About me

In 2010 I made the decision to follow a career path dedicated to peace building and conflict resolution, resulting in enlistment at the Royal Netherlands Navy in 2012. Currently, I am specializing into conflict resolution at Radboud University's Center for International Conflict -  Analyses and Managment. Since July 2015 I have been working part time at Radboud University as faculty advisor for the course United Nations and Multilateral Diplomacy and currently as a research assistant at the Center for International Conflict -  Analyses and Managment. In February 2016 I started my own consultancy and training bureau "Pantheon". Focussing on teaching skills needed to act within the international setting (Public Speaking, Negotiation, Etiquette, Protocol) as well as offering consultation on maritime and defense issues.

Publication: The Future of the European Continent: Referendums, Plebiscites, and the Thomas-Theorem

By G.L.J. Jacobs on 2016-03-23 in Papers,

*Contribution to the Clingendael EUForum Scenario competition. This paper is written in honor of the Dutch polemologist Leon Wecke (1932-2015) from who I received lectures from in Spring/Summer 2014. Mr. Wecke has published extensively on enemy images, such as the image of the Soviet Union in the Dutch public and political documents during the Cold War. He also studied the conceptualisation of the so-called global terrorism.

From all sides little mice nibble on the European Project. The Brexit, as well as the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement referendums undermine the European order. While my focus is on the possible security consequences of the Ukraine-EU referendum, the event should be seen in a greater scope of a power struggle regarding European integration. The European Union seems to unintentionally coerce opposition parties into using democratic tools for their anti-EU agenda.

Discussing with fellow EU citizens on their ideas on these issues, makes evident the troubles of referendums. Voters in a referendum are more likely to be driven by transient whims than by careful deliberation. Also, voters might be swayed by propaganda, strong personalities, and (expensive) advertising campaigns. James Madison argued that direct democracy is the "tyranny of the majority"[1]. The referendums on specific topics can be used to voice general dissatisfaction with the EU.

The referendum on April 6 arguably could better be named a plebiscite, referring to the practice of authoritarian states. These plebiscites are organized for the "Bühne [2]", but rarely affect the decision-making process. One could predict the reaction of the opposition, and might even expect a "no-confidence motion". Should the government be persuaded to adhere to a no-vote, either by pressure of the opposition, or through the formation of a new government, and would they go back to the EU on the referendum, then they would face 27 other member states that voted yes, and would expect the Netherlands to walk in line.

The Ukraine-EU referendum is a plebiscite, and the outcome of the ballot is very unlikely to change anything, as a yes-vote reinforces the policy established, a no-vote does not affect it. Does this mean that the vote is entirely irrelevant?: No! The referendum (and to an extent all referendums mentioned in the introduction), are very relevant to the security of the European continent.

"If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences"[3]. The quote, referred to as the Thomas-Theorem explains why the nibbling of mice referred to above is ever so more important to the security of Europe. The European order faces undermining from all sides; populist movements rallying ignorant civilians, oppositions starting plebiscite like referendums - while all these may not affect policy directly - they do have effective consequences. The success of a possible referendum may as well lead to a snowball of referendums, as the opposition finds traction in deconstruction the European Rule of Law bit by bit, nibbling at it as mousses would.

At a time that Europe's security becomes more and more questionable, with aggression from Russia (in particular in Ukraine). Also in other parts of Europe we see debates on a lingering feeling of security - such as populism in the west and the migrant crisis, mainly in the Balkans. The definitions of the real (security) situations as described by the sociologists William Thomas and Dorothy Thomas, are real in its consequences.

A no-vote in the referendum(s) may lead to the definition of a weak, disunited Europe for those who seek attack the European order (be it terrorist organizations such as Daesh, be it state actors such as Russia), with real consequences as a result, both on a national and European level. Secondly it may affirm a trend of plebiscites becoming more common thus causing a snowball effect of undermining democracy and rule of law. A yes-vote may lead to a definition of a strong, united European Front, thus by definition its aggressors may consider twice to parley with a strong Europe. Thirdly in a less hard-security view, the plebiscites undermine the democratic tools, and may undermine a referendum when such is truly necessary. Rather than squabbling on plebiscite referendum, Europe should focus on real democracy and real security, least the scenario of a weak nibbled at European Order becomes real beyond its definitions and consequences.


[1] Madison did not use the words tyranny in the original letter to Thomas Jefferson on 17 October 1788. However, the gist can be derived from the following quote: "In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents."

[2] Bühne: Dutch/German word meaning podium. Used in Dutch to refer to actions taken to appease (entertain) the crowd, but are without content.

[3] In other words, the interpretation of a situation causes the action. This interpretation is not objective. Actions are affected by subjective perceptions of situations. Whether there even is an objectively correct interpretation is not important for the purposes of helping guide individuals' behaviour. See also: 'The Thomas Theorem and The Matthew Effect'. Robert K. Merton. Social Forces, December 1995, 74(2):379-424.