Sunday

26th May 2019

Dutch reject EU-Ukraine treaty in referendum

  • Disillusioned Yes campaigners after the exit poll showed a big win for the No side (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Dutch voters have overwhelmingly rejected the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which had already been ratified by the other 27 EU member states.

On Wednesday (6 April), 61.1 percent voted No, 38.1 percent voted Yes, and 0.8 percent chose not to pick a side. The voter turnout was 32.2 percent, just over the required threshold of 30 percent.

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  • No campaigners, who want to trash the EU-Ukraine treaty, had also gathered in a cafe in Amsterdam (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The final result became clear around midnight, but a broad No victory was already predicted by the exit poll published at 9PM, immediately after voting ended.

At that time, a crowd of around 120 No voters had gathered in a cafe in Amsterdam's museum district. As the exit poll was announced on TV, a loud cheer and applause erupted.

“This will not be the last referendum. This will be the first in a long series of referendums,” said one of the evening's speakers, columnist Jort Kelder.

In his speech, he praised the “courage” of those who defended a No, especially Thierry Baudet, founder of Forum voor Democratie (Forum for Democracy), one of the groups that gathered the necessary signatures for the referendum to take place.

Baudet, a prolific writer and public figure, had become one of the faces of the No campaign.

Second Dutch No

The results party in the cafe was organised by Baudet's group.

From within the cafe, two features for which the Netherlands is famous could be seen: cyclists departing and exiting the tunnel under the famous Rijksmuseum, which hosts Rembrandt van Rijn's painting The Night Watch.

After Wednesday, the Dutch are once again on the map in Europe for a third feature: saying No to Brussels.

In 2005, when the only other national referendum ever organised in the country was held about the EU's constitutional treaty, proportions were almost similar. Then, 61.5 percent voted No, and 38.5 percent voted Yes. The difference between then and now was that in 2005, turnout was much higher: 63.3 percent.

Martijn Doerr voted No in both referendums.

“We have to make sure that the EU does not become a federal state,” he said, adding he thought the EU was already big enough as it is, and that both Ukraine and the EU were “not ready” for closer cooperation.

No campaigner Baudet told this website in an interview he now expects the EU to renegotiate the agreement and that Russia will also be involved in those talks.

Baudet, whose organisation is in favour of more direct democracy, said the vote heralded a new democractic process, and that it should be the first of many.

“We have shown that the people want more participation,” said Baudet.

“Now I want us to be able to vote on Europe's open borders, the euro, and [EU-US trade treaty] TTIP.”

Disappointment

Elsewhere in the city, Yes campaigners had also gathered in a cafe. As could be expected, the atmosphere there was a lot less jolly.

One woman cheered when the results for individual municipalities showed that the Yes side had a 53.1 percent majority in the northern city Groningen, with a man adding: "If only the entire country had voted like Groningen".

Even though at around 10:30PM it was unclear whether the turnout threshold would be reached, the exit poll amounted to a “disappointment”, said Yes activist Michiel van Hulten.

“We lost,” he said. Van Hulten noted that he felt his group had to carry out two parallel campaigns: one to support the Yes vote, but another get-out-the-vote campaign.

He noted there was a fundamental flaw in the Netherlands' referendum law, which states that citizen-enforced votes will be non-binding, but also prescribes the 30 percent bar.

With the No vote ahead in many opinion polls, some supporters of the treaty may have stayed at home in a strategic move to hope for a low turnout.

“The combination of a consultative nature and a turnout threshold gives the wrong signal,” said Van Hulten.

Next steps

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte admitted that ratification of the treaty could “not go ahead unconditionally”. His government will now study the results, and determine what to do with the result.

Formally, the vote was not binding, but politically, Rutte will feel no other option but to respond in some way.

It will also be interesting to see what the response in Brussels will be. A first indication of that can be expected at the commission's daily press briefing at noon. One question that will be on journalists' minds, is the prophetic qualities of European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker

Ahead of the vote, Juncker had warned the Dutch that if they voted No, they would trigger a “continental crisis”.

The Dutch rooting for a No in the Ukraine referendum

Next week, the Dutch will cast their opinion on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. While the Yes side is fairly uniform in its composition and logic, the No side is a motley crew. Who are they?

Dutch PM takes back seat on Ukraine vote

Dutch leader Rutte will not defend Yes vote "with flyers and flags and the like", despite polls showing the No camp could sink the Ukraine pact, in echoes of 2005.

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