450,000 sign Dutch petition urging govt not to sign Ukraine economic pact

© Paul Vreeker / United Photos
Fed up with the Dutch government’s policies, the people of the Netherlands are taking matters into their own hands. They have signed a petition in their droves, which under Dutch law will force The Hague to hold a referendum on whether to sign an EU Association Agreement with Ukraine.

A satirical news website called GeenStijl has managed to collect over 450,000 signatures to force the Netherlands to hold a non-binding referendum concerning the EU’s planned association agreement with Kiev. Under Dutch law, any petition that gains more than 300,000 is enough to trigger such a vote.

"YOU did it, out of love for democracy in the Netherlands and Europe, and to send a signal to The Hague and Brussels," a statement on the website read, as cited by Reuters. It is likely that if the referendum is held, it will take place when the Netherlands holds the presidency of the European Union, which starts in January.

The Netherlands has already ratified the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. If it gains support from all 28 members of the bloc, it would entail the union offering financial support to Kiev. In return, Ukraine would have to conduct political and economic reforms.

The agreement has been criticized by some members of the EU as they fear that it could lead to Ukraine becoming a member of the organization.

"Have you ever been asked what you think of such an expansion of the EU?" asked the website.

The sheer numbers of those signing the petition could be considered a blow to the Netherlands, which has been one of the leading proponents of a united Europe. However, the success of Geert Wilders’ anti-EU Freedom Party has shown that not everyone living in the country supports widespread European integration.

The far-right politician recently described the mass arrival of refugees on the continent as an “Islamic invasion of Europe, of the Netherlands.”

“Masses of young men in their twenties with beards, singing Allahu Akbar across Europe. It’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity,” Wilders said.

"Fantastic! Congratulations Geenpeil and Congratulations the Netherlands!" Wilders tweeted.

Cas Mudde, a Dutch specialist in political populism at the University of Georgia, told Reuters: “The petition will definitely bolster the broader Eurosceptic and right-wing populist subculture. Expect more petitions."

However, he did not believe that the petition signed on the GeenStijl would change the general mood in the country. "It is a purely consultative referendum, which will almost certainly not change the Dutch position,” Mudde said. “I doubt turnout will be high, which will undermine the result."

Kiev hopes the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement will be in place by 2016. However, President Petro Poroshenko’s dream of achieving EU membership seems to be all but a distant pipedream, with little appetite for expansion within the bloc.

“We must not create false expectations,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in May, referring to Ukraine.

The Eastern Partnership “is not an instrument of enlargement politics for the European Union and we must not make promises that we can’t fulfill,” she added, speaking to the German parliament.

"We are closing the petition at 451,655 digital signitures," GeenStijl tweeted.

The GeenStijl petition had more success than a previous appeal for supporting Ukraine, which was started last year in the Netherlands. The petition, entitled, “A Stable Ukraine, A Stable Europe,” urged the Dutch to send military hardware to Kiev to aid their fight against perceived “Russian aggression.”

The petition has struggled to capture the imagination of the public, however – with just six signatures over the past year.