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05/12/2016

EU leaders expect Rutte to explain the Ukraine association referendum

Europe's East

EU leaders expect Rutte to explain the Ukraine association referendum

Mark Rutte [European Council]

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to inform EU leaders at the summit tomorrow (14 October) about an upcoming referendum on Ukraine’s EU association, diplomats said.

A Dutch satirical website has collected enough signatures to call a national referendum on a European pact with Ukraine, authorities said today. The poll is organised as a protest against the government’s pro-EU stance.

However, the vote would not be binding on the Dutch government, which has already ratified the association agreement for closer trade and other ties between the EU and Ukraine.

>> Read: Dutch referendum to question Ukraine’s EU association

But the website GeenStijl’s call for the vote underlines falling support for the bloc among some Dutch voters. Concerns over immigration have boosted the anti-EU Freedom Party of right-wing populist Geert Wilders.

GeenStijl, known for its irreverent and raucous takes on divisive subjects from Islam to immigration, has said it picked the Ukraine deal almost as random – as just one of many examples of an EU agreement that had passed into Dutch law.

The Dutch Electoral Council said the website had collected 420,000 signatures, more than the 300,000 needed to trigger a referendum.

It largely confirmed a report from GeenStijl last month that it had gathered 440,000 names.

The vote, though symbolic, will take place in a highly-charged atmosphere in a country that lost 193 citizens in the missile strike on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-held territory in east Ukraine in July 2014.

The referendum will take place in the next six months, said the electoral council. The vote’s wording has not been released.

The EU-Ukraine Association agreement has been ratified in all EU countries except Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Greece. The Ukrainian press has written that the last two countries, seen as pro-Russian, deliberately delay the process.

EU diplomats said Rutte would have to explain how his government plans to communicate and explain the stakes ahead of the referendum. A diplomat said he found “quite strange” that such foreign policy questions be put to the wider public.

It is also expected that Rutte would inform leaders of the conclusions of the Dutch Safety Board’s final report on its investigation into the causes of the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over territory held by pro-Russia rebels on 17 July 2014.

>> Read: Ukrainian PM accuses Russia of shooting down flight MH17

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