Monday 27 March 2023

Business as usual in Brussels despite Dutch ‘no’ to Ukraine

eu flagsThe Dutch ‘no’ vote in Wednesday’s referendum on the EU’s treaty with Ukraine will have no impact on the implementation of the agreement, a spokesman for the European Commission told broadcaster Nos.

The treaty has already been signed and unanimously accepted by all EU leaders and the Dutch ‘no’ will not change that, the spokesman is quoted as saying.

The treaty has not yet been ratified by the Dutch parliament and the government has now said that it will take the ‘no’ vote into account.

Although the referendum is advisory and not binding on the government, prime minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday evening the Netherlands can no longer ratify the treaty ‘just like that’.

Step by step

What happens next will have to be looked at ‘step by step’, the prime minister said. Ministers will talk to parliament and to the country’s European partners before deciding what to do next, he said.

European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker, who warned ahead of the vote a ‘no’ could cause a crisis, said he was sorry about the results. A spokesman for Juncker said he had spoken to Rutte on Wednesday evening, once it became apparent that a majority of those voting rejected the treaty.

‘It is now up to the Dutch government. It is not our job to diagnose what is up with Dutch public opinion,’ the spokesman is quoted as saying by the AD.


The Commission itself and European Council president Donald Tusk both said they would not react until the Dutch government had decided what to do, Nos reports.

Tusk did add that the implementation of the treaty between the EU and Ukraine would continue because it had already been ratified by the 27 other member states.

Just over 32% of the electorate turned out to have their say in the advisory referendum, which the ‘no’ vote won with 61.5%. This means the government must reassess the treaty and take the results of the referendum into account, but does not need to abide by the result.


Commentators are now speculating what the government will do to appease the ‘no’ voters. Twente University local government professor Marcel Boogers said he expects the European Commission will again emphasis that the treaty does not pave the way for Ukraine to join the EU.

‘Rutte will then be able to say “see, we have taken the result seriously”, and then the treaty of association can go ahead,’ he told broadcaster Nos.

Belgian professor Peter Van Elsuwege said in a blog post quoted by the Financieele Dagblad: ‘It would be extremely cynical to allow a relatively small part of the population of a relatively small member state to block a treaty which has been approved by 27 national parliaments and the European parliament.’

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