Fact of the Week: Dutch referendum on Ukraine, sign of a fragmented Europe?

The Netherlands held this week, on 6 April, a referendum on Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union (EU). The association agreement between Ukraine and the EU aims at deepening the economic and political ties and was at the heart of Ukraine’s political crisis in 2014. It has already been ratified by the EU’s 27 other Member States and provisionally came into force on 1 January. The Dutch Parliament had backed the deal but the ratification was frozen after Eurosceptic leaders pushed for a referendum on the treaty following an online petition.

The actual turnout of voters was as low as 20% in some Dutch cities and on average it was just above the 30% threshold required for Parliament to have to consider the results. It is clear that big majority of Dutch voters said “no” to the treaty. Although the result is non-binding, according to Dutch law, the deal will have to be discussed again by Parliament.

The referendum recalls the 2005 vote on the European Constitution, rejected by the Netherlands and France. This time, it is sensitive as the Netherlands is saying ‘No’ to Europe while holding the rotating Presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers.  European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had warned earlier this year that a Dutch ‘No’ vote could lead to a “continental crisis.” The result indeed shows a rising anti-EU sentiment across the EU and officials are concerned that this could stoke Eurosceptic feeling elsewhere. As such, English MEP Nigel Farage supported the result and described the referendum as the “hors d’oeuvres” before the “main course” of the UK’s own referendum on EU membership on 23 June.

What will happen next will have to be looked at “step by step”, said Prime Minister Mark Rutter.  The final official results of the referendum are not due to be released until 12 April.