Forthcoming Dutch referendum may pause the implementation of Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union. The chances the Netherlands may slow down this process are rather high, but the European bureaucracy will surely devise a tactic to eventually have it is own way, experts say. If such referendums were to be held in other European countries, too, many of them would surely give the agreement the cold shoulder. The public at large does not like what is happening in Ukraine at all. The people are scared to see crowds of refugees flocking in, wherever they may come from.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said last Saturday the authorities would have to reconsider their stance regarding Ukraine’s association with the European Union, if the people say “No” in the referendum due on April 6, although formally its outcome would be just a recommendation. The voters will be asked to reply whether they are for or against the ratification of the association agreement between the European Union and Russia.
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Ukraine and the European Union concluded the association agreement in 2014. It will take effect after ratification by Ukraine, all EU member-states and the European parliament. By February 2, 2016 all countries had been through with the ratification procedures. The Dutch parliament voted for it, too. But Dutch political parties belonging with the group of Europeskeptics – the Dutch Party for Freedom and the Socialist Party – both having good chances of winning the forthcoming parliamentary elections, initiated a referendum after their motion for blocking the instrument of ratification fell short of the required majority in parliament. The referendum had to be called when 400,000 signatures were collected in its support. Opinion polls held in December 2015 and January 2016 showed that the agreement’s critics outnumber the share of its supporters.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker warned that the Dutch referendum might bring about a continental crisis, if the electorate voted against. “I wish all Dutch people to be aware the importance of this issue goes far beyond the bounds of the Netherlands,” Junker told the Dutch weekly Handelsblad in an interview. “I don’t think that the Dutch people will say NO, because this may thrust the door wide open to a major continental crisis,” he said, adding that if the results of the voting were negative, Russia will “reap the fruit.”
“It would wrong to say that the Dutch society is greatly concerned about the Ukrainian problem as such. The latter is considered in a broader context,” the director of the Political Studies Center, Sergey Markov, has told TASS. “Their attitude can be described in the following way: ‘Stop welcoming to the European Union crowds of savages, of people who are alien to European culture, people from countries where the institutions have been ruined and whose population is poor, hungry and criminalized.’ From this point of view the Dutch will vote against association with Ukraine. They will vote against Syrian refugees and against Iraqi and Ukrainian ones as well. It will be a protest against migrants as such.”
Markov sees a high degree of probability most Dutch people will oppose the approval of the agreement of association with Ukraine. “True, they may fall short of the required turnout. The government and the ruling parties have been trying to hush up the affair, to create a news blackout.”
It is believed that a majority of Dutch parties will be cautious enough in the run-up to elections and avoid coming out openly against the results of the referendum. “In any case the referendum will create major problems for the European Union. They don’t even have an action plan to follow in this case. Junker is right in a sense. To a certain extent this is a pan-European crisis. The EU will have no idea what to do next.”
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Should such referendums be held in other European countries, the Ukraine-EU association would be blocked in most of them, Markov believes. “There is no successful Ukraine. In a sense the country is following in Syria’s footsteps. The state is ruined and its institutions have collapsed. Censorship keeps the Europeans unaware who is killing whom, but it is clear that there is no prosperity. They are just afraid millions of impoverished Ukrainians will follow the refugees from the Middle East.
“The tradition of holding referendums in the Netherlands is not a very long one, but it is rather strong. When the European Constitution was put to the vote, the people rejected it,” Professor Maksim Bratersky, of the Higher School of Economics, told TASS. “The European bureaucracy had to act in a different way: to propose the treaty for signature. Referendums do have certain influence on decisions the Dutch government makes.”
At this point the outcome of the voting is anyone’s guess, Bratersky believes: “In material terms the agreement of association with Ukraine is good, because it spells more markets. But it should not be ruled out that the Dutch tend to focus on the social and economic situation in Ukraine, on corruption, on civil war, and on the surge of nationalism. They may not like it at all.”
“The enthusiasm the Western media were once brimming with over the victory of democracy in Ukraine and everything else has died down somehow against the background of the real state of affairs. Skepticism is unmistakably present. No denying that,” Bratersky said. Yet he is certain that the European bureaucracy will devise a way of how to push through the agreement somehow, however roundabout and indecent it may look.