Good reasons to vote ‘no’ in Dutch Ukraine referendum

flyers-referendum-geenpeil

  • 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/

Oekraïne referendum: goede redenen tegenstemmers

  • Lessen uit het kiezersonderzoek

De Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen deed na het referendum van 6 april 2016 een kiezersonderzoek. [i] Anders dan tegenstanders als Geen Peil propageerden, ging het de meeste tegenstemmers niet om protest tegen de EU of de Nederlandse regering. Het ging vooral om twee dingen: 34,1% van de tegenstemmers vond de Oekraïne te corrupt om een verdrag mee te sluiten, en 16,5% was bang dat het verdrag tot het EU-lidmaatschap zou leiden. Corruptie betekende dat men bang was dat Nederlands geld verloren zou gaan. Het is volgens mij een keurig onderzoek waarbij gebruik werd gemaakt van een vertrouwde aanpak[ii]. 2900 Huishoudens zijn gevraagd mee te doen, en er kwam een respons van 85%.

  • Wantrouwen jegens Oekraïne

Hoe moeten wij de uitkomsten interpreteren? In de eerste plaats dat wantrouwen een grote rol speelt. Het vertrouwen in Oekraïne is gering: 79% geeft Oekraïne een score van 4 of lager op een schaal van 10. Het vertrouwen in de Europese Unie ligt aanzienlijk hoger: 37% geeft een score van 4 of lager, 26% een score van 7 of hoger. Het hoogst is het vertrouwen in het Nederlandse parlement (26% een score van 4 of lager, 35% een score van 7 of hoger). Ook daarom is een tegenstem niet te zien als stem tegen de regering of de EU.

  • Goede inhoudelijke redenen

In de tweede plaats vind ik dat de tegenstemmers inhoudelijke redenen hebben genoemd die bepaald niet onzinnig zijn. Corruptie: De Oekraïne is erg corrupt, al wil het verdrag daar wat aan doen. Het is dus niet vreemd om te vrezen dat Nederlands geld daar verdwijnt. Het is immers waar dat veel EU-geld zelfs in oude lidstaten in bodemloze putten verdwijnt (vgl. Zuid-Italië dat al decennia massieve steun krijgt maar niet vooruit komt). Maar het is goed te weten dat Nederlanders corruptie een verwerpeloijk verschijnsel vinden. EU-lidmaatschap: Het EU-lidmaatschap is weliswaar niet in het verdrag aangekondigd, maar de Oekraïense president staat te trappelen en de EU heeft een echte “Willkommenskultur”, om Bondskanselier Merkel te parafraseren (art. 49 van het EU-verdrag maakt het mogelijk voor ieder Europees land het lidmaatschap aan te vragen). Als je ziet hoe het lidmaatschap van uiterst zwakke staten uit voormalige Joegoslavië geleidelijk en onder druk van sommige EU-leden tot stand komt, is het een goede reden om sceptisch te zijn over een Oekraïens lidmaatschap.

  • Helpt dit Rutte?

Premier Rutte zoekt een oplossing voor de negatieve uitslag van het referendum omdat de regering het verdrag niet wil afwijzen.[iii] Een van de gedachten is om een tekst toe te voegen die het EU-lidmaatschap uitsluit. Dat zou aan de tegenstemmers tegemoet komen. Maar hun hoofdbezwaar, de corruptie in de Oekraïne, daar valt nu geen antwoord op te geven.

[i] Het Oekraïne-referendum; Nationaal Referendum Onderzoek 2016; Nijmegen 2016

[ii] LISS-panel van CentERdata. ‘LISS’ staat voor Langlopende Internet Studies voor de Sociale wetenschappen.

[iii] Zie mijn blog Europa als strohalm, november 2016, europefixit.eu .

A straw called ‘Europe’ – the Ukraine referendum

  • Don’t Go There

A referendum on the Ukraine-EU Treaty was held on April 6 in The Netherlands. According to a recent law this could only be an advisory referendum. A threshold of 30% of the electorate was set to make a referendum legitimate. Only 32% of the voters turned out and 60% of them were against the Treaty. Being afraid of the rage of the population, a number of political parties had from the start said that the result would be respected. Even the Labour party, one of the two founders of the Rutte Cabinet, chose the wrong way just before April 6. It is difficult to stick to your own laws. In this way, a non-binding referendum was framed as a binding referendum. ‘No = no’ as the opposition triumphantly said.

 

  • Cabinet charting unknown waters

It is not that simple. The Referendum Act only says that the government must decide asap whether it will repeal its signature from the Treaty, or not. ‘As soon as possible’ has now lasted for seven months and there is still no end in sight. Apart from its own convictions, the Cabinet was hesitant to blow up an EU-treaty at the time when The Netherlands was presiding the EU. The search for justice in the case of the fatal flight of the MH17 airplane made good relations with Ukraine and other European states necessary. So, the Cabinet chose to sit on the fence, as is usual in Dutch politics. Could the opponents of the Treaty be satisfied without repealing the Dutch signature?

 

  • We take your worries away

The idea is, through analysis of opponents’ stories, that four themes would have to be answered. These are: membership of the EU, free entrance of Ukraine workers, extra financial support, and binding military assistance. A kind of legally binding side-letter should be added to the Treaty, clarifying EU’s position in these matters, supposedly being: no – no – no – no. Far from clear is whether the opponents could be satisfied this way. Opposition in Parliament could speak out for itself. But the voters’ reactions are not easy to grasp; waiting for the general elections of March 2017 would be an option. In parliament, there is a very small majority for this approach, but there is as yet no pudding to eat and have proof. What other parties to the Treaty think is not yet clear.

 

  • Catching an incredible straw

Surprisingly, last week the Cabinet introduced an argument for ratification of the Treaty that it had not played out strongly before the referendum. This argument was that we need European solidarity to keep the Russians at bay. Before the referendum, the Cabinet kept a very low profile, and stressed that this was just another trade agreement. This geo-political argument was part of the argumentation for the Treaty, but it was not presented as a major element for The Netherlands. Before the referendum, when the tides of the anti-Europe voice rose high, the Cabinet time and again said that the EU was too big and that the member states had to become the strongest players in Europe. Here, our Government is making itself extremely incredible. Although a strong and united stand against Russia is necessary, in the long run the European Union deserves credible support, not purely opportunistic, and probably futile proposals to win over a domestic audience.

 

 

Europa als strohalm – Rutte en het Oekraïnereferendum

  • Negatief reisadvies

    Het referendum dat op 6 april j.l. in Nederland werd gehouden leidde tot een negatief advies van de opgekomen kiezers. 32% kwam op, 60% van de opgekomenen was tegen het Associatie-akkoord tussen EU en Oekraïne. En toen? Een deel van de Tweede Kamer had al voor 6 april gezegd dat zij de uitkomst van het referendum zouden overnemen. Niet alleen de oppositie zei dat, maar ook regeringsfractie PvdA die wel voor het akkoord had gestemd. Vreemde zaak! Bovendien gaat het om een raadgevend referendum, dus mag de regering (en het parlement) er een eigen oordeel over geven. Dat is gaan glijden.
    Volgens de wet (art. 12: Betreft het een wet tot goedkeuring van een verdrag, dan wordt zo spoedig mogelijk beslist of een voorstel van wet zal worden ingediend dat uitsluitend strekt tot intrekking van de wet of tot goedkeuring van het voornemen tot opzegging van het verdrag, indien de binding aan het verdrag reeds is aangegaan. ) hoeft de regering de uitslag niet over te nemen maar moet wel “zo spoedig mogelijk” een beslissing nemen of hij het verdrag opzegt. Of niet opzegt. De oppositie maakt er steeds van dat de regering een voorstel moet indienen om de goedkeuringswet in te trekken, maar dat is onzin.

  • Jammerlijke vertoning

    De regering heeft er intussen een jammerlijke vertoning van gemaakt. Eerst zei de regering niks, want Nederland was EU voorzitter, en dan een EU-akkoord opblazen is niet zo gunstig voor je reputatie. Daarna werd het touwtrekken. De regering bleek geen zin te hebben in afwijzing van het akkoord en ging naar manieren zoeken om de uitslag van het referendum naast zich neer te leggen. Dat kwam er op neer dat aan bezwaren van de tegenstemmers tegemoet zou worden gekomen door een “juridisch bindende” bijlage bij het verdrag. Dat wil zeggen: een aantal uitspraken van de EU-landen (en de Oekraïne?) over moeilijke onderwerpen als het EU-lidmaatschap van de Oekraïne. De regering wil eigenlijk vastleggen wat het akkoord allemaal niet zegt. Dat klinkt overbodig, maar het is nooit weg. Oekraïne wordt geen EU-lid, Oekraïne wordt niet militair geholpen, Oekraïne krijgt geen extra geld, en Oekraïners kunnen niet vrij in de EU werken. Is dit een goed antwoord aan de tegenstemmers? Dat weet je niet, want die krijgen geen voorstel voorgelegd. Alleen de tegenstanders in het parlement kunnen aangeven of ze nu tevreden zijn. Ik zou zeggen: je kunt het proberen, maar het risico is groot dat deze bijlage niet wordt aanvaard door alle ondertekenaars, en dat de tegenstemmers er een aanleiding voor zien om bij de Tweede Kamerverkiezingen helemaal dwars te gaan liggen. Wij zijn niet gerespecteerd!

  • Referendum tabee?

    Wat hier natuurlijk doorheen speelt is dat sommigen ineens bedenken dat het parlementaire stelsel ondergesneeuwd kan raken als er veel referenda worden gehouden. Regeringspartij VVD was al tegen referenda en neemt dus nu alle ruimte om het parlement een eigen oordeel te laten vormen. Dat mag volgens de wet ook, maar coalitiegenoot PvdA omhelsde eerst het volk en neemt er nu afstand van en laat de regering een uitweg zoeken. Kortom, de regering doet een late en vrij kansloze poging om de kool en de geit te sparen. Het instrument referendum kan daardoor sneuvelen, en dat zou ik jammer vinden.

  • Europa als strohalm

    Maar er is iets gekkers aan de hand, waar ik mij drukker over maak. Was in de aanloop naar het referendum de regering tamelijk lui, afgezien van wat interviews, en legde men de nadruk op het handelsverdrag, nu wordt ineens Europa van stal gehaald. Hoe ongeloofwaardig kan je zijn. Rutte benadrukt steeds dat de EU te veel wil en dat de lidstaten weer het voortouw moeten hebben (dat hebben ze al een tijdje en dat brengt de EU on grote problemen). En nu is Europese eenheid nodig om de Russische beer te beteugelen. De Krim was al geannexeerd voor het referendum! Het is uiterst ongeloofwaardig om Nederland tot instemming met een verdrag te verleiden om de Europese eenheid te verzekeren. Laat de regering eerst eens goed uiteenzetten hoe hij over Europa denkt, en wat precies de externe bedreigingen zijn. En hoe je daar tegen te weer kunt stellen. Dat is geen eenvoudig A4je (tenzij je een Nexit wil, zoals de PVV). Groen Links noemde terecht de gasrotonde, waarin Nederland staat te popelen om Russisch gas door Europa te pompen. De afhankelijkheid moeten we toch niet meer willen? Ongetwijfeld een pijnlijke volte face moet dan worden gemaakt, maar doe er eens een boekje over open. Trump is iemand die ongrijpbaar is door verandering van mening, maar Rutte lust er ook wel pap van.

Dutch Budget Debate – Europe is far away

2017 Budget for an inward looking nation

Each year in September the Budget for the next fiscal year (2017) is presented to the Dutch Parliament and debated immediately the days afterwards. 2016 is the last year before the General Elections in The Netherlands. This makes the budget debate a starter for the election campaigns. What we saw was a fundamentally inward looking political class. Holland is on the right track back from the economic downfall of 2008, there is a large and unstable outside world, and we will cling more to what is known and trusted, so the government pronounced. The government (through the King) frames Europe as a trade union, where economic growth and jobs come from. The only other theme where Europe is important, is the refugee crisis. Not even a tiny idea is launched to tackle the consequences of Brexit, or nor are ideas about European defence discussed.

 

Debate in Parliament

Reactions in Parliament were even less about Europe.  Health care, the refugee crisis and the (failed) integration of immigrants were the main topics. After a long discussion, one motion was carried that asked the government to speed up its decision-making about the Ukraine referendum where the majority voted “no”. Two conclusions can be drawn.

 

Europe is only a hype

First, however heated as the debates pro and contra the European Union were in the Ukraine referendum campaign, the following months Ukraine disappeared from public debate. Of course, Europe was shaken by the Brexit vote in the UK, so political attention shifted to this new topic. Some Dutch political parties nurtured hope of a Dutch Nexit. But in the budget debate only two parties mentioned it without much reaction of the others or the government. Europe is less of a deep concern than one might think. A hype. Given the problems in and outside the EU this is not a comfortable conclusion.

 

Europe is not “us”

Second, as President Juncker said[i]: “Europe can only work if speeches supporting our common project are not only delivered in this honourable House, but also in the Parliaments of all our Member States.” This is consistent with the idea that Europe is as much of the member states as of the European Commission and the European Parliament. The Dutch government has demonstrated in a sad way that Europe is only “us” in a minimal sense: when it serves Dutch interests, when it helps the economy and when its keeps refugees out.

 

 

 

[i] In his recent State of the European Union. See post “An alternative State of the European Union – What Juncker could have said” in this blog.

 

An alternative State of the European Union – What Juncker could have said

This is the trouble I’ve seen….

juncker-20160915

Honourable Members of the European Parliament.[i] Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis. Over the summer, I listened carefully to Members of this Parliament, to government representatives, to many national Parliamentarians and to the ordinary Europeans who shared their thoughts with me. Never before have I seen so much fragmentation, and so little commonality in our Union. Too many citizens have low trust in the European Union, as the low voter turnout for your Parliament shows. In many member states major groups voice not just criticism but propagate exit from the EU or giving up parts of its achievements, like the Euro. A majority of governments of member states wants to reduce the policy range of the Union and longs for a stronger role for the individual states. Only in some areas a stronger union is favoured: migration, defence, youth unemployment. And even then: The European Commission, with the European Parliament the embodiment of the “commonality” of the Union, has less friends than ever.

Pull ourselves together

Being an ordinary politician I could say: “Do we allow ourselves to become collectively depressed? Do we want to let our Union unravel before our eyes? Or do we say: Is this not the time to pull ourselves together?” And then I could propose some measures that hopefully would strengthen confidence in the EU. Measures that “deliver” desired goods to the public, like more safety at the borders of the EU or better EU-wide internet, or more transport infrastructure. If the member states think that this is worthwhile, the Commission will prepare proposals. But I think delivering more goods to the public misses the point. It would feel like bribery.

Divided member states

As members of this Parliament you know that the European Union is an imperfect democracy the European Union. We have too many captains on the ship: 28 + 1. Citizens need a focal point that represents them. 28 parliaments do not represent the European citizenry, and the European Parliament is too weak. Strengthening the EP is not a feasible answer, for now. We must recognize that there are strong divisions between the member states. The very quick expansion of the EU, from six states that were impressed by the ravages of the Second World War, via the “logical” entry of the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries and the happy return to the family of democracies of Spain, Portugal and Greece, to the historical repair of the breach that the Iron Curtain had made, brought together very different political and cultural families and a variety of economies with their own strengths and weaknesses.  A Europe “a la carte” is a reality and seems to be growing (e.g. the Visegrad Group asking[ii] for “flexible solidarity” with regard to migration). Is that good? It makes for a weak Union, where members already are inclined to decide for themselves which agreements to keep and which not; the Euro budget rules are a case in point. This has the seeds of distrust in it.

Reculer pour mieux pouvoir sauter

We must recognize that some citizens don’t want a Union. We must recognize that the strength of the EU, its great variety of cultures and societies, is a political handicap. So we must seek for common grounds all over again. Maybe a free trade partnership is okay for most members. States and citizens that want to go further should stand up and make proposals. The Euro may be a liability and be split up or abolished, thus removing a strong cause of frustration. A northern and a southern Union may work. Meanwhile, the further expansion of the European Union with new members must be stopped until we know what direction we go, which families we want to form.

“Reculer pour mieux pouvoir sauter.” That is what I have on offer.

 

[i] Texts in Italics are literally taken from Juncker’s speech to the European Parliament on the 14th of September. http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/state-union-2016_en

[ii] http://www.visegradgroup.eu/calendar/2016/joint-statement-of-the-160919

Compact of European Citizens?

Comment on Richard Youngs, Democratizing Europe, Carnegie Europe and Foreign Affairs (August 8, 2016)

A more democratic compact?

Youngs invites his readers to support his ideas for a radical reorientation of the European Union’s political structure; no longer meddling through. He pleads for “a more democratic compact based on solidarity between citizens”. I have two comments: first on the urgency of the matter, second about citizens.

Urgency of reform

Although Brexit stimulates debate about the present dissatisfaction of many citizens with the EU, the urgency of reform of EU politics is far from clear. Of course, lip service is paid by many to public concerns. The Euro-crisis and the refugee crisis have produced impulses and formal steps that change EU political structures. However, you need wide spread urgency, over many European countries, in order to produce radical changes. In itself, imminent electoral succes of anti-EU parties is not (yet) enough to create urgency as long as it doesn’t affect Germany. External threats, like the refugee crisis or the Russian movements in Easternn Europe, are also not strong enough, to my mind. Political analysts have to work harder to produce a sense of urgency. (Ulrike Guérot’s Warum Europa eine Republik werden muss! comes close by presenting a smashing negative picture of how EU functions.)

Citizens of Europe or of the states?

The problem of not enough urgency has to do with my second comment: Citizens. Youngs’ article speaks of citizens and Europe, but his frame of reference is states and national governments. E.g.: States will choose from policy communities “to join depending on the preferences of their citizens.” In this way you never get a democratized Europe. As Fukuyama (in The origins of political order) elegantly summarizes, “accountable government” is a prerequite for a succesful modern state. In modern national states this has been achieved. But at the same time in almost all European states many citizens don’t think their national government is accountable to them. Representative parliaments are under scrutiny. So we have a double problem: National governments don’t get overwhelming support as representatives of their citizens, and organizing Europe through those states will not bring a European democracy any nearer. Even worse, eternally working through states keeps European citizens apart and potentially hostile towards each other (as the Greek crisis has shown).

Overcome national barriers

My idea of Europe is not a weak patchwork of divided nations, working through back room negotiations that always are unsatisfactory for an audience demanding accountability. Europe needs an audience, a political public, not supplanting national politics but complementing it. Without an European public you never get accountable European government. And here we can start something that is truly a “Compact of European Citizens”. Overcoming the barriers of national political parties by creating European political parties that can take votes for the EU parliament from every member state could be a step forward. Another step would be the adoption of English (yes, precisely after Brexit a good choice) as political working language (as Latin once was) for European politics. Thus we feed the coming to life of Europe wide news organizations and political communities.