A Dutch non-referendum

Wednesday 6th of April 2016, Dutch voters can take part in a referendum. The last time this happened in the EU-mini-state, was in 2005. The 2005 referendum was an important one. It’s result: Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution. The then Dutch government and politicians imposed the EU constitution.

The present referendum is weirder. Dutch voters can say “Yes” or “No” to the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine. As Jennifer Rankin puts it in her Guardian article “Dutch gear up for the other EU vote”: “…The treaty has already been signed by 27 other EU member states, approved by the Dutch government and has partly entered into force. ...”  So why a democratic referendum at all?

It started with a Dutch version of Charlie Hebdo and two Euro-sceptic think-tanks joining forces. At first, their idea was to obtain a similar construction as in the UK: a referendum lock. Such a lock means a referendum must be held and the population given a chance to vote, on any changes to EU laws and EU treaties. Such a rerendum lock enables EU-exits.

The Dutch referendum lock did not materialise. Instead, the Dutch got a law which facilitates a referendum the moment campaigners obtain 300,000 signatures.  One suspects, the country’s government and politicians never expected anybody to knock on Parliament’s door with a bunch of 300,000 signatures.

A worse scenario happened. Campaigners obtained more than the necessary quorum to start the fight for Wednesday’s Dutch referendum. A sure sign the cloggies have had it with their governments’ undemocratic style of managing the country, as well as with Brussels even more opaque style of – dare one call it – management.

The Ukraine Association Agreement is the first for which cloggies used their new law. Nevertheless, many Dutch media call Wednesday’s referendum a non-issue. They quite rightly point out that a Dutch “No” will not cancel any EU agreement which is ratified, in place, in force. Let’s face it: if a previous Dutch government was capable of ignoring its voters’ “NO!” to the EU constitution, will the present one do a U-turn on something like an association agreement?

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, his government, many Dutch politicians are already ensuring they will have plenty space to wriggle out of referendums. As Dutch Foreign Minister Koenders told the Guardian and other papers, ignoring and dismissing the vote would be arrogant. Only to add to this statement, that accepting the result of this referendum, would no longer ensure that Dutch referendums remain “advisory instruments”.  In short: “thanks for turning up and voting, but we’ll continue to do as we please.”

In the meantime, Dutch Yes- and No-camps are taking things far more serious. Accusations range from “You’re Putin’s useful idiots” to “you’re supporting the increase in power of the dictatorial EU-Super-State”. Into this already murky pond splashed the Panama Papers.

For some time, plenty western governments warn about fraud in the Ukraine on their websites. After the Panama splash, Ukraine’s anti-fraud office stated it would not take a closer look at President Poroshenko‘s creative hobbies. Within 24 hours, Reuter’s reported Ukraine’s Fiscal Office was interested in President Poroshenko’s book-keeping anyway. Not that an interest in something may lead to anything. Yet all the recent events increase the impression that Ukraine is on a par with Putin’s corrupt society and not exactly the kind of country one wants to associate with too closely.

Not that the Dutch “No”-voters needed help. Opinion polls predict they will win. But of course, this will not alter a thing about the Dutch government’s stance, nor cancel Europe’s Association Agreement with Ukraine.



About Kate

Multilingual arts & culture journalist, blogger, columnist, writer and translator. Contributor to international (news) media. 2014 winning columnist Gentse Schrijversdagen, Gand, Belgium.
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