Thursday, 7 April 2016

Dutch referendum on EU-Ukraine deal

61% of Dutch voters say no to ratifying EU-Ukraine deal – preliminary results

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte casts his vote for the consultative referendum on the association between Ukraine and the European Union, in the Hague, the Netherlands, April 6, 2016 © Michael Kooren
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte casts his vote for the consultative referendum on the association between Ukraine and the European Union, in the Hague, the Netherlands, April 6, 2016 © Michael Kooren / Reuters

6 April, 2016
The majority of Dutch people who went to the polls in the Netherlands on Wednesday to express their opinion on the proposed association agreement between the EU and Kiev have rejected it, preliminary results and exit polls have shown.

Sixty-one percent voted against the Netherlands ratifying the treaty, which would strengthen economic and political ties between the 28-nation bloc and Kiev, an exit poll conducted by the Ipsos center shows. Some 38 percent of the voters supported the move, the exit poll has shown.

If the turnout surpasses the 30 percent threshold, making the “no” vote valid, the government will reconsider ratifying the treaty, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said.

"It's clear that 'No' have won by an overwhelming margin, the question is only if turnout is sufficient," Rutte stated. "If the turnout is above 30 percent with such a large margin of victory for the 'No' camp then my sense is that ratification can't simply go head."

Ukraine’s foreign ministry announced that it is examining the results of the referendum, but pointed out that it was a non-binding expression of public opinion and that it will wait for the Netherlands’ final decision on ratification of the EU-Ukraine deal.

We are counting on the decision to be in the interests of Ukraine, the Netherlands and Europe,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mariana Betsa stated.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian opposition said that the results of the referendum represent disappointment with the Ukrainian government.

This is like a cold shower for the Ukrainian politicians who believe that loud shouting and wild hopping is more important than efficient work,” Aleksander Vilkul, a leader of the Opposition Bloc Party, said. “This is an assessment to those who think that no one will notice excessive corruption.”

Although Rutte promised that a valid “no” vote would not go ignored, he said that the government would take its time in deciding exactly how to respond to the public’s opinion.

In order for the referendum to be considered valid, at least 30 percent of the population eligible to vote must cast their ballots. The validity of Wednesday’s non-binding referendum is still unclear. With over 99.8 percent of the votes counted, Ipsos exit poll said that the turnout was at 32.2 percent.

The margin of error for turnout is three percent, and that for the final results is five percent, TASS reported.

The Dutch voters’ decision on whether to approve the association agreement, which strengthens ties with Kiev, will be officially announced on April 12, RIA Novosti reported.

The most important lesson that can be learnt from this referendum is that the European Union has lost its appeal to the common people. [It has shown that] it is not possible to mobilize [people] for a referendum, for a democratic event that has been organized by the EU and is closely connected to the EU. This shows that there is a democratic deficit in Europe, in the Netherlands,” assistant professor of European studies at Amsterdam University Laszlo Maracz told RT, adding that “it will have repercussions and probably an impact on the Brexit vote in June in Great Britain, and consequences for future projects of the European Union.”

The referendum was triggered by a petition launched by a group of activists last year that collected more than 450,000 signatures, much higher the 300,000 required by Dutch law to force the government to put issues to a public vote.

Although the referendum is non-binding, it will be considered as an official advisory to the government from the Dutch people should the turnout reach above the 30 percent mark, meaning that at least 3.7 million voters will have officially expressed their opinion.

The proposed EU-Ukraine treaty aims to strengthen not only economic and political ties. It also includes a number of defense and security agreements. For the pact to have full legal force, it must be ratified by all 28 European Union member states. The Netherlands has yet to do so.

Dutch Referendum May Have Unleashed European "Continental Crisis"

6 April, 2016

In early January, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that a Dutch advisory referendum, which took place today, on the bloc's association agreement with Ukraine could lead to a "continental crisis" if voters reject the treaty.

In an interview in January for Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, Juncker said Russia would "pluck the fruits" of a vote in the Netherlands against deepened ties between the European Union and Ukraine. "I want the Dutch to understand that the importance of this question goes beyond the Netherlands," NRC quoted Juncker as saying."I don't believe the Dutch will say no, because it would open the door to a big continental crisis."

The reason why Jean-Claude "when it gets serious, you have to lie" Juncker was so nervous, is that the vote, launched by anti-EU forces, is seen as test of the strength of Eurosceptics on the continent just three months before Britain votes on whether to stay in the European Union.

Fast forward to today when the vote just took place, and based on initial exit polls, Juncker was dead wrong. According to Reuters, in a rebuke for the government, which campaigned in favor of the EU-Ukraine association agreement, roughly 64 percent voted "No" and 36 percent said "Yes". 

As a reminder, the political, trade and defense treaty is already provisionally in place but has to be ratified by all 28 European Union member states for every part of it to have full legal force. The Netherlands is the only country that has not done so.

And, it appears, that in a big hit for those who had plotted the Ukraine ascension, the Dutch may have just frozen Ukraine dead in its tracks.

Eurosceptics had presented the referendum as a rare opportunity for their countrymen to cast a vote against the EU and the way it is run - including its open immigration policies. 

But here lies the rub. Although it is non-binding, it will be considered as an advisory referendum by the government if turnout reaches 30 percent. Otherwise it will be considered null and void and need not be taken into consideration by the government. 

And while according to some initial exit polls, the turnout was just 28%, or below the required threshold, the most recent data has the turnout as 32%, or sufficient.

Still, this number may change before the night is over, so keep a close eye on this otherwise insignificant vote in the Netherlands as it may have momentuous consequences for the country and the entire European project. According to a prominent Dutch pollster, the final turnout will be 31%, or an absolute nailbiter.

The turnout, far lower than in national or local elections, reflected many voters' puzzlement at being asked to vote on such an abstruse topic. "Yes" voters were certainly confused: "I think the people who asked for this referendum have made a huge commotion," said Trudy, a "Yes" voter in central Amsterdam. "It's nonsense, which cost lots of money, and it's about something nobody understands."

Which, of course, is what anyone who is in the vast minority will say.

Meanwhile, Geert Wilders, leader of the eurosceptic Freedom Party, urged voters to send a message to Europe by saying "No". "I think many Dutchmen are fed up with more European Union and this treaty with Ukraine that is not in the interests of the Dutch people," he told reporters. "I hope that later, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, other countries will follow." 

As Reuters adds, a clear vote against the treaty in the run-up to Britain's June 23 referendum on whether to quit the EU could escalate into a domestic or even a Europe-wide political crisis.

Dutch leaders say voting against the treaty would also hand a symbolic victory to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It is unclear if anti-Russian sentiment swayed voters nearly two years on but increasing resentment among the Dutch at the consequences of the EU's open-border policies has propelled Wilders - who openly opposes Muslim immigration - to the top of public opinion polls.

In many ways, Wilders is the local Donald Trump.

Reuters also notes that the ballot also taps into a more deep-seated anti-establishment sentiment highlighted by a resounding rejection in 2005 of a European Union constitution, also in a referendum.

However, just like in Greece, the gears are already set in motion to ignore the majority vote.  In parliament, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative VVD party has said it would ignore a narrow "No" vote, while junior coalition partner Labour has said it would honor it, setting the stage for a split.

But ignoring a clear "No" would be risky for Rutte's already unpopular government -- which has lost further ground over Europe's refugee debate - ahead of national elections scheduled for no later than March 2017.

While we are confident that ultimately the will of the "No" voters will be ignored, just as it was in Greece, the resentment toward an oligarchic class which clearly can only operate under a non-democratic, call it despotic, regime is sure to spread. As for the Netherlands, while nothing may happen for the next 12 months, it will take some very brazen vote tampering next year to perpetuate a status quo which no longer serves the majority of its own country.  

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