The Dutch government announced that it would seek to move forward following the referendum in which a majority of voters rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, by adding a declaration interpreting the treaty. The Commission said it was ready to help.
On 6 April, Dutch voters rejected a European pact with Ukraine in a referendum seen as a barometer of anti-EU feeling, dealing an embarrassing blow to the government in charge of the rotating EU presidency, sending shockwaves throughout the Union.
At the 20-21 October EU summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte obtained little support for his proposals for a way forward following the referendum. An internal deadline required the Dutch authorities to make a proposal by 1 November at the latest.
In an audition in parliament on 1 November, Rutte and Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders say they are looking to achieve “a legally-binding solution, approved by European leaders”. A declaration by the Netherlands stating how it interprets the EU’s treaty with Ukraine would offer a way out of the current impasse, they made clear.
The declaration would state that that the Ukraine association treaty is not a stepping stone to the country joining the EU and that Ukrainian nationals do not have access to the European labour market. The declaration should also make it clear that there will be no military alliance with Ukraine and no financial support. Efforts must also be made by to combat corruption in Ukraine, the text would say.
On Friday (28 October), Rutte made a dramatic appeal to opposition parties for their support. If the Netherlands fails to ratify the treaty, it could have serious implications for the stability of Europe, the prime minister said.
The Dutch press reported that over the past few days, the cabinet had intensive discussions with opposition parties in an effort to win their backing for the government’s position, and to win majority support in the senate for the declaration.
“Although no formal commitments have been made, the cabinet expects that such a solution can be realised,” the prime minister told MPs. Reportedly, two opposition parties, the D66 liberal party, and the Christian Democrats, have said they will support the government. The cabinet needs the support of the opposition, because the coalition is in the minority in one of the Parliament’s chambers.
Asked today (3 November) if such a declaration could be added to the association agreement, Commission chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said that the EU executive took “good note of the announcement” by the Dutch PM. He added that the Commission appreciates the effort of the Dutch side to find a solution to ratify the agreement.
All members of the EU except the Netherlands have ratified the association agreement, he said.
“Ratification by all 28 members remains our goal”, Schinas stated, adding that the agreement was very important for the EU, for Ukraine, and “beyond”.
“President Juncker is ready to work with Prime Minister Rutte and the Dutch political parties on solutions in view of the December European Council,” he added. EU leaders will hold their last summit for the year on 15-16 December.
A week ago, adding a legally binding declaration to respond to the concerns of Wallonia was the solution to unblock the CETA agreement with Canada.