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13th Apr 2024

Dutch PM asks opposition's help on Ukraine agreement

  • Dutch prime minister Rutte (l) thinks he can get a deal with other EU member states, but is dependent on opposition parties at home (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte pleaded with opposition parties on Friday (28 October) to help him find a response to the popular rejection of an EU-Ukraine trade deal earlier this year.

“In the interest of the nation, I appeal to the reasonable forces in the Netherlands to support the option for a solution,” Rutte said, adding it was an appeal “from the heart”.

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Last April, 61.1 percent of those Dutch voters who showed up in a citizens-enforced referendum voted to reject the European association agreement with Ukraine, which has been ratified in all other members states.

While the referendum was non-binding, the political establishment had promised not to ignore its results.

Now Rutte is facing a 1 November deadline, imposed by a majority in the Dutch parliament.

By Tuesday, Rutte must have found a solution that will accommodate the grievances of the No voters, or decide not to ratify the treaty.

“Time is short,” Rutte told journalists at his weekly press conference on Friday. “I wasn't optimistic before, and to be honest, I still am not optimistic.”

The Dutch government is aiming to agree a legally binding declaration with EU member states and Ukraine that would reassure some concerns No voters had expressed in the campaign, for example: that the association agreement gives no guarantee for Ukraine to become an EU member.

“The contacts I have had with colleagues abroad give me the confidence that we can reach a deal with Kiev and in Brussels,” he said. “The most important question for now, is if such a potential result would be met with sufficient parliamentary support in the Netherlands?"

While the current pragmatic coalition of centre-left and centre-right has a majority in the Dutch Lower House, it lacks a majority in the senate.

The Dutch leader tried to appeal to opposition parties by emphasising geopolitical factors, referring to Russia's assertive foreign policy in eastern Europe and Syria.

“Our national 'No' cannot be seen separately from the international reality,” he said, noting that if the Ukraine treaty were not to go into full force that it would “increase the risk of instability in the region”.

Rutte said it was important that Europe stood united.

“Our unity is the best answer to Russia's foreign policy, which is leading to destabilisation at Europe's borders.”

“This is bigger than just the Netherlands. Much bigger. We are as a country part of a broader, international community,” he said.

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