Why are we voting: an analysis of the Dutch referendum debate

This is the second part of our series on the Dutch treaty referendum, written by Wessel den Hartog and Marijke Grundeken. More coverage will follow soon.

THE HAGUE – Many supporters of the treaty believe that the treaty would lead to greater economic ties between the countries and better governance in Ukraine. There are those, however, who argue that the treaty is secretly about Ukraine joining the EU, or that the treaty is directly opposed to Dutch interests. Not all proponents and opponents use the same arguments. In any case, the debate is divided along the following lines.

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All political parties in the House of Representatives with the notable exception of the Freedom Party (PVV), the Socialist Party (SP) and the Animal Party are in favour of the treaty. The major voice in social debate in favor of the referendum is “Stem voor Nederland” (Vote for the Netherlands) lead by Joshua Livestro. They have articulated the following arguments:

The Association Agreement creates more trade opportunities for the Netherlands.

It is true that the Association Agreement will make the trade with Ukraine more easy as many custom taxes and other trade limitations are removed. However, the economy of Ukraine is not very strong when compared to the Netherlands. With a GDP of only 131.8 billion US dollars according to the World Bank, its economy is a little more than a seventh of the Dutch economy (879.3 billion US dollars). This means that in the short term the Netherlands will not have large economic benefits of the Association Agreement. But, Ukraine is a country in development and the Association Agreement could give economic benefits in the future. An example of this is Poland who, when entering the EU only had an GDP of 253,5 billion US dollars. But during the past years it’s GDP has increase to 545 billion US dollars, and the trade with the Netherlands has tripled.

The Association Agreement sets clear goals for reforms 

The treaty includes multiple pages on political reforms that must be enacted to make the Ukrainian legislation and institutions more like the EU’s so trade and cooperation will be easier. Although it happens that agreements that have been made in Association Agreements are not kept (such as in the case of Turkey – ed.) the Ukrainian government seems to be willing to implement the reforms required by the EU. The question remains if that wiliness stays the same in the following years and if president Poroshenko will be able to reduce the widespread corruption

A vote in favour of the treaty is a vote against Putin

Vladimir Putin has clearly voiced himself against the treaty. This is because the Association Agreement will place Ukraine further out of his zone of influence. In the past he has successfully prevented Ukrainian president Yanukovych from signing the Associating Agreement, which caused protests of over 400,000 people in Kiev (Euromaidan – ed.). Rejecting the Association Agreement will give Putin more space to continue his strong influence in the region.

The Association Agreement will protect Europe’s borders

The reasoning behind this argument is that the Association Agreement will strengthen the support for the government as many Ukrainians desperately want this treaty. This stability will reduce the power of radical groups and thereby lower the risk of war.  However, it is not clear how Russia and pro-Russian fighters in the East of Ukraine will react to the treaty. Putin has shown that he does not refrain from using force when annexed Crimea. Furthermore, the situation in East Ukraine is still not very stable as the cease fire has been violated multiple times in the last months. It is the question if the Association Agreement will not cause a counter reaction and thereby destabilize the situation as reported by the Guardian.

The intiators of the referendum – Burgercomité EU –  has stated that they “do not really care about Ukraine.” Burgercommité. This committee and the Forum for Democracy are notoriously opposed to the European Union in general and are thus strongly opposed to the treaty.

The association agreement will be the first step for Ukraine to become an EU member.

The opponents of the treaty argue thatUkraine is a county at war which violates human rights and suffers from severe corruption. They do not want such a country to become closer affiliated with the EU. Whilet it is true that the situation in Ukraine has cooled down, this is not a guarantee that it will stay this way.  The Association Agreement will make trade easier and in that way enlarge the ‘territory’ of  corrupt oligarchs.  Corrupt Ukrainian oligarchs have already been able to profit from lax Dutch tax regulations in the past.

The treaty will allow the money of Dutch taxpayers to be spent imprudently.

The Association Agreement stated that Ukraine will be allegeable for financial help from the EU. The majority of this money would come from loans from European Financial institutions but a small part does come from the European budget. It is indeed questionable if the financial help will reach its goals without ending in the pockets of Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchs. Ukraine has been known to be corrupt and was on the 142th place on the corruption ranking list by Transparency International (2014).

The visa-free travel stipulated in the treaty leads to problems 

In 2010 the EU and Ukraine already agreed to make visa-free travel possible if the Ukraine would meet certain requirements. One of these requirements was that Ukraine had to eliminate human trafficking. If the Association agreement is accepted this will indeed be another step towards the acceptation of visa-free travel. However, Ukraine still has to fulfil the set requirements before visa-free travel will be possible, and it remains the question when Ukraine will be able to do that. Opponents argue that visa-free travel will lead to widespread unemployment in the Netherlands. Those in favour of the treaty, however, argue that it will strengthen the ties between the two countries

The debate surrounding the treaty referendum tomorrow is complicated, but the Dutch citizen will have to make up their mind. We hope to have cleared the field a bit. Keep reading IMI for post-referendum coverage of the treaty!

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