61% of Dutch voters say NO to ratifying EU-Ukraine deal, or is it NO to the EU?

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte casts his vote for the consultative referendum on the association between Ukraine and the European Union, in the Hague, the Netherlands, April 6, 2016 © Michael Kooren
The majority of Dutch people who went to the polls in the Netherlands on Wednesday to express their opinion on the proposed association agreement between the EU and Kiev have rejected it, preliminary results and exit polls have shown.

Sixty-one percent voted against the Netherlands ratifying the treaty, which would strengthen economic and political ties between the 28-nation bloc and Kiev, an exit poll conducted by the Ipsos center shows. Some 38 percent of the voters supported the move, the exit poll has shown.

If the turnout surpasses the 30 percent threshold, making the “no” vote valid, the government will reconsider ratifying the treaty, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said.

“It’s clear that ‘No’ have won by an overwhelming margin, the question is only if turnout is sufficient,” Rutte stated. “If the turnout is above 30 percent with such a large margin of victory for the ‘No’ camp then my sense is that ratification can’t simply go ahead.”

Ukraine’s foreign ministry announced that it is examining the results of the referendum, but pointed out that it was a non-binding expression of public opinion and that it will wait for the Netherlands’ final decision on ratification of the EU-Ukraine deal.

“We are counting on the decision to be in the interests of Ukraine, the Netherlands and Europe,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mariana Betsa stated.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian opposition said that the results of the referendum represent disappointment with the Ukrainian government.

“This is like a cold shower for the Ukrainian politicians who believe that loud shouting and wild hopping is more important than efficient work,” Aleksander Vilkul, a leader of the Opposition Bloc Party, said. “This is an assessment to those who think that no one will notice excessive corruption.”

Although Rutte promised that a valid “no” vote would not go ignored, he said that the government would take its time in deciding exactly how to respond to the public’s opinion.

In order for the referendum to be considered valid, at least 30 percent of the population eligible to vote must cast their ballots. The validity of Wednesday’s non-binding referendum is still unclear. With over 99.8 percent of the votes counted, Ipsos exit poll said that the turnout was at 32.2 percent.

The margin of error for turnout is three percent, and that for the final results is five percent, TASS reported.

The Dutch voters’ decision on whether to approve the association agreement, which strengthens ties with Kiev, will be officially announced on April 12, RIA Novosti reported.

The most important lesson that can be learnt from this referendum is that the European Union has lost its appeal to the common people. [It has shown that] it is not possible to mobilize [people] for a referendum, for a democratic event that has been organized by the EU and is closely connected to the EU. This shows that there is a democratic deficit in Europe, in the Netherlands,” assistant professor of European studies at Amsterdam University Laszlo Maracz told RT, adding that “it will have repercussions and probably an impact on the Brexit vote in June in Great Britain, and consequences for future projects of the European Union.”

READ MORE: Netherlands referendum: What does the Dutch vote mean for Britain’s EU debate?

The referendum was triggered by a petition launched by a group of activists last year that collected more than 450,000 signatures, much higher the 300,000 required by Dutch law to force the government to put issues to a public vote.

Although the referendum is non-binding, it will be considered as an official advisory to the government from the Dutch people should the turnout reach above the 30 percent mark, meaning that at least 3.7 million voters will have officially expressed their opinion.

The proposed EU-Ukraine treaty aims to strengthen not only economic and political ties. It also includes a number of defense and security agreements. For the pact to have full legal force, it must be ratified by all 28 European Union member states. The Netherlands has yet to do so.

 

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