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19th Oct 2019

Dutch citizens' group wants to vote on EU-Ukraine treaty

  • Posters in the 2005 referendum campaign in Amsterdam (Photo: Simon Groenewolt)

A popular blog and a foundation critical of the EU's 'democratic deficit' and the pace of European integration are rallying Dutch citizens to support a referendum on the EU's association agreement with Ukraine.

The group, called Burgercomite EU (Citizens' committee EU), and the blog Geenstijl, are profiting from a new democratic tool in the Netherlands which allows citizens to call for a consultative referendum on a recently adopted law or treaty.

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  • Dutch PM Rutte signing the EU-Ukraine treaty in Brussels, last year. (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

They need 10,000 signatures by 6 August for a preliminary request for a referendum. After the request is accepted by the Electoral Council, another 300,000 signatures need to be raised in six weeks.

Geenstijl (Dutch for 'no style') is the 44th most popular website in the country, ahead of on-demand video site Netflix. It is known for its sarcasm but also for its power to rally people in campaigns. Still, it called the 300,000 mark “near impossible” to reach.

“But if we succeed, then we win a real national EU referendum. That is worth a try, right,” says the website.

Why Ukraine?

The reason why they want to vote on Ukraine is partly a question of timing.

The new Dutch referendum law went into effect on 1 July and only applies to legislation adopted subsequently. The Senate approved the EU agreement with Ukraine on 7 July, so it was the first available opportunity.

However, they also are critical of how the EU handled Russia's conflict with Ukraine and called the EU-Ukraine treaty “provocative and a threat to the welfare and well-being of us and the Ukrainians”.

The approval of the EU-Ukraine treaty was published Tuesday (28 July) in the Dutch government's public journal, but due to the referendum request, its entry into force has been put on hold until September.

It is not the first campaign by Burgercomite EU.

In 2013, it collected 56,000 signatures for a citizens' initiative, calling for a parliamentary debate and vote to “stop the creeping transfer of powers to the EU”. Despite the effort, the proposal for an in/out referendum was defeated by 112 to 38 MPs.

Another citizens' initiative, calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the introduction of the euro, is still under review.

Non-binding

Even if the campaign succeeds and a majority votes No in a referendum, the result will be non-binding.

However, the 2005 referendum on the European constitutional treaty was also non-binding.

The result - 61.6 percent No, compared to over 80 percent of MPs who campaigned for a Yes – was such a blow, that it completely changed the mood on EU affairs.

Dutch euroscepticism moves mainstream

Dutch voters critical of the European Union will have an array of parties to choose from when they go to the polls in next month's EU elections.

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