16:35 Apr. 7, 2016
Sentiment among Dutch citizens is split after a referendum
Dutch voters have overwhelmingly rejected a Ukraine-European Union treaty on closer political and economic ties, in a rebuke to their government and to the European Union establishment, Reuters reports.
The broad political, trade and defence treaty, which had already been signed by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government and approved by all other European Union nations as well as Ukraine, took effect provisionally in January.
But that didn't stop Dutch voters on Wednesday (April 6) rejecting it by a 64-36 margin in a referendum that drew only 32 percent of voters to the polls - barely enough for the result to be considered valid.
A day after the referendum, one Amsterdam resident said she was not even sure about what was being voted on.
"I found it a pity that the proper explanation was not given about what is really the meaning of this, so it's logical I have voted 'no', because I never got any information about what is happening, [so my vote] has nothing to do with Ukraine," Amsterdam resident Okke said.
Some voters said they were voicing their opposition not only to the treaty itself but also to European policymakers on matters ranging from the migrant crisis to economic policy, not long before Britain's June vote on whether to stay in the E.U.
"I voted 'against' yesterday, so I do not support it. Would you like to know why? Because I think the employment situation and the treatment of animals in Ukraine are, I think, not on the same level like it is here, and I do not really believe that we can make things better there with such a trade agreement. The truth is I have lost my trust a bit," another Amsterdam resident, Eva, said.
Although the referendum was non-binding, Rutte acknowledged late on Wednesday, April 7, it was politically impossible for his unpopular government to ratify the treaty in its current form.
"The referendum was unnecessary, ridiculous, too expensive and a laughing-stock, so I didn't vote. But I am for the trade agreement," said Michelle, also from Amsterdam.
Any proposed changes to the treaty will have to pass both houses of the Dutch parliament, including the Senate, where Rutte's shaky coalition lacks a majority.
If a compromise can be found, it must also be palatable to other European countries, as well as the European Union Commission and the Ukrainian government.
Watch also Ukraine Today's interviews of the #DUTCHINUA project
The European Commission has said it will wait for the Dutch government to suggest a way forward. Options include leaving the Ukraine agreement in force provisionally, or drafting exemption clauses for the Netherlands as has happened in somewhat similar circumstances in the past.