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18th Jan 2020

Dutch need deal on Ukraine at summit, Rutte threatens

  • Rutte wants to walk away with a "legally binding" text (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has reminded fellow EU leaders via a newspaper interview that they need to find a deal on the EU-Ukraine trade and political agreement next week, or the Dutch will not ratify it.

Rutte told the Financial Times he needed to come home from the EU summit in Brussels with a “legally binding” declaration in his pocket, that says the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement will not automatically lead to the eastern European country becoming an EU member.

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Another demand is that the treaty will not lead to the Netherlands getting militarily involved in Ukraine.

“If we do not get this we will put a law to parliament the next day, which will state that we will not ratify the association agreement,” Rutte said in an interview published on Friday (9 December).

The Dutch demand to add a declaration to the treaty, which Rutte and other EU leaders signed in March 2014 and which was ratified by all other member states, stems from the results of Dutch citizens-enforced referendum earlier this year.

The April referendum was triggered by the use of a new law, which gives citizens the right to cast their vote over any bill passed in parliament, if they gathered enough signatures.

The referendum asked if voters supported the bill that calls on the government to ratify the EU-Ukraine treaty.

While Rutte's government legally could have ignored the non-binding vote, the political establishment had committed to acting on the outcome if more than 30 percent of voters showed up.

The No side won unambiguously with 61.1 percent. Voter turnout was 32.2 percent.

Following the political blow, Rutte set out to find a “solution."

He did not want to flat-out declare the Netherlands would not ratify – as many in the No camp wanted – but instead looked for a third way: to ratify while accommodating the “grievances” of the No side.

An attached declaration to the treaty is his preferred alternative, similar to the Irish declaration that convinced Irish voters in 2009 to support the Lisbon Treaty, after having rejected it in a referendum first.

When EU leaders meet next Thursday (15 December) in Brussels, the Dutch question will be on the agenda.

So far, the “situation in the Netherlands in the context of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement” is grouped under the point external relations, where the other topic of debate is Russia.

This fits with how Rutte recently framed his attempt to find a third way: the Netherlands needs to ratify to show Russia Europe is united.

“The reason I am fighting for this is that I am absolutely convinced that Europe must be unified now towards Russia’s foreign policy,” Rutte told the FT.

“I am asking for quite a lot,” he added.

The summit takes place exactly three months before the Dutch go to the polls to elect a new parliament.

Rutte's pragmatic coalition of his centre-right Liberal party and the centre-left Labour party are expected to lose their majority.

The far right party of anti-EU politician Geert Wilders are expected to do well. In the past month, several other anti-establishment parties have grown out of the discontent of what they see as Rutte's delay on following up on the referendum.

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