Dutch voters rejected a treaty between the European Union and Ukraine by a resounding margin, in a referendum that exposed the extent of anti-EU sentiment in one of the bloc’s founding members.
British campaigners to leave the bloc hailed the news from the Netherlands, as did the leader of France’s anti-EU National Front, Marine Le Pen, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. About 61 percent voted against the so-called association agreement on Wednesday and turnout was about 32 percent, clearing the 30 percent threshold needed to declare the vote valid.
The result put Dutch PM Mark Rutte under pressure as the growing swell of populist support will force his government to renegotiate the treaty, first at home and then at EU level. Rutte, whose cabinet campaigned for approval of the pact, said the Netherlands couldn’t ratify the treaty after the rejection, even though, technically, the referendum is not binding.
The Dutch ballot is the latest success for insurgents outside of power managing to directly influence the mechanics of government. The U.K. Independence Party managed to push Prime Minister David Cameron into calling a vote on leaving the EU for later this year, while in France, Le Pen has helped drive the country’s security agenda to the right. European citizens are showing their frustration with a bloc that has been beset by a refugee crisis, security challenges and economic stagnation.
“This vote has very profound long-term implications for Europe on so many different levels,” wrote Tim Ash, head of emerging-market credit strategy at Nomura International in London.
“It just further shows how far Europe’s elites are detached from their populations. All too eager to embark on elite political projects, e.g. even including the single currency, without thinking through all the implications and popular opinion.”
“The Dutch result is a stunning condemnation of the European Union’s willingness to extend its borders,” a spokesman for the British Leave.EU campaign group, Brian Monteith, said in a statement. “This humiliating rejection of the Ukraine agreement demonstrates that people don’t have to support the EU and its expansionist agenda to feel European.”
Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch anti-EU, Freedom Party, hailed the result as “fantastic,” and Le Pen congratulated him on Twitter, saying it was another “step away” from the EU. Medvedev said the rejection was an “indication of Europeans’ attitude to the Ukrainian political system,” in a post on Twitter.
While all other members of the bloc have ratified the treaty, which facilitates EU trade and other links with Ukraine, the Dutch subjected it to a referendum as a result of a new law that allows citizens to challenge legislation provided they gather a requisite number of signatures.
A group of local activists picked the association agreement, deciding it would serve as a perfect test case to try out the mechanism — especially as a rejection would demonstrate the growing strength of opposition within the Netherlands to the bloc.
The referendum law will be reviewed by the Dutch government, Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said on Thursday, according to newswire ANP.
“The target is an attack against Europe’s unity,” Poroshenko said in a video-recorded comment from Japan. “I’m confident that strategically this event is not an obstacle on Ukraine’s EU-bound path.”