Lessons from electoral research
Radboud University of Nijmegen did electoral research after the Ukraine referendum on April 6 in The Netherlands.[i] The majority voted ‘no’.[ii] Opponents of the EU-Ukraine Treaty declared the referendum to be one against the EU. In this research that proved to be wrong. Most no-voters did not protest against the EU or the Dutch government. There were two major reasons: 34,1% of the no-voters thought that Ukraine was too corrupt to support, for fear of seeing Dutch money disappearing. A substantial 16,5% was afraid that the Treaty would open the door to EU-membership. In my view, the research was up to standards. They asked a sample of 2900 households to participate and got a response of 85%.
Mistrust in Ukraine
How to interpret the research outcomes? In the first place: Trust is an important factor. Ukraine is not highly trusted: 79% of the no-voters give Ukraine a score of 4 or lower (on a scale of 10). The EU is much more trusted: 37% score 4 or lower, 26% 7 or higher. Trust in Dutch parliament, surprisingly, is highest (35% score 7 or higher). This is also a reason not to see the no-vote as a vote against the EU or the government.
Good substantial reasons
Secondly: I think the no-voters have mentioned sound substantial reasons. Corruption: Ukraine is deeply corrupt, and the Treaty intends to do something about that. To be afraid of Dutch money disappearing is not unfounded. Even in original EU member states money disappears in bottomless coffers (e.g. the South of Italy, where decades of support have no brought much progress). It is good to know that many Dutchmen reject corruption, not only in the Ukraine. EU membership: EU membership is not part of the EU-Ukraine Treaty. But the President of the Ukraine dearly wants the become an EU member, and the EU is very open to newcomers. Art. 49 of the EU Treaty invites every European country to apply for membership. Knowing how very weak former Yugoslav states are on their way to become an EU member, being sceptical about Ukraine EU membership is very reasonable.
Does this research help Prime Minister Rutte?
The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, searches to solve the problem that his government doesn’t want to retreat from the Ukraine Treaty but the voters did. One option is to exclude EU membership through an addendum to the Treaty. If other signatories accept this, Dutch no-voters might be satisfied. But membership was no their main problem. That was corruption. Corruption in Ukraine cannot be ruled out by addendum.
[i] Het Oekraïne-referendum. Nationaal Referendum Onderzoek 2016; Nijmegen
[ii] See http://europefixit.eu/a-straw-called-europe-the-ukraine-referendum/