At the EU summit overnight (20-21 October), Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte obtained little support for his proposals for a way forward following the referendum in which his compatriots rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
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.
The referendum was perceived as a precursor to Brexit, although the then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t see it that way at the time.
As expected, Rutte informed his colleagues about the possible way out over the dinner. But reports indicate he got little support for his proposals and said he will continue to seek a solution.
The essence of his proposal is that a legally binding statement be added to the Association Agreement that will put voters’ concerns at ease.
According to the Dutch daily de Volksrant, Rutte told his European colleagues that he is politically stuck. He plainly stated that he currently sees little chance in The Hague for the Association Agreement to be ratified. He said contacted all key players in the EU and the Ukraine numerous times to discuss the matter. But so far Rutte has not been able to come up with a proposal that will be accepted in the Dutch Senate and lower house of parliament, he said, according to the newspaper.
According to de Volkskrant’s sources, Croatia and the Czech Republic rejected the idea of a legally binding statement outright. Others showed understanding for Rutte’s position, but were hesitant to give him support in the absence of a detailed proposal.
Afterwards, Rutte stated that he will continue to try to find a proposal that is acceptable to everyone. According to Rutte, geopolitical interest – curbing Russian influence in Ukraine – is forcing him to “go to extremes” in this matter.
He pointed out the massive consequences the Netherlands not ratifying the agreement could have.
“The Association Agreement cannot be dissociated from the instability in the Russia/Ukraine region,” Rutte is reported to have said. “I want to avoid a Dutch decision negatively impacting stability in the region,” he added.
But on the other hand, Rutte indicated he has to respect the Dutch voters’ verdict.
“The voter should not feel that they bought a pig in a poke”, he is quoted as saying.
One week left to find a solution
The prime minister said he will continue to work, even though time is running out for a 1 November deadline set by parliament.
“When the stakes are high, then it is the responsibility – perhaps even duty – of the cabinet to go to extremes in order to align domestic and foreign interests,” Rutte said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was in the Dutch city of Maastricht in the morning for an EPP summit, said he was optimistic the trade deal eventually will be ratified by all EU members. Poroshenko later came to Brussels where he held a meeting with Parliament President Martin Schulz over Ukraine’s bid to see the EU visa barrier lifted.
EurActiv.com asked Schulz yesterday if the EU, which is unable to deliver on visas and on ratifying the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement could be trusted. Schulz said that the Union was made of states, and regretted that some of them held back decision making in key areas.