In 2013, Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign association agreement with EU. It was the starting shot of a long crisis which includes lasting war and Russian annexation of Crimea. The European Union was still there to assure Ukrainians that it will do the best to get Kiev out of the sphere of Moscow´s influence. Signing of the association agreement which was at the very beginning of the crisis was thought to be almost automatic step in European effort to show Moscow that Europe is here to play an important role as well. 27 of 28 EU member countries have already ratified the agreement. But during the last step, things get "little bit" complicated. This time, frost doesn´t come from Kremlin but from.... the Netherlands.
It all started almost as a joke, the group of Dutch euro-sceptic bloggers decided to test a new Dutch law about referendum. In the Netherlands, it is possible to arrange the referendum about European matters if 300 000 sign a petition. It happened and yesterday, the country went to voting rooms.
On Thursday morning, 80% of all votes was counted. So far, turnout is 32% which exceeds 30% requirement for referendum validity and 61% voted for NO to the EU-Ukraine agreement. One can easily imagine hilarity in the halls of Kremlin and the feeling of betrayal in Kiev.
|EU is fighting for survival, European parliament in Strasbourg (public domain picture)|
Dutch voters probably used the referendum to express their negative feeling about EU in general despite appeal of Dutch PM Mark Rutte who urged voters to vote about Ukraine, not about EU. But low turnout increased the influence of euro-sceptics who had stronger motivation for voting. The result is not obligatory for Dutch government but it can be hardly imagined that politicians will go against it, especially as the general election is approaching.
First reactions to the referendum outcome already came from Ukraine, EU and the Netherlands:
"It looks like the Dutch people said NO to the European elite and NO to the treaty with the Ukraine. The beginning of the end of the EU" Geert Wilders, leader of the euro-sceptic Freedom party
"The ´no´ camp won convincingly" Mark Rutte, Dutch PM
"Ukraine would continue moving towards the EU despite the resounding rejection" Petro Poroshenko, president of the Ukraine
"The accord cannot just be ratified. We have to take into account this 'no' vote" Diederik Samsom, the Labour Party leader of the Dutch ruling coalition
"Dutch exit polls seem to indicate big No to EU vote. Hooray!" Nigel Farage, UK Independence Party
The outcome clearly shows that euro-sceptic tendencies are present all around Europe and the EU must change fundamentally (and quickly) if it wants to survive. At this moment, majority of Europeans is not really identified with the EU concept and its fundamental and general values, therefore they are not willing to sacrifice anything to defend them. This is huge problem which can end with the EU disintegration. It seems that EU´s change from pure free-trade zone to the community covered by some common values was not understood by the people of Europe. Top of that, the result can be taken as a boost for "Brexit" supporters as the referendum about UK´s withdrawal from EU will be held in just 80 days.