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16th Aug 2022

EU awaits Dutch response to referendum result

  • EU council president Donald Tusk (r) is also waiting for a solution from the Dutch PM Mark Rutte (l) on dealing with the referendum outcome (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The European Commission said Thursday (7 April) it is up to the Dutch government to decide on the next step after Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected the ratification of an association agreement with Ukraine in a referendum on Wednesday.

"The European Commission takes note of the outcome of the referendum," the EU executive's spokesman Margaritis Schinas told journalists.

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"Under Dutch national law this is a consultative referendum and internal procedure of ratification are a matter of national competence," he said.

"It is therefore first and foremost for the government of Netherland to analyse the outcome and decide on the course of action," he added.

He said that the commission's president Jean-Claude Juncker talked "at length" with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte over the phone on Wednesday night, without revealing any details.

Asked how Juncker feels about the result, the spokesman said: "The president est triste [is sad]."

In January, Juncker warned that a win for the No could lead to a "continental crisis" and that Russia would "pluck the fruits" of rejecting the pact.

But on Thursday, most EU leaders remained silent on the political impact of the Dutch vote.

The commission's spokesman claimed there was no link with the upcoming referendum on EU membership in the UK: "These are two different processes," he insisted.

Regardless of the referendum results, the commission is still planning to put forward a visa liberalisation proposal for Ukraine.

European Council president Donald Tusk also said the bloc would wait to hear what the Dutch government will propose. "I have taken note of the reported outcome of the referendum in the Netherlands," he said.

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite stood out as the only EU leader to make a strong statement.

"We all wished they [the results] were different. However, now is not the time to lose hope or question Ukraine's European choice. No one can stand in the way of Ukraine's path to Europe," she said.

Political group leaders in the European Parliament also reacted strongly, warning that the Dutch No vote was yet another sign of people’s disillusionment with the EU.

Manfred Weber, leader of the center-right European People's Party, the biggest group, told German radio that it was a "big defeat" for the Dutch government and should be taken seriously.

"We need to make Europe more democratic and transparent," Weber said, adding that backroom politics in Brussels needed to end.

Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt said he was not surprised by the outcome. "Europe is not capable of dealing with the big crises we face. We can only solve this by working more closely together and reform Europe. It is time for another way for Europe," he said in a statement.

Provisional application continues

The EU-Ukraine agreement was signed in 2014 and has been ratified by 27 member states, by the European Parliament, and by Ukraine.

The agreement is being provisionally applied on the basis of a unanimous decision by the leaders of all 28 EU countries.

EU sources said the provisional application does not change because of the referendum and that implementation of the agreement continues.

Sources pointed out that there was no deadline for the Dutch government to come up with a solution, and noted that other association agreements had previously been provisionally applied for years, as ratification can take a long time.

The Dutch government said in a statement on Thursday that its national "ratification cannot just proceed as if nothing happened."

The statement added that it will take time to reach a solution acceptable to everyone.

Options could inculde drafting an exemption for the Netherlands.

But the result could have negative consequences for the fragile Dutch government coalition between liberals and social-democrats, even as the country holds the rotating EU presidency.

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