Netherlands said 'yes' to EU-Ukraine Association: What is the cost of these efforts?

Author : Yuriy Panchenko Serhiy Sydorenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

March 30, Dutch Senate approved ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine with two-thirds of votes
15:11, 31 May 2017

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In the penultimate day of spring, the Dutch Senate with two-thirds of votes approved ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine.

But the vote was set for other days. Therefore, it is worth mentioning, how Ukraine managed to "break" the results of the failed referendum, held in the Netherlands in April last year.

The primary date is 15 December. That day was actually deciding one in the fate of the Association Agreement. Ukrainian question was key one at the EU summit. Most EU countries have to find a compromise that would allow the Dutch government not to destroy the agreement, but at the same time, to "save face." Everything happens on the eve of parliamentary elections in the state, which voted against the agreement with Ukraine.

Diplomats, involved in the process, agree that the main task of the Dutch government was to bring its own voters that the EU is forced to agree on compromises.

Illustrative moment was that during these historical debates member of Netherlands delegation urged our correspondent that the decision might be delayed. The diplomat added: "I see that you are not convinced. But I want you to believe me - it is really very challenging."

Related: Dutch Parliament ratifies EU-Ukraine Association

At that time, it was already known that a compromise would take place.  

But we must admit that true jeopardy remained.

The vote in the Senate on May 30 was the last political step to Association get started. A series of technical steps are ahead.

Last year's referendum in the Netherlands was the cold shower - 61.1% of the Dutch, who came to referendum, have voted against the ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine. This result was a disaster not only for Ukraine, but for the EU. For the first time, one of the Member States challenged the powers of the EU to conclude international agreements. Dutch referendum could have caused the "domino effect". For several months, the Belgian region of Wallonia Parliament blocked the ratification of the FTA between EU and Canada.

Related: Dutch PM Rutte scores victory in elections

Without the right to conclude international agreements, EU remains an empty shell. So, the answer to the crisis would influence the EU's future for years to come. Walloon challenge was resolved quickly and firmly, regional MPs were actually forced to change their mind and re-vote on the Canadian agreement.

But it was much harder with Ukraine. After ordinary citizens said their word in the referendum, not the politicians. This decision was made by a clear minority of votes - the referendum turnout was 32.2%.

Therefore, for solving the problem, they needed to announce some concessions from the side of the EU.

Legally, these concessions have been issued in the decision of the Heads of State and Government of the EU adopted on 15 December.

Related: Turkey as a PR card: Reasons for conflict between Dutch authorities and Erdogan

What was promised by the Netherlands for the Association last year? Ukraine did not sign the document. It has not made any changes to the agreement. However, other Member States of the European Union guaranteed their voters that association with Ukraine:

1) is not associated with Ukraine's membership in the EU;

2) contains no provisions on the freedom of movement of persons (that does not include the right to employment and residence);

3) does not provide for the common defense of Ukraine and the EU;

4) does not give Ukraine access to EU structural funds;

5) an essential element of cooperation with Ukraine is the fight against corruption.

That was enough to persuade Dutch voters that his view was not ignored. But despite the severity of the language, we have every reason to say: unlocking the Association, European Union did not betray the interests of Ukraine.

Related: Erdogan called Dutch authorities "fascists and vestiges of Nazism"

The agreement already meets all the listed items without exception. That is Brussels agreement has added nothing new. Most importantly, the document signed in Brussels on 15 December, does not limit further rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU.

For example, it says that the association does not guarantee membership, but does not say that such membership is impossible. EU leaders only acted as a collective "Captain Obvious", declaring the absence of points that were not included into agreement.

It must be admitted that the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte went on a big risk by going on a "compromise". Even later, during the debate in the Dutch parliament, his opponents harshly criticized for reaching "agreement".

Going against the will of the voters ahead of parliamentary elections is a considerable risk for any politician in a democratic country.

Related: Verkhovna Rada welcomes Dutch voting on EU-Ukraine Association

But ultimately the Dutch compromise ended with a joint victory of EU, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. A "green light" for the Association of Dutch populists did not help win the parliamentary elections.

An important role in referendum was played by the Russian trace.

In February, the media found out that the campaign against association with Ukraine, which was actively conducted in the years 2015-2016, had Russian roots.

This investigation was published February 16: this day could also be considered a turning point in the fate of Ukrainian Agreement.

The information that the Russians intervened in the internal affairs of the Netherlands, did not surprise the Ukrainians. But in the Netherlands, many took it as a slap.

And in one week after the publication of the investigation, on 23 February, the lower house of the Dutch parliament said 'yes' to the Association: 89 deputies voted “for,” and 55 – “against.”

Legal ratification of the agreement is not completed. Now the government of the Netherlands has to transfer an agreement to the king, and then to convey it to the Council of the EU instrument.

Related: Dutch Lower House of Parliament supports Association with Ukraine

But the important thing is that political decisions in the Netherlands would be gone, only formal ones would be left. So we have to wait, but not to risk.

Today the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU has the status of the interim implementation; it will take effect after taking all the procedures. This does not change the parameters of FTA. First, the new status of the association will affect sectoral cooperation between Ukraine and the EU.

Will Ukraine subsequently apply for membership in the EU?

The answer to this question depends on us, on our reforms.

The Netherlands forced us to lose 1.5 years, but we keep moving in the right direction.

Related: Netherlands to return Scythian gold to Ukraine

Related: Merkel supports Netherlands in conflict with Turkey

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