Thursday

21st Sep 2017

Dutch MPs look set to approve Ukraine treaty

  • Ukrainians may want to join the EU, but the EU-Ukraine association deal does not guarantee that, says Dutch government (Photo: Ivan Bandura)

A majority in the Lower House of the Dutch parliament is expected to support ratification of the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine on Thursday (23 February).

Both houses of the Dutch parliament had already agreed to ratify the EU-Ukraine treaty, which was signed in 2014 and ratified by every other EU country.

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  • Dutch PM Rutte (r) speaking to Ukrainian president Poroshenko (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

But their decision was suspended when a majority rejected the treaty in a non-binding referendum in April last year.

Rather than ignoring the vote or ditching the treaty, prime minister Mark Rutte and foreign minister Bert Koenders opted for a third way.

The Netherlands negotiated with its 27 EU counterparts a supplement text which is legally binding, but does not change the treaty itself.

“This legally binding declaration clearly addresses the objections No voters had,” said Labour MP Marit Maij at a debate on Tuesday evening.

The supplement, adopted at an EU summit in December 2016, stated that the EU-Ukraine treaty does not give Ukraine the right to EU membership, financial or military support.

Labour and coalition partners the Liberals were joined by pro-EU opposition parties Liberal Democrat D66 and GreenLeft in expressing support for ratification. Together, the parties constitute a majority.

Green MP Rik Grashoff said the choice had been a “dilemma”, but that the reasons to support the agreement with Ukraine have only increased since the referendum.

“The intimidating behaviour of Putin has only increased,” he said, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Other opposition parties voted against.

MP Harm Beertema, member of Geert Wilders's anti-EU Party for Freedom, said “the objections of 2.5 million voters” had not been addressed with the supplement text.

“This dossier has seriously undermined people's trust in politics,” said Beertema.

Centre-right Christian Democrat MP Pieter Omtzigt questioned the importance of the December deal.

Omtzigt told his colleagues he had asked all 27 other national parliaments in the EU whether they were informed of the text.

Of the 20 parliaments who responded to his question, 15 said they had not been informed.

To Omtzigt, this showed that the supplement text was “unimportant”.

He was criticised by some of his colleagues, because while Omtzigt said he would vote against ratification, several media reports said that enough members of his party in the Senate would support it to help Rutte secure a majority.

But Omtzigt said he did not know what his colleagues in the senate would do, noting that “maybe” the senators would also reject ratification, like their Christian Democrat peers in the Lower House.

Prime minister Rutte rejected comments from opposition MPs who wanted him to guarantee that the Netherlands would exercise its veto to prevent Ukraine from joining the European Union.

Rutte said he would not waste his political capital on something which an “overwhelming majority of member states is against”, and added that he personally is also against Ukraine joining the EU.

Dutch election: EU's most unpredictable vote

Polls suggest that four or five parties will be needed to form a majority after the 15 March vote. The shrunk size of the establishment parties means that smaller parties may play a role of kingmaker.

Dutch PM clinches deal on Ukraine treaty

EU leaders agreed on a text that clarifies what is in, and what is not in the EU-Ukraine association agreement. But Mark Rutte noted he has no guarantee Dutch parliament will support the deal.

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