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.