An Introduction to the Dutch EU referendum

THE HAGUE – Many of you may have heard about the upcoming referendum on the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine that will be held in the Netherlands on the 6th of April. This has caused controversy in the Netherlands as well as abroad, with even Nigel Farage joining in. We would like to offer you a short introduction to the debate surrounding the referendum.

A fierce discussion between supporters and opponents of the Association Agreement is taking place. Most political parties support the treaty and try to convince their voters to vote in favour of it. They are opposed by a small group of political parties, such as the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), the Socialist Party (SP) and the Animal Party.

The referendum was initiated by the online newspaper GeenStijl, the Citizen’s Initiative EU and the Forum for Democracy, an independent think-tank led by conservative publisher Thierry Baudet. Foreign leaders have also voiced their opinion; President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has stated in an interview with NRC Handelsblad that a “no vote” could ‘open the door to a bigger continental crisis.’

Flags 1 (Night)

Photo: Stuart Smith

‘Are you in favour or against the law to approval of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine?’ is the question that will be posed to all Dutch citizens on the 6th of April. Voters have the option to vote either “yes” or “no.” The referendum is an advisory referendum, meaning that the results cannot legally oblige the government to change their policy. It is up to the political parties and the cabinet to decide on the ultimate outcome of the referendum.

For the referendum to be legal a turnout of at least 30% is required. This means that only when the majority of this 30% votes to reject the treaty the electoral commission will advise the government to refrain from finalising the treaty. If this threshold is not reached, the government shall proceed to ratify the treaty as was previously enacted by Parliament. However, the ultimate consequences of a “no” vote are unclear.

The parties opposed to the referendum SP, PVV and the Animal Party have already expressed that they believe a majority ‘no’ vote should mean that the Netherlands does not ratify the treaty. The supporters of the referendum, including D66, GroenLinks, CDA and coalition parties VVD and Labour (PvdA) are less outspoken. D66, a long-time proponent of referenda, says that the results of the referendum should be taken seriously, but has not yet made clear what that entails. Prime Minister Rutte (VVD) has not commented on the consequences of a “no” vote either.

The Association Agreement can only be adopted if all EU member states accept the treaty. If the cabinet does not ratify the treaty, the European Union needs to recommence negotiations with the Netherlands and Ukraine or scrap the treaty all together.

In the next part of this referendum series, we will elaborate on the various arguments employed by the various sides. Keep posted!