The Netherlands Parliament ignored the will of its voters for the sake of Ukraine
Translated by Eugenia
The Senate in the Netherlands confirmed in the most unobtrusive manner the Association Agreement of Ukraine with the EU – against the decision of last year’s referendum. The local press barely reported the event. In an attempt to explain why the will of the people was ignored, analysts repeated the same argument over and over: a refusal to ratify the agreement would have been “a gift to Putin”, which is, of course, unthinkable.
This Tuesday the Senate – the upper chamber of the Parliament – of the Netherlands ratified the Association and free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU (the lower chamber approved the document at the end of February, before the parliamentary elections). Fifty out of 75 senators voted for it. The Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Foreign Minister Bert Koenders attended the Senate session, which happens extremely rarely.
It was decided to forget about 62% of the Netherlands citizens
The decision to ratify was predetermined a week ago by the results of the debates on the issue. As the main arguments in favor of ratification, the senators named the need to support democracy in Ukraine and preserve the reputation of the Netherlands as a reliable and predictable partner. The Netherlands was the last country in the EU that had not yet approved of the document.
Most parliamentary parties voted in support of the document including – which is rich – 9 out of 12 members of Christian-Democratic Appeal – the very same party that before the elections promised to vote against the agreement. The Freedom Party of Hard Wilders voted against as planned, as did other opposition parties – the Socialist party, the Party for the Animals, the “50PLUS”.
Now only formalities are left, such as signing of the document by King Will-Alexander. “We have made a step closer to ratification. I hope the process will be concluded quickly by the summit EU-Ukraine in July”, said the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured), as cited by TASS.
The news from Hague caused much excitement in Kiev. “Ukraine is being integrated into European politics in many areas,” announced the President Petr Poroshenko. “The agreement of the association and free trade with the EU coming into effect and visa-free travel regime, which will start in 10 days, – these are all important steps in our movements toward the united Europe”.
“The next trick” did not come off
The Ukrainian political establishment sees no inconsistency in the situation when the authorities of the Netherlands, which is considered one of the most democratic countries, decided to ignore the results of the referendum. The Ukrainian MP from the “Block of Petr Poroshenko”, adviser to the Minister of Informational Policy Alexander Braginetz believes that the Netherlands citizens could not have possibly voted in the referendum as they did of their own accord – they had to be corrupted by Moscow. ‘Russia bought out that referendum, spent a lot of money in order to ruin that association agreement. Did everything it could. But Putin’s next trick did not come off. Anyway, the referendum had little significance. It was advisory in nature”, – said Braginetz to VSGLYAD (vsglyad (russ) – a look, a glance; also in some context – point of view – translator’s note) newspaper.
A question from VSGLYAD how Moscow could manage to buy off the majority of Dutch citizens presented no problem for the MP. Braginetz had an explanation: “It has been already proven that many participants in the campaign before the referendum that supposedly acted on behalf of Ukraine in reality did everything to turn the voters against Ukraine”.
Let us remind the readers that the ratification process dragged for more than three years. The agreement was concluded immediately after the coup in Ukraine in 2014. A year after that, the Netherlands was on the verge of ratifying the agreement, but postponed ratification since it was decided to conduct an advisory referendum, which took place in April of last year. A majority – 62% of the Netherlands citizens – voted against ratification. The results shocked Ukrainian public opinion. The myth about unconditional support for Ukraine in the EU was destroyed.
To somehow get out of the embarrassing situation, the EU authorities decided to pretend that they were paying attention to the opinions of the Netherlands citizens. Unable to bury the association agreement, at the following EU summit on Ukraine they announced that the concerns of the people of the Netherlands would be taken into account. The agreement was supplemented with a declaration consisting of several points: the agreement was not a first step for Ukraine towards EU membership; it would not provide any financial assistance to Kiev, and would not grant to the citizens of Ukraine the right to live and work in the EU. In essence, Ukraine was offered a Moldova-style model, a country whose chances for EU membership nobody even mentions these days.
Later Rutte, whose party managed to secure victory in the March elections, decided to initiate the ratification process again based on the adopted declaration.
The referendum was not useless
The Director of the Center of the Eurasian Studies Vladimir Kornilov, residing in the Netherlands, remarks that the Dutch media on Tuesday refrained from bringing up the issue of the referendum. “They mention the subject in passing, but do not press the point, because the media from the start was in favor of ratification,” said Kornilov to VSGLYAD.
According to him, on the eve of the voting, only a couple of short columns were published, which, furthermore, “justified the decision to approve ratification in advance saying that, well, we need to oppose Russia, and if the Netherlands does not ratify the agreement, that would play into Putin’s hands”.
“The public opinion, of course, is against the agreement. This is obvious from the blogosphere, from the heated discussions of the subject there. The problem is not so much the ruling party but Christian-Democratic Appeal, the party that before the elections promised to vote against ratification but now supported it without batting an eye”.
Nevertheless, the people’s will expressed at the referendum still did have an effect. Kornilov reminded us how the subject of the association was presented to the Netherlands public during the last several months: as a result of the referendum, the Netherlands succeeded in including the EU declaration into the agreement, “which effectively put an end to the aspirations of Ukraine for EU membership”. He added: “We should not forget that the Netherlands referendum indeed played some role in this”.
In contrast, the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova is convinced that the Netherlands public has been cheated. “Their own leaders have done that, once again having armed themselves with openly russophobic propaganda. This, by the way, is a direct confirmation of the essentially anti-Russian nature of the Ukraine-EU association agreement, regardless of how many times we have been assured that it was not so”, summed up Zakharova.
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