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20th Apr 2019

Dutch PM clinches deal on Ukraine treaty

  • Rutte (c) convinced his colleagues to support a text that clarifies the EU-Ukraine association agreement (Photo: Consillium)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte reached a deal on Thursday (15 December) with his 27 EU colleagues about the EU-Ukraine treaty, but stressed he cannot guarantee Dutch parliament will support the outcome.

“There is a legally binding document on the table, which addresses all the Dutch points,” Rutte told journalists in Brussels.

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The text is aimed at quelling misgivings Dutch voters had over the EU-Ukraine association agreement, signed in 2014.

The treaty was rejected with a broad majority in April, and although the vote was non-binding, Rutte wanted to find a third way beyond his options of ratifying or binning the treaty.

The binding text, a decision of the EU heads of state and government, "clearly states what is and what is not in the treaty", said Rutte.

The text says the Ukraine agreement “does not confer on Ukraine the status of a candidate country for accession to the Union, nor does it constitute a commitment to confer such status to Ukraine in the future.”

It also states the treaty “does not contain an obligation” for member states to provide Ukraine military assistance, or obliges EU countries to give “additional financial support”.

The treaty also does not give Ukrainians the right to work in the EU, Thursday's text clarifies. It also says the “fight against corruption is central to enhancing the relationship” between the EU and Ukraine.

Rutte said it somewhat more direct: “Ukraine has to work hard” to fight corruption.

Not fun

The Dutch leader said the negotiation process since the referendum was “not fun, but necessary”. Rutte was “grateful” for the cooperation of his 27 colleagues, although he noted that he would have wished to wrap up negotiations earlier.

“This took too long. Partly because due to Brexit no one wanted to talk about this in the first few months,” he said.

Although a draft Monday text had not been changed, the discussion was still long.

“Nobody is happy with this piece of paper,” said one EU official.

“The problem is that it will be used by Russian trolls and enemies of Ukraine,” he said.

No guarantees for parliamentary majority

Rutte said he would propose ratification at Friday's weekly cabinet meeting.

But when asked which guarantees he could give the other member states that the Dutch parliament will also approve the deal, he said: “None.”

The centre-right Liberal leader needs the consent from at least two opposition parties, because his coalition lacks a majority in the Senate.

Three months before national elections, parties are not exactly exuberant at the prospect of going against the wishes of a majority, even if the voter turnout of the non-binding referendum was 32.2 percent.

Rutte also said he understood “this is not a vote winner”, but that a rejection of the Ukraine treaty would have been a “gift to Russia”.

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