Monday

23rd Sep 2019

Dutch might not ratify Ukraine treaty, PM says

  • Dutch voters rejected the EU-Ukraine pact in a non-binding referendum in April (Photo: GeenPeil)

Dutch leader Mark Rutte has vowed not to ratify the EU-Ukraine treaty unless he found a binding way of allaying Dutch voters concerns.

“It could be that we have to change the text, or we find a solution that does not involve changing the text”, he said on Tuesday (28 June) after an EU summit in Brussels.

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  • Dutch PM Rutte, talking to Lithuanian president Grybauskaite (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

“The key thing is that we address in a legally binding way the worries that came to rise in the debate before the referendum”, he added.

Dutch voters in April rejected the Ukraine pact in a non-binding referendum, putting Rutte in a political bind.

“It will be difficult, chances are small we get there, but we have to try. If I’m not able to achieve that, then I won’t sign”, he said.

“If not, then we will not ratify”, he said.

He also said that remaining EU states would “renegotiate something else” with Ukraine if the Netherlands opted out.

Some voters were concerned that the agreement would lead to Ukraine’s EU accession but the referendum also became a wider vote of confidence in Rutte’s EU policy and in the EU establishment.

The treaty has been ratified by all other EU states and is already being implemented on a provisional basis.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk sounded more upbeat on finding a way to let Rutte “proceed with ratification”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said only that EU leaders had tasked lawyers in the secretariat of the EU Council, where member states meet, to “explore solutions” that “reflect Dutch citizens’ concerns”.

A senior EU official said one solution being explored is for the Netherlands not to ratify the text, but for the EU to continue its implementation on the basis of its “provisional application”. The official said the provisional application could last “forever”.

Rutte had previously promised to clarify what he would do on Ukraine after the Brexit referendum had been held.

Russia debate

Earlier in the summit, Merkel and French president Francois Hollande briefed leaders on the conflict in east Ukraine.

Berlin and Paris represent the EU in talks with Kiev and Moscow.

Leaders did not discuss Russia sanctions or mention Russia in the summit conclusions.

But they agreed informally to hold a "comprehensive discussion on all aspects of our relations with Russia" in October, an EU source said. The talks would include a review of the EU’s economic sanctions, which are to be rolled over for another six months until January.

"[Council chief] Tusk stood up and made the announcement and nobody objected", the EU source said, adding that Russia was a “non-issue” at the summit due to the Brexit crisis.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at Tuesday’s EU meeting said that Russia posed “a key strategic challenge” for the bloc.

The phrase was contained in a new paper on the EU’s long-term foreign objectives.

Selective approach

The paper also said there should be “selective engagement” with Russia on issues “when our interests overlap”, naming areas such as climate change, the Arctic, maritime security, migration, education and research.

But the document, which had been pre-agreed by the 28 EU states, said “substantial changes” in EU-Russia relations must wait until it complied with international law.

It framed October’s debate in unflattering terms for Moscow.

“We will not recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea nor accept the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine”, the Mogherini paper said.

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