One step to the victory: Obstacles to the progress on EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

Author : Serhiy Sydorenko Anatoliy Martsynovsky

Source : 112 Ukraine

House of Representatives of the Netherlands Parliament voted for ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine, but the process is not completed yet
16:38, 27 February 2017

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Thursday evening the House of Representatives of the Netherlands Parliament voted for ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine.

Of course, this event is not a cause for pathos, but this is a clearly positive news – especially against the delays, lasting for more than one and a half years. After all, in 2015 the Netherlands has ratified our agreement, but then it was stopped by referendum of Eurosceptics, first in the history of the country and the EU as a whole. April 6, 2016 a little more than 20% of voters - but 61% of those who came to the polls - voted against the agreement with Ukraine.

That referendum and the further events become a long notorious story with good lessons for the Netherlands, the European Union, and Ukraine.

However, there is still a vote in the Senate, and this danger should not be underestimated.

The lesson for the Netherlands: when lie reaches the goal

Influential American newspaper The New York Times published investigation of 2016 Dutch referendum with the eloquent title "Fake News, Fake Ukrainians: How a Group of Russians Tilted a Dutch Vote."

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

In particular, the paper explored that last year Dutch MP, Socialist Harry van Bommel along with the so-called "Ukrainian team" campaigned against the Agreement. “They attended public meetings, appeared on television and used social media to denounce Ukraine’s pro-Western government as a bloodthirsty kleptocracy, unworthy of Dutch support. As Mr. Van Bommel recalled, it “was very handy to show that not all Ukrainians were in favor.” The New York Times wrote.

The investigation shows that the agitators did not disdain neither manipulation nor trivial lie.

They were posing themselves as Ukrainian, while at least the key figures were Russians.

For his part, Mr. Van Bommel acknowledged that some of his “Ukrainian” helpers were perhaps Russian but said it was not his job to verify their identities. “I never ask people to see their passports,” he said during an interview in The Hague. “If they support our political platform they are welcome.”

The success of these manipulations is the main lesson for the Netherlands.

Yet it was hard to imagine how a very small group of people could achieve political results in a mature democracy, especially through outright lies and dirty tricks. After the arguments of supporters of the referendum had nothing to do with reality - for example, the Dutch were convinced that Association gives Ukraine’s citizens the right to employment in the EU. Or that the agreement guarantees Ukraine the prospect of EU membership.

Related: Dutch Lower House of Parliament supports Association with Ukraine

Dutch operation was at least supported and inspired from the outside.

But we should not see here only anti-Ukrainian explanation, because the referendum did not adversely affect us.

The second key "victim" became EU itself.

For the first time in the history of the European Union, a small portion of voters of only one of the 28 member states failed to stop the pan-European agreement, the ratification of which has been already completed. The agreement, which did not provide for conducting referendums in some countries. Which does not fully apply to the competence of Brussels or Hague.

It is not surprising that the April’s referendum gave birth to a kind of parade of Eurosceptics, the next achievement of whom became Brexit.

Lessons for the European Union: Russian influence and their own vulnerability

Russian interference in the Dutch vote was also a lesson for the whole EU. Some even believe that the campaign in the Netherlands was the training springboard before the American elections in autumn 2016.

Related: Moldova might cancel Association Agreement with EU, - Dodon

And it is essential for the EU to remember this lesson, because a number of important elections to be held there this year - in the Netherlands, France, Germany, and possibly in Italy. No doubt that the Kremlin would try not to lose the chance to break the EU or at least inflict significant damage.

For this, far –right parties and politicians like Marine Le Pen should come to power. By the way, its "analog" in the Netherlands is "Freedom Party" leaded by Geert Wilders, who was one of the key agitators against the association.

Several consecutive months Wilders has been leader of the election ratings. But at the background of recent scandals of the fake referendum and Russia’s attempt to break the IT-infrastructure of the Dutch authorities, the popularity of radicals somewhat declined.

Another great lesson is the vulnerability of the EU to non-standard situations, created by one of the Member States.

EU Treaties envisage many scenarios, but certainly not all. There were no legal answers to the Dutch referendum, so the EU had to invent some other solutions. The output that satisfied both Brussels and The Hague, was found in the end of 2016.

In December, the European Council adopted a political document, not provided by any rules of the European Union, which consisted six points. In particular, it is confirmed that the agreement does not mean:

  • granting Ukraine the status of candidate for EU membership;
  • EU commitment on Ukraine's security or military assistance to it, as well as an increase in financial assistance;
  • granting Ukrainians right to freely live and work in the EU.

These items are a list of complaints about the agreements that were heard during the campaign.

Consequently, the Dutch referendum voted against things that were not included into the agreement.

Related: EU-Ukraine Association: why Dutch agreement is questionable

A decision of the European Council agreement merely repeated the norms of the agreement, only in a different way.

In any case, this story for the EU is a good opportunity to think about changing rules and decision-making algorithm for the future. One of the EU member countries is able to break down the decision making process and the EU as a whole.

The lessons for Ukraine

For us the situation with the association and the Netherlands is one of many signals that indicate the unpredictability of the modern world.

This is not only a good lesson for Ukraine but also even one more reason to appreciate the Association Agreement with the EU.

On Thursday, Ukrainian politicians voiced some inspirational comments from MPs and government officials. And it would be good if a positive vote in the Netherlands reminded them of the unsatisfactory state of implementation of the Association Agreement in Ukraine.

Ukraine has an opportunity to fulfill Association Agreement - including its demands that are clearly tied to a time frame - from 1 November 2014, the first day of provisional application of the agreement. And according to experts, Ukraine currently fulfills only a small part of the obligations. It is impeded by the slow work of parliament, bureaucratic procedures in government, and staffing problems of the government agencies.

Related: About 10 agreements to be signed at Ukraine-EU Association Council session

One of the symbols of neglecting association was failure to vote for two major environmental laws under the agreement: "On the environmental impact assessment" and "On strategic environmental assessment", without which export of Ukrainian goods is very complicated.

The challenge for all: how to complete the ratification

The vote of the lower house was an important step. And it is good that it took place before the election - or ratification had to be postponed at least for a month and perhaps for years. And it would be a big mistake to forget all the efforts. In order to finish the ratification, three steps must be taken. First - a vote in the Senate of the Netherlands. Then come the signature of the King and the transfer of ratifications to Brussels.

Forecasts of the Senate are cautiously positive. Today there is an agreement of support. But there is no confidence that it will continue after the elections.

The electoral system in the Netherlands significantly differs from the Ukrainian one. The elections, scheduled for 15 March, will change only the composition of the lower house, the upper house would remain unchanged. But the election results, namely the victory of pro-European or anti-European parties, might affect the mood of MPs.

75 deputies work in the Senate, and government of Mark Rutte has long lost its majority. Formally, the pro-government parties retain only 21 votes out of 75. Another 10 votes for pro-European associations will probably come from D66 party, which was one of the main "Friends of Ukraine" at last year's referendum.

Related: EU-Ukraine Association Agreement: obvious and hidden motives of Hague

But some seven votes are still missing. And it would be quite difficult to find them in the upper house, which is represented by 12 parties.

Numerous sources indicate that the government of Mark Rutte relies on individual agreements with seven deputies from "Christian-Democratic appeal" (CDA) - the center-right party, which once has been a key political force in the country, but in the last decade it has significantly lost its popularity and now is seeking a place in the new political realities. CDA has several MPs who do not hide the fact that they are ready to support Ukraine.

The fact is that most of their party members who participate in the March elections are public opponents of association with Ukraine.

February 23, CDA faction almost unanimously voted against the ratification of the Agreement in the lower house.

Related: MP: Netherlands should take responsibility for decision on EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

No one wants to bring this party dispute until the elections are held. However, there would be no obstacles after the elections - that is why a vote in the Senate was scheduled after the elections.

Currently, Ukraine could hope that the agreements would be respected. And despite this, the country has every reason to be cautious and, at the same time, optimistic.

The completion of the campaign would reduce the degree of populism of the Dutch politicians. So let us continue our work in the Netherlands, because we have all the reasons to hope for success.

Related: Life After the Voting: EU Referendum Outcome (online)

Related: Dutch PM: Netherlands will not ratify EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

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