Dutch senate has ratified the European Association agreement with Ukraine. The adaptation is controversial because Dutch voters rejected the treaty in a referendum last year in April. The vote will result in the permanent adaptation of the treaty in Europe.
With today’s vote the Dutch senate has adopted the European Association Treaty with Ukraine. Being the last EU-member state to have ratified the treaty, the vote implies that the Association Treaty will now permanently be adopted by all EU member states. Consequently, the treaty will obligate Ukraine to distance itself from the Russian Federation and move closer to the EU. The Dutch senate has voted in favor despite that the treaty has sparked the Maidan and consequently led to the civil war in Ukraine due to pro-western orientation of the Association Treaty.
The adoption of the treaty is controversial. Last year in April a referendum was held in The Netherlands in which 61% of the people who cast their votes rejected the Association agreement. In the months following the referendum most political parties vowed to accept the outcome of the referendum. Nevertheless, a majority of political parties has been secured in both houses of parliament.
The Ukraine referendum is not the first time that the Dutch government has chosen to ignore the results of a referendum. Back in 2005 voters rejected the proposed European Constitution. Though the Constitution itself was not adopted, it was replaced by a treaty similar in function as the original constitution but under a different name: The Treaty of Lisbon.
With 32% the voters showing up to vote, the turnout was low. The low attendance resulted in criticism whether the result reflected the true will of the Dutch population. One of the reason for suggesting this was that many voters deliberately chose to stay at home in the hope that the mandatory 30%-voter threshold would not be met. Nevertheless, a poll done by Dutch TV station, RTL4, shows that even if all voters would have shown up, the result would have been a rejection of the treaty.(2) This suggests that a group of voters stayed at home expecting that the referendum result will not be respected.
Despite the referendum not being legally binding most political parties did indicate to respect the referendum result. However Prime Minister Rutte did push forward the Association Treaty. But to meet with criticism Rutte has added a ‘legally binding appendix’ to the association treaty. The appendix is supposed to meet the main criticism of the no-voters such as to prevent Ukraine from becoming a candidate member state of the EU. Furthermore, the appendix further clarifies that the treaty does not permit Ukraine from receiving military assistance, funds or permitting Ukrainian nationals to work in the EU.
The claim of Prime Minister Rutte that the appendix is legally binding is rather questionable. During the debate about the appendix several members of parliament have expressed their concerns whether the appendix is indeed binding, pointing at the fact that Ukraine itself has not signed the appendix.(4)(6) Furthermore, the highest administrative court in the Netherlands, de Raad van State, writes concerning the treaty’s legal status: “About what the addition of the appendix in juridical term does and does not mean the appendix is insufficiently explicit.”(3)*
The whole referendum has been overshadowed by influence from the European Union. In the months preceding the vote, president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker warned that a no-vote ‘might lead to a continental crisis in Europe’. Saying that Russia might pick the fruits of an easy victory.(1)
When asked in Parliament why the Dutch government had not yet decided on what to do with the referendum results (as is mandatory by law) prime minister Mark Rutte replied: “Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place.” Adding that “our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way.”(2)
Dutch government and political parties also have been pressured by the EU and other EU member states. Dutch TV channel RTL 4 uncovered that both Juncker and chancellor Angela Merkel have pushed Dutch prime minister Rutte to come up with a solution to save the Association Treaty. The associated pressure resulted in a lot of phone calls and text messages from European politicians, employers organizations, foreign sister parties and famous politicians to influence the parties reluctant to vote in favor of the treaty.(5)
The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement has been a source of controversy ever since Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the deal. The act of Yanukovych not signing the treaty sparked protests on the Maidan square eventually leading to the over through of Yanukovych’s government. The strong anti-Russia sentiment of the protests would anger ethnic Russians in Ukraine. This anger resulted in a referendum in Crimea. In this referendum Crimeans would choose for Crimea to join the Russian Federation. The anti-Russian sentiments of the Maidan would also lead to the civil war in Eastern Ukraine.
Despite far reaching effects on the relationship between Ukraine and Russia and the controversy in Ukraine itself, Ukraine did ratify the treaty. More so, the ratification took place after the toppling of Yanukovych’ government but before any elections were held. The treaty will obligate Ukraine to synchronize its economies to European Standards (instead of Russian ones), but also to converge its foreign and defense policy with that of the EU. (7)
See also: Ukraine and freedom of press: are journalists allowed to write what they want in Ukraine?
2 – https://debatgemist.tweedekamer.nl/debatten/uitslag-raadgevend-referendum-associatieverdrag-met-oekraïne
“As soon as possible, why not the coming weeks? Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. And our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way, thatis the 23rd of june. That has to be over with before people openly want to talk about this. This does not mean that behind the sences nothing can take place. But the official conversations in Brussels can only lead to conclusions, and what us concerns, as quickly as possible after the 23rd of june.
Tot slot Voorzitter, zo spoedig mogelijk, waarom niet de komende weken? Om de Simpele reden er dat ook het VK referendum speelt. En onze politieke taxatie en ook de eerste signalen die we krijgen van onze Europese partners is dat we dat eerst weg willen hebben, dat is 23 juni. Dat moet eerst voorbij zijn voordat men openlijk hierover wil spreken. Dat betekend niet dat er achter de schermen niets kan gebeuren, maar het openlijke gesprek in Brussel hierover kan pas tot conclusies leiden en wat ons betreft heel snel na 23 juni.
7 – Art 4, Art. 10, Introduction. https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/trb-2014-160.html
* Please note: the translation I have proposed here has filled in the signal words. The part I have quoted in the text is: “Over wat het besluit in juridische zin wel en niet betekent is de toelichting echter nog niet voldoende expliciet.”
Picture in header: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oekraïne#/media/File:Un-ukraine.png