Eurosceptics force Dutch referendum on EU treaty with Ukraine

Eurosceptics force Dutch referendum on EU treaty with Ukraine

14th October 2015, Comments 0 comments

Dutch voters are heading to the polls next spring for a rare non-binding referendum over a key EU-Ukraine treaty, after eurosceptics forced a vote on the issue.

"Some 427,939 valid signatures have been verified in order to have an election over the (planned) EU-Ukraine cooperation agreement," the Dutch Electoral Council said on Wednesday.

The announcement comes after a citizens' campaign last month spearheaded by three strongly eurosceptic groups to get more than 300,000 signatures needed to trigger the poll.

That campaign followed on the back of a new law that became effective on July 1 which allows citizens to call for referendums on controversial topics if they gather enough votes.

The so-called "GeenPijl" (No Poll) campaign wants a referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Accord and whether it should be approved by the Dutch parliament.

The 2014 deal between Ukraine and the EU fosters deeper cooperation between Brussels and Kiev and nudges the former Soviet country towards eventual EU membership.

Analysts say the vote points to growing euroscepticism within the bloc's sixth-largest economy.

"This referendum is an opportunity to give the ordinary Dutch citizen a chance to have their voice heard," said Jan Roos, who runs the political and news shock blog "GeenStijl" (No Style), known for its outspoken views.

"If people support the referendum it will make it impossible for the (Dutch) cabinet not to listen what voters have to say," Roos told a press conference in The Hague shortly after the Electoral Council's decision was announced.

GeenStijl denies it was preaching an anti-European message, saying it only wanted to give ordinary people "a choice to vote for or against further European expansion", but analysts agree the campaign pointed to a broader eurosceptical mood.

"There are several messages (contained in the campaign), including a most eurosceptical one," said Professor Rudy Andeweg, senior political lecturer at Leiden University.

"The campaign was not such much about the treaty with the Ukraine. That is only part of it," Andeweg told AFP.

Although only advisory, analysts warned mainstream politicians -- including those in the ruling Dutch Liberal-Labour coalition -- they would ignore the referendum at their peril.

"I think it will mobilise a large part of the electorate that votes for populist parties," said Andeweg.

This included supporters of eurosceptic and anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders whose Freedom Party's (PVV) popularity has been rocketing in recent polls.

"The established pro-European parties would be well advised to take this (referendum) very seriously," Andeweg said.

© 2015 AFP

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