Thursday

20th Sep 2018

Dutch PM takes back seat on Ukraine vote

  • Rutte in 2010 election event - similar events not going to happen ahead of EU-Ukraine vote (Photo: NewsPhoto!)

The Dutch government is taking a back-seat approach towards the referendum on the European Union association agreement with Ukraine.

“We are not going to hit the road with flags and bells [and whistles],” Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said in a press conference Friday (29 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He was asked when the Dutch government will start its campaign to defend the EU-Ukraine deal, which will be put to a vote in a non-binding referendum on 6 April.

“When you say campaign, I think of elections, which this isn't. This is a referendum,” the Dutch PM said.

The referendum was set in motion in 2015 by a citizens’ initiative, thanks to a new law which allows people to call for a popular vote on any piece of Dutch legislation if they collect 300,000 signatures.

The question to be asked on 6 April is: “Are you in favour or against the law that approves the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine?”.

“The government will, where you provide us the opportunity, appear in the free, open media in the Netherlands to explain why we are in favour. One doesn't do that with flyers and flags and the like. Foundations and private organisations can do that,” Rutte added.

The private initiatives have already begun fund-raising, and there are plans for campaign events arounf the country.

One foundation in the Yes camp is Stem Voor Nederland (Vote For the Netherlands). It’s launching a website and Facebook page on Monday.

In January, Dutch media reported that Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros is donating €200,000 to Stem Voor Nederland, through his Open Society Foundations.

Some in the No side criticised the presence of foreign funding in the national referendum, and last week sent a letter to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, asking it to reconsider its decision not to send electoral observers to the low countries.

While the referendum is a national affair, it has caught EU-wide attention.

Helping Russia?

Some in the Yes camp accused the No camp of 'helping Russia’.

The No camp criticised a recent interview in which European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said a No would "open the door to a large continental crisis.”

For its part, the Dutch government is making €2 million in subsidies available for initiatives related to the referendum. Organisations can receive up to €50,000, individuals up to €5,000.

A government committee will divide the grants “evenly between people and organisations who are in favour or against, or who organise neutral activities”.

Meanwhile, the popular blog which was one of the drivers behind the citizens-enforced referendum, GeenStijl, has begun a grassroots crowdfunding initiative for a turnout campaign.

It has already collected 10 percent of the target goal of €427,939 - a figure chosen to reflect the number of signatures that were gained to ask for the referendum.

Turnout

The referendum results will only be valid if there is a turnout of 30 percent or higher.

Some have complained the government is trying to keep the turnout low, by not helping municipalities enough in the set-up of the referendum.

On Friday, the Socialist Party, which is campaigning for a No vote, said it calculated there will be at least 122 fewer polling stations available than on a regular election day.

Earlier in January, interior minister Ronald Plasterk responded to a request from municipalities for additional funding to organise the second-ever national referendum in the Netherlands. Plasterk said he would provide them with €30 million to organise the referendum, €10 million extra than initially foreseen.

But Rutte said Friday that the government “is not trying to keep turnout low”.

In the 2012 national elections, turnout was almost 75 percent. In the, more recent, European Parliament elections, it was 37.3 percent.

The only other national referendum the country has ever held, in 2005, on the EU constitutional treaty, yielded a turnout of 63.3 percent. Dutch voters turned down the treaty with an overwhelming 61.6 percent of No votes.

Even though this vote was non-binding too, the result was so obvious that it was politically untenable not to turn the voters' wish into national policy.

Continental crisis

One of the first opinion polls suggests such a landslide is possible again.

According to TV show EenVandaag, 53 percent of respondents said they would definitely show up for the referendum.

The poll, among 27,151 people who are regularly asked for their opinion, said 51 percent would “definitely” vote No, while an additional 23 percent said they would “probably” vote No. Only 13 percent were “definitely” voting in favour of the trade deal.

It’s a stark divergence from the political scene, where most parties are in favour of the agreement.

In a 2014 vote in the European Parliament, nearly all Dutch parties voted in favour of it, except the MEPs of the Socialist Party, and of the PVV, the party of populist anti-EU politician Geert Wilders.

It were also these two parties that were most visibly in the No side during the 2005 referendum on the EU constitutional treaty.

No brigades

Socialist MP Harry van Bommel has said that his party is going to train “1,000 to 1,500 activists” to convince people to vote No. Campaigning would begin in February, he said, “with events, flyers, commercials in the media, radio, and television”.

For its part, the centrist liberal D66 party has put aside €50,000 to campaign in favour of the treaty.

“I am much more self-assured than in 2005,” said D66 leader Alexander Pechtold, who was interior minister at the time.

Dutch expected to vote on EU-Ukraine treaty

The Dutch electorate is expected to be given the chance to vote on an EU-Ukraine treaty in a referendum, in what would be the first citizen-enforced plebiscite in the country's history.

Opinion

Open letter to president Juncker on the Dutch Ukraine vote

On 6 April Netherlands will hold a referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. Because many voters feel that it could lead to Ukraine membership of the EU, the EU should rule that out, argues Dutch politician Sammy van Tuyll.

Ukraine MPs ask Dutch voters for 'solidarity'

Ukrainian politicians, visiting Brussels, say Dutch people should vote Yes in referendum on EU-Ukraine trade treaty, as national affair takes on big dimensions.

News in Brief

  1. UK's Brexit plan 'won't work', says EU's Tusk
  2. Austria ex-chancellor hints at running for Juncker's job
  3. Greece to move asylum-seekers from overcrowded Lesbos camp
  4. Transatlantic soya trade soars due to trade wars
  5. EU tables strategy for connecting Europe and Asia
  6. Bulgaria backs Hungary in dispute with EU
  7. Trump urged Spain to build Sahara wall to stop migrants
  8. EU-Arab League summit proposed for February in Egypt

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  2. Rejected applicants for EU training return to Libya coast guard
  3. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner
  4. EU mulls action to prevent cattle suffering at Turkish border
  5. Safeguarding Schengen at Salzburg
  6. Denmark's image 'damaged' by bank scandal
  7. Real Brexit progress needed by October, Barnier says
  8. Poland to face EU top court on rule of law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us