Global Independent Analytics
Normunds Grostins
Normunds Grostins

Location: Latvia

Specialization: Development of European Union, Non-governmental organizations, Politics and economics in Baltic States

Ukraine - EU: Yes or No in the Netherlands

The poll, conducted by the Dutch public broadcaster’s program EenVandaag, found that over 50 percent of voters “are certain” to reject the Ukraine agreement

A referendum on the approval of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine will be held in the Netherlands on 6 April 2016.

A majority of Dutch voters is opposed to the Netherlands’ ratification of the European Union’s association agreement with Ukraine, revealed a new poll ahead of the referendum in January. The poll, conducted by the Dutch public broadcaster’s program EenVandaag, found that over 50 percent of voters “are certain” to reject the Ukraine agreement, while another quarter of respondents said they’ll “likely” reject the deal.

Over half of respondents also said they will certainly cast a ballot, while another 17 percent said they’d “most likely” vote. The threshold for the referendum to be taken into account is a turnout of at least 30 percent[i]

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker urged Dutch voters not to oppose the EU association agreement with Ukraine, saying such a move "could open the doors to a continental crisis".  "Let's not change the referendum into a vote about Europe", Juncker urged Dutch voters[ii]

On April 6, 2016, the Dutch voters will answer the question: "Do you support or oppose the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement?"

There may be three referendum outcomes:

  • The voter turnout is less than 30%, and the results are invalid (but not unimportant).
  • The voter turnout exceeds 30%, and most people vote in favour of the Association Agreement.
  • The voter turnout exceeds 30%, and most people vote against the Association Agreement.

 

Thus, the turnout is a matter of high priority. In the Netherlands, it can vary dramatically. When it comes down to national and the EU-related issues, the voter turnout substantially exceeds 30%.

However, the Dutch people are not that enthusiastic about taking part in local elections. 63% of voters took part in the EU Constitution vote in 2005, while, for example, only 9% of people took part in the 2007 elections for the mayor of Utrecht - the fourth most populous city in the country.

Polls show the forthcoming referendum turnout will most likely exceed 30%[iii]

Although the results are not binding on Prime Minister's Rutte's Liberal-Labour coalition, the referendum is likely to be closely watched as eurosceptic parties - including that of far-right politician Geert Wilders - rise in the Dutch polls ahead of elections due in 2017.

Ignoring the voters' views may cost the Dutch politicians a high price. Very soon - less than a year after the referendum - the parliamentary elections will take place. Therefore, most Dutch political parties have already publicly stated that the government should act according to the voters' will.

In fact, this eliminates the "advisory" nature of the referendum. Despite the legal permission to ignore the voting, no doubt the referendum results will be implemented. The political pressure in the Netherlands does not provide lawmakers with much room for maneuver.

Anyway, some room for maneuver still remains. The ratio of those voting "for" and "against" will be vital. If the ratio is small (for example: 45% and 55%), the government will find it easier to defend the need to leave the Agreement in place or will explain the necessity for its repeated support in the parliament.

The fight is heating up. An initial poll of 1,000 people by the Yes campaign at the end of last year showed that 34% oppose the treaty and 17% support it. However, when it was "explained" what the treaty is about, support rose to 45% while the number of opponents fell to 32%.

That research provides some hope for supporters of the EU-Ukraine association agreement. Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros is donating € 200,000 to the Yes side through his Open Society Foundation[iv].

A serious problem for the Yes campaign is the lack of wholesale government backing. While foreign minister Bert Koenders and trade minister Liliane Ploumen will be out and about talking about the benefits of the treaty, there will be no television campaign with adverts, the Volkskrant said at the weekend[v]

Reacting to EU-Ukraine Agreement, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree suspending Russia's free trade deal with Ukraine from January 1, 2016. Under the decree, Ukraine will no longer enjoy the most favored nation treatment under the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) free-trade deal and preferential policies in areas of migration, customs, quarantine inspection and investment.

Russia was Ukraine's largest trading partner with 25.7% of exports and 32.4% of imports in 2012. In 2015 the export figure had fallen to 12.7%. In 2014 Ukraine imported 23.3% of all its imports from Russia.

The EU is Ukraine's second largest trading partner with 24.9% of exports and 30.9% of imports in 2012. In 2015, 34% of Ukrainian exports went to EU market[vi]. (6)

Re-orientation of Ukraine's economy from Russia to EU market is a huge and expensive project. EU is expected to support it by millions or even billions of euros. Dutch voters will have the opportunity to choose, whether they are going to contribute their money to this.

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