 7.
  • At 09:07 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

Sorry. That TweeVandaag report was on TUESDAY. Got the dates mixed up. Mea culpa.

  • 8.
  • At 10:16 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Henkjan wrote:

I totally disagree with Marcel (a few posts earlier) because not all Dutch said 'Nee' and most of them who did, did so because of issues on the national level (at the time high unemployment etc.) instead of the European one which they knew surprisingly little about.

I'm glad they decided not to organise a referendum since that would (or *** forbid will) mean we'll be thrown back another 10 years or so in terms of European integration.

  • 9.
  • At 06:27 AM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • peter wrote:

mark, please read their lips:
it is not about the treaty, it is about turkey. if only the nld government would display a more sarkozy- or merkel-like approach vis-a-vis a turkish eu membership, the new treaty would be wholeheartedly welcomed.

I guess the ways both the Dutch government and this blog operate (in their separate but interacting ways) are highly significant:

Clearly, the Dutch government is indulging in the somewhat traditional political game of playing the local population (often against other populations) by exploiting local prejudices. On the other hand, this blog has a more pan-European (and even international) audience which is (perhaps slightly) less prone to local propaganda because of a wider perspective.

Traveling earlier sometimes between Holland and Wales, I noticed that often identical issues were being pushed independantly by different ideologically based governments in both countries (and presumably others too). Indeed, the game seemed to be that: If the proposal was likely to be popular -then it was presented as a local governmental initiative -but if if was likely to be unpopular, it was presented as the unavoidable dictate of the Brussels beurocracy. In neither case was there a fair presentation of the proposal within the context of a European union run as an exclusive cooperative project between the very same governments that blamed the union for anything unpleasant.


Presumably communication systems, such as this blog, allow European residents to cross-check what their local politicians are saying -both to them and to others in their name.

Surely, a well functioning (pan)European parliament -which allowed discussion of key issues on a European level would be a step towards the creation of more responsible local (i.e. national) politics.

Presumably, this blog would be in no way affected on a structural level by a more powerful European parliamentary democracy. However, "Democracy" would then show some signs of catching up with the realities of a super-national public whose members are both literate and able to communicate with each other.


The way local (i.e. national) governments behave seems to me to provide the best reason for not giving them their current level of (collectively absolute) power within a pan-European political and/or economic union.

  • 11.
  • At 10:03 AM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • PHILLIP BOLKEN wrote:

Watch and see so called "European Democracy" in action in the 21st century; it would have made Joseph Goebbels proud.
The only way to restore any faith in modern politics right across the entire continent is to hold a immediate referendum in all countries of the EU on its new treaty/constitution and let the People decide its future.

  • 12.
  • At 01:06 PM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • A Warrington wrote:

The problem with regimes that don't give enough of the people what they want is that eventually they will fall. It does appear that a very elongated phoney war is currently operating where political spin and electoral passivity allows the bandwagon to roll on and on. Whether technology, media and policy can keep it all together for a 1000 years will be an interesting if frightening thing to watch. Let us hope also however that extremism like a pack of predators won't be the mechanism by which the brontosaurus is finally brought down.

  • 13.
  • At 03:04 PM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • Christine wrote:

I don't understand European politics. I'm an American [disclaimer: I completely disagree with most of what the US government does and stands for these days] who recently learned that I'm also an Italian citizen. I'm amazed at what little input we EU citizens have in the decisions that affect us!

On the other hand, maybe I do understand. In the US, officials pretend to care about the people, which leaves the people disillusioned when they learn they've been misled [again]. In the EU, there's no such illusion. The people already know that their views and desires don't matter.

Is that how it goes?

  • 14.
  • At 05:31 PM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • Keimp - Netherlands wrote:

I have tried to see the differences between the first treaty and this new proposal. Although the text is not yet completed, many of the changes have been discussed in The Netherlands already. They had to be, otherwise the State Council could not "rule" that this new treaty did not require a new referendum. One of the most important things that did not change was the division of the votes in the EU house. Small countries like ours (NL) lose almost every way to stop changes that have an impact of the entire Union. In effect, France, The united Kingdom and Germany will have the biggest say in all changes. Looking at history, we can conclude that they mostly look at what is good for them selves, not what is good for the Union as a whole. The Netherlands is still the lagest (net.) contributor to the Union. The Dutch pay a huge amount of taxmoney every year. Surely we deserve what is going to happen! There must be a new referendum over this new treaty. And if it comes I will say no again. Not because I do not like this current cabinet, but because this new treaty is not good for my country.

  • 15.
  • At 05:34 PM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • john somer wrote:

All these complaints about "Brussels bureaucrats" reminds me of the daily complaints in the USA ab oaut the "Washington buraucracy...."
AFAIK, the only country that has systematdically used the referendum ("votation" in Swiss French) is Switzeerland. If democracy demands referenda on all important subjects, Western Europe has been undemocratic for a very long time

  • 16.
  • At 11:14 AM on 23 Sep 2007,
  • robert gooren wrote:

What seems most disturbing to me is the fact that Dutch political leaders don't seem to realise that their choice against holding a referendum is based on their own inability to convince the electorate of the need for reforming the European Union. During the previous pre-referendum campaign their public commitment to the Treaty was undeniably feeble. What is to be expected of the electorate if the country's political elite shows no clear sense of purpose or direction in European affairs?

  • 17.
  • At 11:18 AM on 23 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

Re #9

A danger of Turkey becoming an Islamic fundamentalist bastion is much smaller than France or Germany becoming one.

Perhaps due to a fact that Turkey has an army worth its salt unlike the two above mentioned countries.

* 4.
* At 08:27 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
* Joseph (Maastricht) wrote:

"This mistrust of the EU and it's open border policies is spreading across to Belgium and Germany,"


How on earth do people get the idea that "fortress Europe" has "Open Borders"?

Do the people saying these things actually have any (civilised) contact with people from outside Europe? Do they have any idea of the difficulties people actually have to enter? Do they have any idea of how desparate people are -and why they are so desparate to enter?

The fact that Holland isn't the left-wing paradise that many (including the Dutch) wish to believe -is indeed something that I gave up trying to tell the BBC long ago.... It might also have something to do with why I left.


However, perhaps one day, the right-wing supremacists will wake up to the fact that it is the way people are exploited in their own country by the western countries that makes them so desparate to enter the rich and safe European haven. The result is a social, cultural and economic disaster for everybody (ultimately including those who enjoy short term corporate profits by exploiting poverty commercially).

Extremism will only make things worse -a more humane and rational approach (which takes account of other people) is required -but this demands a more responsible attitude from politicians and media who promote and exploit public innocence with regard to what is really happening in the world.

We also need to radically rethink the political system -which is basically a feudal system which allows the serf to "choose" their master every so often. Elections every four or five years -instead of a yearly labour market. Is that progress?

Let us hope that this time there will be a real debate -perhaps we should hear more about the "liberal split". Which "liberals" by the way. There are two "liberal" parties
in holland and the whole country is supposed to be "liberal".....


  • 19.
  • At 07:50 PM on 23 Sep 2007,
  • Rod wrote:

when should nation(s) be given a chance for referendum? they should be allowed if and when they are educated. when the public in Holland voted 'NO' last year, they did so mostly on the basis that voting 'yes' would mean turkey could be EU member and many dutch were unhappy about the number of muslim (again mainly turkish) in the country. in my mind this was racist attitude. they blindly voted no on the basis of quite unrelated issues. In swetzerland, the application for citizenship is put to the local referendum and recently it was revealed that muslim applicants were refused repeatedly. the investigation revealed the referedums were racist and therefore it was recommended that it should be stopped. since racism and racist attitude can be describe to be serious ilness i would say that the people are not always in their healthiest state of mind to decide about something objectively. the majority are not necessarily right. shall i give you an example of nazi germany era where the vast majority supported their regime of killing millions? I personally am not in favour of referendums under any circumstances except in exreme circumstances(i can't think of any by the way). the dutch politicians maybe liars and untrustworthy but the move on this issue is, i think, right one. public should also work hard to show that they deserve to be allowed to have a say on some issues.

  • 20.
  • At 04:46 AM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Kocsonya wrote:

It is incredible to watch that nation after nation gets used to the idea that even though the politicans supposed to represent the views of their electorate, when they openly and flatly represent just the opposite and, again, openly try to block the population any legal course to force them to represent the population's views, people just sit back and let them do it.

Politicians vote on their own salaries - how come? I though they were *our* employees (we certainly pay them), so the salaries should be set by *us*? They take us to wars, even if 70+ percent of the population does not want to go to war. On what basis? When did it became customary, in supposedly DEMO-cratic countries that the ruling elite can defy the wishes of the people if those wishes clash with the interest of the politicans or their business friends?

How did we became so subservient?

  • 21.
  • At 02:33 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Beau Etman wrote:

The last time we (the Dutch) had a referendum I voted yes, not because of any national or european arguments, but because of china and india. In 50 years time a small country like The Netherlands (in fact also GB) has absolutely no power at all against such enormous economies and powers such as India and China. That's why we have to work together more and more, an European constitution isn't something I would like to see but when are we going to realise that it is a choice between two evils: either work together dispite our culturale differences or end op all alone on our own little islands, looking back at what a powerfull continent Europe once was...

  • 22.
  • At 02:54 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

It looks like the Dutch - by not holding a referendum - may confound Gordon Brown's hopes of having this hot potato (the new EU Treaty) pulled out of the fire by others.

Therefore, we must keep on the pressure for our own referendum on this matter and not hope for 'salvation' by others (as the French and Dutch did by rejecting the previous EU Constitutional Treaty).

  • 23.
  • At 04:13 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Ynse Kalsbeek wrote:

A referendum as a tool for political decision making has been dismissed time and again by the same parliament. Some parties however now try hypocritically to use it just to get their way.
There is no basis for any 'referendum' on this topic as this is about a TREATY. it has no bearing on the constitution.

The Government is right to sign it. If it's not happening, the country should leave the EU

* 4.
* At 08:27 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
* Joseph (Maastricht) wrote:

"This mistrust of the EU and it's open border policies is spreading across to Belgium and Germany,"


How on earth do people get the idea that "fortress Europe" has "Open Borders"?

Do the people saying these things actually have any (civilised) contact with people from outside Europe? Do they have any idea of the difficulties people actually have to enter? Do they have any idea of how desparate people are -and why they are so desparate to enter?

The fact that Holland isn't the left-wing paradise that many (including the Dutch) wish to believe -is indeed something that I gave up trying to tell the BBC long ago.... It might also have something to do with why I left.


However, perhaps one day, the right-wing supremacists will wake up to the fact that it is the way people are exploited in their own country by the western countries that makes them so desparate to enter the rich and safe European haven. The result is a social, cultural and economic disaster for everybody (ultimately including those who enjoy short term corporate profits by exploiting poverty commercially).

Extremism will only make things worse -a more humane and rational approach (which takes account of other people) is required -but this demands a more responsible attitude from politicians and media who promote and exploit public innocence with regard to what is really happening in the world.

We also need to radically rethink the political system -which is basically a feudal system which allows the serf to "choose" their master every so often. Elections every four or five years -instead of a yearly labour market. Is that progress?

Let us hope that this time there will be a real debate -perhaps we should hear more about the "liberal split": Which "liberals" by the way. There are two "liberal" parties
in holland and the whole country is supposed to be "liberal".....

L.S.,

For the Dutch readers of this blog, the full text of the advice of the Council of State is now available on their website. The summary is here.

  • 26.
  • At 09:12 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Almir Mumovic (Utrecht & London) wrote:

I see that Trevor Batten has decided to attack the chap from Maastricht with a typical 'liberal' tirade.

Joseph mentioned that immigration is a hot topic in Holland, that does not make his remarks racist, the unhelpful comments of Trevor and Rod which was an almost identical attack proves to me how right Joseph was in his comments.

Luckily the PC brigade have had their day, open and honest dialogue is the way that Europe is going, and this means that the PC brigade cannot get away with continual attacks on people who do not support their views.

It is easy to try to undermine peoples positions with accuasations of racism, however, it is just as easy to disprove such accuasations, so I say to trevor stick to your own website where you can attack people to your hearts content, and leave these sites to people who wish to give their own opinions.

Oh and Trevor for the record I am a Muslim, and I am also a Conservative, how does that fit into your 'liberal' view of who is racist and who is not?.

And just to totally make you choke on your facist views, let me tell you that I also have huge concerns about unchecked immigration and the EU's policies towards this emotive topic.

I hope that this comment is published as I do not need people like trevor accusing people of racism when the only racist comments I have read here are Trevors.

* 23.
* At 05:34 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
* trevor batten wrote:
* "How on earth do people get the idea that "fortress Europe" has "Open Borders"?"

They are probably referring to its internal open borders, mate. And the accompanying influx of migrants from the former Central and Eastern Europe.

  • 28.
  • At 11:07 AM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

@ Henkjan (8): stopping 'European integration' would be a very good thing. Which is why we are trying to block this anti sovereignty treaty at all and any cost.

And I do wonder why the EUphiles keep denying their idea is to turn the EU into some sort of superstate-esque thing (a supergovernment it is already rapidly becoming).

Monnet (via the Schumann plan) was quite clear. The declaration of 9th may 1950 clearly mentions that the coal and steel community must be the basis for eventual federalization. The Davignon report (october 1970, approved by the EC) clearly asks how federalization might be achieved.

This also proves that successive British governments (Heath, Wilson) deliberately sought to deceive the British public. When asked, Heath explicitly denied political union was afoot (20 years later he admitted the lie: "of course I bloody knew"). The referendum of 1975 should therefore be considered null and void. People thought they were voting to stay in an economic community.

  • 29.
  • At 03:41 PM on 25 Sep 2007,
  • JohaM wrote:

This afternoon, the Dutch Labour Party MPs announced they would vote against a new referendum.

L.S.,

Tuesday, September 25: The Dutch labour party decide not to support the initiative referendum law, meaning that it will almost certainly fail to pass. No referendum in the Netherlands.

  • 31.
  • At 09:15 AM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Ronald (Amsterdam) wrote:

The EU constitution was presented to us as a solution for the perceived problem of running the enlarged EU. The solution was rejected in a referendum, but the problem remains. The reform treaty is a new solution to the same problem. So why shouldn't the public be given the chance to have their say on this new solution??

The decision of the PvdA (Labour) not to support the new referendum initiative could very well be another nail in their coffin. This is the second pre-election promise they don't stand up to, after dropping the investigation into how Mr. Balkenende went along with the US/UK attack on Iraq.

  • 32.
  • At 01:30 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • JulianR wrote:

Funny that many of those, especially in the UK (for example the UK Conservative Party), who pushed hardest to enable the former Eastern European states to join the EU are those now most vociferous in their opposition to a Treaty designed to make an EU of 27 states workable.

An intergovernmental Europe might just have worked for a Europe of 6 or 9 states, it certainly won't work for the enlarged EU we have today.

It is a great shame that this Treaty was not put in place at the proper time - ie before enlargement rather than afterwards.

  • 33.
  • At 02:22 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

@Joseph (Maastricht):

Your claim that calculations have been made saying that there is going to be a Muslim majority by 2040 is completely nonsensical. Muslims only make up less than 6% of the present population and this percentage rises but very slowly. These sort of unjust claims are very typical of the kind of discussion that we are having here in The Netherlands. Populist rightwing parties are hard at work trying to scare people in their camp.

  • 34.
  • At 03:21 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • dóc wrote:

I suppose the initial, simplistic solution would be to merge Flanders with Holland and Wollonia with France whether they like it or not, whilst turning Brussels into the EU's Washington DC. Two more small independant nations could spur on other regions in Europe to go for broke (though admittedly it didn't happen after the Czech/Slovak split.)

This potential split however reinforces my own personal theory that as Europe develops on the supra-national basis (i.e. the EU), there will be further regional fragmentation, whether it be Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders / Wollonia. A need for regional identity should not be underestimated in the face of what some might consider a more anonymous, potentially bland 'EU identity'.

Personally, as long as it is peaceful, I'm not against it.

PS. The Guardian kept banging on about how Flanders is bigger than Wollonia. Your map would seem to contradic this, or were they talking about population?

  • 35.
  • At 08:52 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • garvin wrote:

To Rod:

You seemed to be confused. The public does not have to work hard to be allowed some say in their own future. That is their fundamental right as free men and women and most impotently their right as human beings.

The basis of freedom is to allow people the right to chose their own fates, even if some know it all thinks they are wrong.

Forcing people into this is downright imperialist and smacks of neocon nonsense.

  • 36.
  • At 03:26 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • C.A.Rowe wrote:

The general unhappiness of the voters within Europe over the"Revised Treaty" is the built in distrust that we all have for Politicians and Bureaucrats who pretend that they are wiser, than us the general public, whose interests they hold at heart! What nonsense! All Politicians are the same the world over, and we have seen corruption at the highest levels in Bureaucracy as well.
The Publics' instincts are generally right, as we have seen throughout history and the fallacy of a Federal European Nation of twenty seven different cultures, traditions, languages and levels of built in national pride is perhaps better understood by the Public than the power hungry politicians and the unaccountable non elected bureaucrats

The Dutch parliament has voted against a referendum.

That means that Holland is no longer a democratic country. A government that doesn't want to acknowledge, and observe, the result of a democratically conducted referendum does not deserve any other name than an umdemocratic dictatorship.

  • 38.
  • At 09:05 AM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • David wrote:

It doesn't make sense to hold a referendum on a technical treaty when the voters want to answer a much more fundamental question about pooling further sovereignty and powers.

The only useful solutions are either:

- a binding referendum on whether to stay in the EU or not, giving governments a mandate to serve their people as best they can through improving and reforming the EU.

- a consultative, 'multiple choice' referendum on people's vision of what they want from the EU.

In all that I've read so far I have not seen any trace of a positive vision from the anti-treaty side - what are your solutions to globalisation and competitiveness in the new world that is being created around us? How will a European market function without European standards? How are we to make joint decisions about tackling climate change and other problems of the future?

I'd really like to know.

In the meanwhile, there is a party that represents your views - UKIP - join them! vote for them! it's a democracy!

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