Dutch voters say ‘No’ to Ukraine deal

The Dutch government will not automatically ratify the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte made the announcement after initial exit polls indicated that a large majority of voters had opposed ratification in an advisory referendum on Wednesday 6 April.

Although the consultative referendum is non-binding, the Prime Minister and the leaders of all political parties have made it clear that the strong ‘No’ vote has consequences. What those consequences are in practice will be clarified over the coming weeks.

The Dutch referendum brought 32.8 per cent of voters to the polls, just above the 30 per cent threshold for the referendum result to be valid.

61.8 per cent of voters voted against ratification, while 38.1 per cent voted in favour.

The result obliges the government to assess the results before taking a decision on what to do.

Rutte (pictured) has already indicated that the Government will take its time in a ‘step-by-step’ approach.

Possible options include a decision to press ahead with ratification (although this is option appears to have been discarded already); adding a declaration to the EU-Ukraine Agreement in which it is clearly stated that Ukraine is not eligible for EU membership; and a decision by all EU governments granting the Netherlands an opt-out from the non-trade aspects of the agreement to a request to renegotiate the agreement.

All options require careful consultation of all parties involved, including the 27 other EU member states and the EU institutions.

Aside from creating a political headache for the current Dutch Presidency of the EU Council and member states – already confronted with multiple challenges and crises – the referendum raises important questions about the future of the Union itself.

The Dutch ‘No’ vote – cheered by British Eurosceptics ahead of their own referendum on EU membership on 23 June – is yet another expression of Euroscepticism.

The ‘No’ camp in the Netherlands has already indicated that it plans to hold other referendums on EU-related issues, such as the euro, the Schengen passport-free zone, and the planned EU trade deal with the United States (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).

Although it remains to be seen whether a referendum will be possible on each of these issues, the fact that the Dutch may hold a referendum could raise questions about the EU’s credibility as an international negotiator.

Many questions remain. Europe Decides will keep you updated on developments.

Words  Diederik Peereboom
Photos  CC/Flickr thisisbossi; (c) European Union, 2016

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