Dutch MPs extend deadline on Ukraine deal
By Peter Teffer
A majority in the Dutch parliament has given prime minister Mark Rutte more time to negotiate with his European counterparts on how to accommodate a popular rejection of an EU-Ukraine treaty.
MPs said on Tuesday (8 November) they would give Rutte until after an EU summit in Brussels in mid-December to find a solution.
Initially, Rutte had been given a 1 November deadline by MPs.
But Rutte's centre-right Liberals, his coalition partner Labour, and several smaller parties gave him extra time. Opposition MP Kees Verhoeven said he had supported the motion “grudgingly”.
In April, the EU-Ukraine association agreement was rejected in a Dutch referendum with 61.1 percent of the votes.
The vote was non-binding, but because the voter turnout of 32.2 percent surpassed a required threshold of 30 percent, the Dutch political establishment promised to somehow take the results into account.
Officially, the Dutch voted to reject the parliament bill that would lead to ratification of the treaty, which has now been put on hold. All other 27 member states have ratified the deal.
Rutte will seek a legally binding declaration from his EU counterparts explaining the details of the deal.
The idea is that such a declaration would quell some of the "grievances" the No voters had, so that ratification can go ahead.
The declaration could include a statement that the trade treaty will not automatically give the Ukraine access to EU membership, or that the Netherlands could opt out of military cooperation with Ukraine.
Following a potential deal at the 15-16 December summit, Rutte would then try to get parliamentary approval to ratify the treaty against the will of the No voters.
Legally, Rutte could have already ignored the referendum result and ratify the treaty. Politically, he wants as many political parties on his side to make the unpopular move, four months before national elections.
At Tuesday's debate in parliament, several opposition parties pointed out that the referendum outcome was clear, and that the treaty should not be ratified.
But Rutte repeated that Europe should show unity in the fact of an aggressive Russian foreign policy. He conceded that he should have used the “geopolitical argument” more during the campaign ahead of the referendum.
The Dutch leader also admitted that a policy response to the No vote, which took place seven months ago, was taking too long.
“We could have worked faster,” Rutte said.