December 29, 2015

The EU – Ukraine Association Agreement: Being Tested  by Netherlands

By A. Cherkas, Analyst of Free Voice IAC


“The best manifestation of solidarity with Ukraine” (according to President P. Poroshenko's post on Facebook) was demonstrated by the Brussels Parliament on November 20, when Belgium, the last of the EU Member States, ratified the Association Agreement with Ukraine. Now the EU-Ukraine Agreement should be completely “legal” and “not subject to appeal” .Not subject to appeal... The seed of doubt about this Ukraine's great integration step into the EU has been sown by the Netherlands, which on April 6, 2016 will held a referendum - the referendum to “test the strength and credibility” of the EU-Ukraine Association. At the referendum the citizens will express their opinion whether the Association “should or should not be”. Netherlands' “lack of familiarity” with Ukraine?

As the Institute of World Politics points out in its study on the perception of Ukraine abroad (conducted in September 2015), the Netherlands today - is the most skeptical to Ukraine country of the European Union. Sociological data show that about 47 % of respondents find it difficult to answer the question why Ukraine should be in the EU. The Netherlands' perception (i.e., sensory perception) of Ukraine's not belonging to Europe is also the highest among Europeans(14 %).


After the fall of Boeing with the Netherlands' citizens on board, the Netherlands became the country almost alone among its “colleagues in the EU”, which has suffered human losses during the combat actions on the territory of Ukraine. It was then, on the 17th of July 2014, that Ukraine for the first time was remembered by the Dutch as a place of death of ordinary Netherlands' citizens.



Referendum: a manifestation of democracy or manipulation for the sake of personal goals?

The known Eurosceptic NGO “Forum for Democracy” and the “Citizens' Committee” within 6 weeks managed to collect the necessary number of votes “for” holding of a referendum. The initiators of the referendum consider such a form of declaration of will a convenient excuse for expression of all the Netherlands Euro-skepticism which becomes more and more real in the context of the current rise of the right-wing, nationalist sentiments in the EU, the growth of “mistrust and weariness” of Europeans from the EU because of the problems of the terrorist threat and the migration crisis. Interestingly, shortly after the referendum, there will be parliamentary elections in the country, so the “mistrust” to the EU-Ukraine Association may be used against pro-government political forces in the Netherlands. We should not forget about the “undeclared presence” and a high level of influence in the Netherlands of the Russian and pro-Russian propaganda, for which it is simple enough to fill the nearly empty Dutch information space with their attitude towards Ukraine.



Widespread stereotypes in the Netherlands for perception of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and EU


The referendum has an advisory status, but do not forget that, firstly, in 2005, with the help of a similar referendum, the Netherlands and France undermined the ratification of the EU Constitution; secondly, if the turnout of the population in the referendum in April 2016 is at least 30 % of all citizens, the government of the Netherlands will have the right to “re-vote” the decision on the ratification of the Association.

It must be born in mind that many of the political parties represented in the Netherlands' parliament (PvdA, CDA), declare the need to take into consideration the points of view of the people during the revoting. Today, the country's left and right SP (Socialists, relatively favorable to Russia) and PVV (Geert Wilders' “Freedom Party”, the friend of “Marine Le Pen”, and open supporter of Russia), like during the first vote, are against the Association, but social-democrats of the PVdA and liberals of the VVD (so far have not made any statements on the possible results of the referendum) take pro-Ukrainian positions.



The official Amsterdam' point of view has been recently expressed by Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Bert Koenders: “While the Netherlands has not ratified the Agreement, it cannot enter into force. The results of the referendum will be a recommendation to the Government of the Netherlands.”

At the end of November 2015, during President P. Poroshenko's visit to the Netherlands, a ray of hope about the possible Netherlands' “understanding” of Ukraine did appear, if we take into consideration the results of the meeting “in three statements”. “The correct rhetoric of Ukrainian diplomacy” (emphasis on the full support of Ukraine in the investigation of the crash of the Boeing, as well as on work on implementation of reforms) was “encouraged” by the Dutch side with promises to extend sanctions against Russia.


The infographic has been created based on the data of Channel 24


December 7, 2015, the leading positions in the Netherlands' news digests belonged to the information that the paintings, dating to the 17th century and stolen in 2005 from the Museum of Western Friesland in Horn (Netherlands), were found in Ukraine. The fact of O. Tyahnybok, V. Nalyvaychenko and Ukrainian security officials' allegedly being involved in their stealing put before the Netherlanders the question: “Is this country, full of lies and deceit, going to Europe?”. The “European Truth” refers to the incident as a “PR-disaster for Ukraine”.

As pointed out to the author N. Gnidyuk, Deputy Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Director of the Government Office for European Integration, “... We need to disregard Ukraine, because this referendum is putting into question not Ukraine, but the threat which a country-new EU member can bring, what socio-economic consequences other countries will suffer because of the “arrival” of a new country”. Also, according to the official, the Netherlands is not the country that would accurately determine the policy of the EU.

I think that the Netherlands' definite «yes» to the EU-Ukraine Association can be an indicator of Europe's credibility to Ukraine. This internal referendum is of historical importance for the perception of our country by those European countries, which began with the creation of the EU. On the eve of P. Poroshenko's visit to the Netherlands, according to the “European Truth”, 45 % of respondents (in the poll) were ready to take part in the referendum, 56 % of them were planning to vote against the ratification of the Agreement. Therefore, the referendum is a priority for the Ukrainian diplomacy in the upcoming four-month struggle for “the restoration of Ukraine's good name” with the deadline April 6, 2016.

We need to prevent a possible chain reaction of anti-European tendencies for Ukraine. The main tasks for Ukrainian diplomacy in the Netherlands this winter and next spring should be a powerful information campaign to inform ordinary citizens of the country of tulips about what the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement “gives and does give» to the Netherlands; coverage of events related to the implementation of reforms in Ukraine. Emphasis should be placed on the fact that the aim of the Association is a complete transformation of Ukraine into a stable, liberal democracy, its transformation into an economically attractive country for the future deepening of the Dutch-Ukrainian economic cooperation. Such activities should be carried out in close cooperation with the Ukrainian Diaspora and pro-Ukrainian initiatives such as “”.