Global Independent Analytics

Dutch Vote on EU-Ukraine Deal Could Send Ripples Through Europe

EU officials fear a rejection could fuel rising euroskepticism

Maarten van Tartwick for The Wall Street Journal reports: Weeks before the U.K. decides whether to leave the European Union, the Netherlands will hold a referendum that could deliver a blow to the bloc.

The long-awaited vote in Netherlands on whether Ukraine deserves to become a new member of the European Union will be performed on Wednesday. If signed, the agreement will deepen and tighten economic and political ties with the former Soviet republic and other 27 EU members.  Although the results of the referendum will not be an immediate call for action, EU officials fear that in case Ukraine is rejected, the European society will be struck with anxiety and skepticism.

“If the Dutch vote no, Europe will have a problem,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a speech in The Hague last month. “That problem is destabilization.” The vote comes against a setting of rising euroskepticism across the European Union just as the region is struggling with a record number of immigrants, elevated terror threat, and fragile economy.

“The citizens in Europe are angry and they blame the EU for everything that goes wrong,” said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a former Dutch foreign minister and ex-secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Particularly the UK euroskeptic groups are likely to provide more of an accelerant to the fire of dissatisfaction. A senior EU official claimed that a Dutch rejection might drive the ‘out’ group in the UK. “This could be seen as an opening salvo in favor of the ‘no’ camp in the U.K., as a sign that it pays off to show your middle finger to the political elites,” the official said.

Van Tartwick continues: “The Dutch referendum is the first under a new domestic law that allows citizens to call for a nonbinding vote on some legislation and treaties that have already been passed by parliament. It was triggered by an online petition started by euroskeptic activists and an antiestablishment blog that argued that voters should have more influence on EU decisions.

The Ukraine pact was targeted because it was one of the first pieces of legislation available on which to stage a referendum, said Thierry Baudet, a 33-year-old publicist and one of the vote’s initiators. “The agreement with Ukraine is a symptom of everything that is wrong with the EU,” he said.”

Opinion polls forecast that a ‘No’ vote will be reached by a narrow majority; if the prediction fulfills, it will deal a blow to Dutch PM Mark Rutte, who, while holding the EU’s rotating presidency, promised his citizens that the association agreement with Ukraine would boost trade and help stabilize Ukraine’s democracy and economy. Moreover, rejecting the pact would also hurt Ukraine’s hopes of EU support for Visa-free conditions between the countries: the request should also be backed by all 28 EU members.

Dutch voters have already proven their independence: in 2005, they rejected the bloc’s new constitution almost unanimously. However, the constitution was nevertheless adopted without consulting voters which since then has turned Netherlanders away from the EU. “This referendum may be about Ukraine, but it’s also about whether we want more or less EU,” said lawmaker Geert Wilders, whose anti-EU and anti-immigration Party for Freedom is topping many opinion polls.

It is yet unclear what will happen if the Dutch would not agree to acknowledge Ukraine. Changes to the agreement would require being ratified by all 28 member states.  According to the EU officials, it is more likely to apply the agreement provisionally despite the fact that this way it would be much easier for other governments to walk away from the pact.

“Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has appealed to Dutch voters to show “solidarity with Ukraine,” saying in January a “yes” vote would promote “EU values beyond the union’s borders,” assumes Van Tartwick.

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

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