IEP Analysis: Dutch government asks for prolonged reflection period for EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

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Postponed, and then abandoned?

Dutch government asks for prolonged reflection period for EU-Ukraine Associ­ation Agreement

Is the Associ­ation Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union finally coming or not? The Dutch government has postponed the decision on its ratifi­cation until the EU summit in the middle of December. In the meantime the government plans to broker a legally binding deal which would tackle the objec­tions of those Dutch who voted against the Associ­ation Agreement in the refer­endum, therefore allowing to build a parlia­mentary majority for its ratifi­cation. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has already announced following provi­sions of this new document:

But none of the above is part of the Associ­ation Agreement. The goal of the agreement is to mutually open the markets for secure and highly quali­tative products. The Dutch demands show once more that the refer­endum and public debate do not concen­trate on the Associ­ation Agreement and its provi­sions, but reflect a strongly negative attitude towards policy­making within the EU.

Moreover, further delaying the decision about the ratifi­cation or rejection of the Associ­ation Agreement only contributes to the growing Ukrainian perception of the EU as a shaky and unpre­dictable partner.

The associ­ation with the EU presents the reform plan that the Ukrainian government and society so urgently need.  But the high costs that go together with it (war in the East of the country, painful struc­tural reforms, etc.) are impos­sible to bear without a wide support from the society and the middle-term perspective of being rewarded for the efforts. Contra­dictory signals from Brussels and EU member states give new impetus to the opponents of the reforms and let down their supporters. The case of visa liber­al­ization is yet another example. Even though Ukraine fulfilled all the require­ments deter­mined in the Visa Liber­al­ization Action Plan, the date for intro­ducing visa-free travel is not yet known.

The European Neigh­borhood Policy, in the framework of which the agreement was negotiated, is an important part of the EU’s foreign policy. But such action of a single member state calls this assumption into question.  Stability and prosperity, goals of this policy, should not fall prey to populistic arguments. Even more so, when they are arbitrarily oriented against Ukraine. Not long ago, Nether­lands ratified similar Associ­ation Agree­ments with Georgia and Moldova without any diffi­culties.

The EU needs a strong voice when deciding about foreign and trade policies, as the Dutch government aptly put it. But such decisions also require courage and will from the member states, which should be ready for compro­mises and think further ahead than the next coming elections.

Background

In April 2016 Dutch citizens voted in the refer­endum on the ratifi­cation of the EU-Ukraine Associ­ation Agreement. 61% of them voted “against” the agreement with the turnout above 32%.

Dutch parliament obliged the government to put forward a draft bill until 1 November in which it would either accept or reject the ratifi­cation.

The Associ­ation Agreement has been already ratified by all the other 27 member states. The free trade part of the agreement entered into provi­sional appli­cation on 1 January 2016. Since the associ­ation treaty was concluded as a so-called ‘mixed’ agreement, it requires ratifi­cation of all the member states because it inter­feres with their exclusive compe­tences.

Anne Bercio, Constanze Aka, Martin Stein