The Referendum in the Netherlands: Meaning for the EU & Ukraine’s Future

, by Maksym Shcherbakov

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The Referendum in the Netherlands: Meaning for the EU & Ukraine's Future
A massive pro-EU rally in Kiev on 24th of November 2013, Ⓒ Ivan Bandura, Flickr Commons (CC BY 2.0)

The European Union and Ukraine signed an Association Agreement in 2014. Five years of difficult negotiations and preparation of the text of the Agreement was preceded by that outstanding event. Ukrainians defended (sometimes with their lives) their right to the European way of life during the revolutionary days of Euromaidan.

Similar agreements have been concluded also between the EU, Moldova and Georgia. The ratification process of the Association Agreement is in its final stage now. One of the last steps towards the full entry into force of the Agreement will be a referendum which will be held in the Netherlands on 6 April 2016.

The Association Agreement with Ukraine is important for the development of a united Europe. It means that one of the largest countries on the European continent will return to the Western way of development. Under the agreement, Ukraine must implement a huge amount of economic and legal reforms. The Agreement provides for the implementation by Ukraine more than 300 acts of EU law. In particular, that means strengthening of intellectual property rights, the implementation of new ecological standards and strengthening the protection of foreign investments. According to opinion polls, the majority of citizens in Ukraine support the European model of development. The Association Agreement with the EU means for Ukrainians the guide to a better future because of it envisaged reforms will result in improvement of living standards in Ukraine. That means for Ukrainians the modernization of all spheres of life, the implementation of European legal standards and access to high quality European products.

Also the Association Agreement with Ukraine will contribute to the stabilization of Eastern Europe and thus strengthen security of the European continent. A launch of the FTA with Ukraine will have a favorable impact on the European economy. At first, it means new export opportunities for European producers. As a result of the abolition of customs duties on the border with Ukraine, European exporters will save 391 million Euro per year. An additional advantage for European manufacturers will be the implementation of European quality standards of products in Ukraine, because it would mean the abolition of non-tariff barriers to exports. In addition, European suppliers and service providers have access to the Ukrainian market of government procurement; harmonization of energy policies will take place. European corporations will gain new opportunities to open production in Ukraine in the long term perspective through the creation of a favorable investment climate.

The initiators of the referendum were remarkably selective, offering to vote only on the agreement with Ukraine. A similar agreement with Moldova and Georgia were quietly ratified without a referendum. It should be noted that the referendum is advisory in nature, its results will not be obligatory. Dutch authorities must take into account the results, but the final word will rest with the government. However, if the majority of votes will be given against the agreement, it will have result in some political obstacles, which may hinder the full entering into force of the agreement. This turn of events will have a major impact not for the European institutions in Brussels, but for ordinary citizens of Ukraine who support European values and count on solidarity from the EU. The failure of ratification the Agreement will cause considerable disappointment of Ukrainian citizens and may have negative consequences for the political stability in Ukraine.

The access to full and unbiased information about Ukraine and the Association Agreement by the Dutch society is extremely important for this referendum. In this context it is timely transaction information campaign, launched by the Ukrainian community in the Netherlands. A referendum in the Netherlands will be a kind of test of European solidarity and prudence of political thought: whether the Dutch weigh all the “pros” and “cons”, to avoid the stereotypes and simplistic solutions.

The Association Agreement with Ukraine will be the chance for United Europe to become stronger, more united, and to prove the commitment to common values. Europe mustn’t miss this chance.

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