One of the more disgusting moments in the recent(ish) history of the EU was the decision, pushed by Angela Merkel (yes, there’s a pattern), to ignore Dutch and French referendum votes against a proposed EU constitution and effectively ‘reintroduce’ it through the notorious Lisbon Treaty a few years later.
It was a decision that was a powerful reminder of the EU’s essentially post-democratic nature and here (via Politico) is another of its consequences:
A majority of Dutch voters is opposed to the Netherlands’ ratification of the European Union’s association agreement with Ukraine, a new poll ahead of an April 6 referendum on the issue showed Saturday. The poll, conducted by the Dutch public broadcaster’s program EenVandaag, is the first barometer on the April 6 vote. It 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 30 percent.
Back in September, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe explained the background:
The organisors of the referendum are the eurosceptic think-tank Forum for Democracy, the eurosceptic news website Geenstijl.nl (which gained notoriety for exposing the practice of MEPs signing in to claim their daily allowance before sodding off) and Burgercomité EU, the campaign for a full referendum on EU membership. Geert Wilders, the leader of the populist anti-EU and anti-immigration PVV party which is currently leading in the opinion polls has been an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign, although the organisers have done their best to keep their distance from him and party politics in general.
The VVD, the main party in the Dutch coalition, has dubbed the organisers of the initiative as “friends of Putin”, a sensitive accusation in the wake of the shooting down of flight MH17 last year. The question of the EU’s relations with both Russia and Ukraine has been a factor in the campaign; the Association Agreement is unpopular some quarters as there are fears Ukraine will benefit from greater financial support from Dutch taxpayers and that the move to remove visa requirements for Ukrainians will lead to greater immigration from that country. There are also concerns that the deal effectively commits the Netherlands to side with Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
However, that said, this should first and foremost be seen as a proxy for many Dutch citizens’ desire for a broader debate about the EU and the direction it is heading in. Given that a full on referendum about EU membership is explicitly excluded in the [Dutch] legislation establishing the referendum mechanism, campaigners latched onto the EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement as the best option for forcing the debate. They needed a piece of EU legislation which was yet to come into force and upon which they could hang their broader concerns, this agreement seemed to fit the bill. Thierry Baudet, an author and academic who launched the Forum for Democracy has said that “We will put the question of the EU on the agenda with a broad focus on all aspects of the EU.” More generally, it is also reflective of the wider anti-establishment mood that is sweeping across much of Europe.
This is very bad luck for Ukraine. The EU has historically been a force for good in Eastern Europe and an association agreement between the EU and Ukraine would be a useful step forward for the country. As such, it would be something to be welcomed.
But the democratic sovereignty (or what’s left of it) of the nations of Western Europe counts too. As things stand, at least for now I think that the Dutch should vote no.
The association agreement went into force provisionally on January 1, but it has to be ratified by all 28 EU members in order to become permanent. It is unclear what a “No” vote in the referendum would mean for Dutch policy, as both the government and the country’s other leading parties have said they plan to campaign in favor of the association agreement. The referendum result has to be considered by the government, but isn’t binding on it.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU’s chief bureaucrat, is talking of a catastrophe in the making, a favorite rhetorical device when the pressure is on:
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that a Dutch advisory referendum in April on the bloc’s association agreement with Ukraine could lead to a “continental crisis” if voters reject the treaty. In an interview published on Saturday by the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, Juncker said Russia would “pluck the fruits” of a vote in the Netherlands against deepened ties between the European Union and Ukraine…
We’ll have to see how the vote turns out (it’s early days). But if the result does turn out to be a no (and the government respects it), it will also be a poignant reminder of how helpful to Putin the economic and political disarray provoked by the EU’s push for ‘ever closer union’ (despite the lack of democratic consent for it) has proved to be.