Most Dutch against closer EU ties with Ukraine ahead of Wednesday referendum

Demonstrators call for people to vote no in the EU referendum during a protest at Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands April 3, 2016. The banners read: "Referendum April 6. No is 3 times better", and the big letters collectively read "No". © Cris Toala Olivares
The Dutch public will go to the polls on Wednesday to decide whether to back a European treaty which seeks to strengthen ties with Ukraine. However, polls show that the majority of those in the Netherlands are opposed to closer links with Kiev.

A poll carried out by Maurice de Hond on Sunday showed that 66 percent of those who say they will definitely vote will back the ‘No’ campaign, with only 25 percent supporting a ‘Yes’ vote, according to Reuters. 

In order for the referendum to be considered valid, 30 percent of the Dutch population eligible to vote must cast their ballots. Pollsters TNS Nipo have forecast turnout of 32 percent.

“If Ukraine does become part of this member association, it is just one step closer to becoming part of the EU. What you get with the visa-free element of things is you are going to get people coming over here, which is going to put more stress on the Dutch economy and more handouts that are going to be paid,” activist Daniel Klop told RT. 

In September, satirical news website GeenStijl collected 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.

"Have you ever been asked what you think of such an expansion of the EU?" asked the website at the time, noting this is one of the major gripes amongst the Dutch population. The public believes the Dutch state should consult them on any further discussions concerning the EU. 

The proposed treaty also proposes a number of chapters concerning defense and security agreements. Harry van Bommel, an MP from Socialist Party, who is campaigning for a ‘No’ vote, says it would not be wise to include Ukraine in such an agreement given the current state of affairs in the country.

“The country of Ukraine is unstable and there is a conflict with nearly 10,000 people dead. It is not good now to have a treaty that is more than a trade agreement,” van Bommel told RT. “This is a treaty with political ramifications and paragraphs on security and foreign policy and on defense. It is not wise to have such a comprehensive treaty at this moment,” he added. 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called the association agreement the “first step towards EU membership.” However, according to French diplomat Pierre Vimont, who helped to negotiate the deal between Kiev and the EU, five countries in the bloc remain firmly against Ukraine ever joining the union 

Germany, France, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands all rejected the idea of Ukraine’s potential EU membership during the five-year negotiation period in 2008-2012, Vimont told the Volkskrant newspaper. 

Vimont said that France and the Netherlands are skeptical about Ukraine’s prospects within the EU as both countries are “fed up with expansion,” noting that both states also rejected the EU constitution in referendums in 2005. 

In March, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Ukraine should never become a member of the EU, while also stressing that “in the long term” Ukraine should develop good and stable relations with Russia. 

If the ‘No’ vote does triumph in Wednesday’s referendum, the Dutch government would not be forced to veto the legislation. However, with the Netherlands currently holding the EU presidency and elections due to take place in less than a year, it would put pressure on Rutte and his coalition not to go against the will of the people. 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin believes that the Dutch public has the wrong idea about the association agreement, such as the EU becoming swamped with Ukrainians. 

“I never thought that this would be such a controversial issue,” he said, speaking to Volkskrant. “The European Union is an example for us when it comes to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” 

Klimkin talked about how Ukraine has made progress in areas such as LGBT rights, although he did not mention a recent incident in the western Ukrainian city of Lvov, where a neo-Nazi mob attacked an LGBT gathering.