By Jamie McKay
As divisions between Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the European Union become ever clearer, the Netherlands held a referendum concerning the association agreement negotiated between the European Union and Ukraine. The agreement would have committed the Ukraine to reform both its economic and judicial structures. The agreement was the result of six years negotiations between European officials and the ex-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.
Though Putin succeeded in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the splitting of various rebel regions he only enabled a great decline in Ukrainian-Russian relations. Since 2013 pro-Russian sentiments among the Ukrainian peoples have been greatly reduced. In February last year the Ukrainian Parliament registered a draft degree suspending relations with Russia. This suspension failed to pass, although Ukrainian diplomat Dmytro Kuleba admitted earlier this month that relations between the two states had deteriorated “almost to zero”.
Though the majority of European leaders have emphasised their support for Ukraine and opposition to Putin’s ever growing interest in expansionism into those former Soviet states in Eastern Europe, the Netherlands was the only member state of the EU who had not ratified the agreement. Capitalising on the division evident in Dutch politics, Euro-sceptics within the Netherlands initiated a referendum on whether or not to accept the proposed deal between Ukraine and the Union. Opponents of the European Union from both extremes of the political spectrum rallied behind the ‘No’ vote calling on voter to reject the association agreement. Both the Dutch government and the main parties rallied behind the ‘Yes’ campaign, which cast the ‘No’ campaign as being too close to Putin in their goals for Europe. Indeed, the ‘Yes’ campaign went so far as to print posters showing Putin engaging in a homoerotic kiss with the controversial right-wing leader Geert Wilders urging voters to reject Putin’s ever present attempts to intrude on European affairs.
Sadly, this was all in vain as Dutch voters seemed to reject the agreement on the day of the vote. However, the overall turnout fell well below one third of the total number of Dutch voters. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has promised to recognise the results of the referendum despite the Parliament having already backed the agreement. Despite the less than encouraging results, the Ukrainian government has pledged to stay on course in its aims for European alignment.
Though a loss for those advocating further European engagement, those critical of further European integration may take heart from the recent results in the Netherlands. Britain’s most famed Eurosceptic Nigel Farage, who has previously urged foreign leaders such as Barack Obama not to intervene in other countries affairs, made speeches for the No campaign shortly before the vote and cheered at the outcome. Readers are urged to turn out come the end of June and make their views on Britain’s membership known.