Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte today (13 June) admitted a referendum called by eurosceptic groups on whether to back closer ties between Ukraine and the EU had been “disastrous” after voters soundly rejected the pact.
“I’m totally against referenda, and I’m totally, totally, totally against referenda on multilateral agreements, because it makes no sense as we have seen with the Dutch referendum,” Rutte told a conference of European MPs.
“The referendum led to disastrous results,” he added.
His comments were his toughest since the 6 April Dutch referendum, which had been closely watched by eurosceptic groups in Britain, who hailed the results as a blow to EU unity.
Although the Dutch referendum only scraped past the 30% voter turnout to be valid, over 60% of those who cast ballots rejected the EU-Ukraine cooperation accord.
The Netherlands, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is the only country in the 28-nation bloc which has still not ratified the deal.
Even though April’s vote is non-binding Rutte’s coalition government is now left with a dilemma of how to proceed.
Although Rutte did not mention the June 23 referendum when British voters will choose whether to leave the EU, Britain’s eurosceptic parties have seized upon the Dutch results as supporting their own campaign to leave the European Union.
The Dutch government has not yet spelt out what it intends to do following the referendum, promising only to respond before the summer’s parliamentary recess.
Rutte has been a strong advocate for Britain to stay within the EU, and warned in an interview with the BBC earlier this month that any vote to leave “would be very bad news” for Britain, the Netherlands and the EU.
Calling a referendum in the Netherlands is easy, as only 300,000 signatures are needed to trigger the process, under a new law adopted last year. Stakes are high that in case of Brexit populists will start gathering signatures for a NL-exit referendum.