European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker was saddened by the outcome of a Dutch referendum, which saw voters reject a key EU pact with Ukraine, his spokesman said on Thursday (7 April).
“The president is triste,” Margaritis Schinas said, using the French word in an English sentence, when asked by reporters in Brussels how Juncker felt about the setback.
The next step now was “for the government of the Netherlands to analyse the outcome and decide on the course of action”, the spokesman said.
He added that Juncker spoke “at length” with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Parliament head Martin Schulz late Wednesday after the results came in.
“The Commission remains strongly committed to the development of its relations with Ukraine,” he stated.
An obvious trend
Juncker’s spokesperson declined to directly answer questions regarding the obvious trend of European rejecting EU policies whenever they are consulted via referendums.
Last July, the Greeks voted against the bailout package engineered by the European Commission and the IMF, while Denmark voted last December to keep its opt-outs on justice matters, even if it cost the country its membership in Europol.
Dutch voters were asked in the referendum if they supported the European Union’s association agreement with Ukraine, which has been at the heart of the conflict with former master Russia since 2014.
The Dutch news agency ANP said that with nearly all the votes counted, the ‘No’ camp had won with 61.1%. Only 38% voted in favour of the two-year-old treaty with Kiev.
Turnout stood at just over 30%, according to ANP, meaning that the ballot is valid.
Organisers have admitted the non-binding ballot was essentially about pushing a broader anti-EU agenda — humiliating at the very time that the Netherlands holds the rotating EU presidency.
Ahead of the referendum, Juncker had warned that a “no” vote “could open the doors to a continental crisis”.
In the meantime, UK Prime Minister David Cameron denied that the Dutch referendum results would boost the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, insisting it was a “very different issue”.
‘A very different issue’
“I hope it won’t affect the results of our referendum because it is a very different issue,” the Conservative leader said while campaigning for the 23 June referendum on whether Britain should stay in or leave the bloc.
The Dutch referendum on Wednesday (6 April), in which voters rejected the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine, is seen as a barometer of anti-EU feeling and was swiftly hailed by eurosceptic groups.
“It is important that the European institutions and the Dutch government listen carefully to what people are saying, to try and understand that and to try and work with that,” Cameron said.
But he added: “I don’t think it has any effect on us because we have a bigger question.”
Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), hailed the Dutch vote as a “tremendous victory for democracy”.
Farage said Dutch campaigners could come to Britain to help in the “Leave” campaign.
“I look forward to working with them,” he said.
Brian Monteith, a spokesman for the Leave.EU campaign group, added: “This result gives the British people the signal that it is moderate and normal to reject the EU and stand up for what’s in our country’s best interests.”
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Vote Leave, another pro-Brexit campaign group, also welcomed the result.
“Time and again, voters are choosing to reject Brussels whenever they are consulted about the EU,” he said.
Reactions in Ukraine, and in Russia
Ukrainian President Petro Porosheko said that the Dutch vote was not a “strategic obstacle” on the path to closer ties to Europe.
“We will not turn off the road of European integration. Ukraine and freedom cannot be stopped,” he said, adding that the vote appeared largely directed against the EU itself.
“This is an attack on the unity of Europe, an attack on the spread of European values.”
Russian leaders gloated at the “No” vote.
“The results of the Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement indicate Europeans’ opinion of the Ukrainian political system,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tweeted.