UKIP leader Nigel Farage at a club in Edinburgh, where he launched his party’s Scottish...

Dutch ‘No’ Vote on Ukraine Reverberates Across Europe – Wall Street Journal

7 months ago Comments Off on Dutch ‘No’ Vote on Ukraine Reverberates Across Europe – Wall Street Journal

The fallout from the Dutch vote rejecting the European Union’s trade and political agreement with Ukraine could have ramifications for the entire bloc, even though it isn’t likely to derail the accord itself.

The “no” camp’s clear victory in Wednesday’s referendum further knocks the confidence of a 28-member bloc already besieged with economic, political and security crises, and could hamper its efforts to reorient the former Soviet republic of Ukraine toward the West.

More broadly, the result could provide a boost to the exit camp in the U.K., which is holding a much bigger referendum on EU membership in June. It also is a blow to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is trailing the anti-EU and anti-immigration Party of Freedom in most opinion polls, with national elections due next year.

Party of Freedom leader Geert Wilders echoed the views of other anti-Brussels firebrands, calling the vote “the beginning of the end of the EU.”

On Thursday, Europe’s leaders were in damage-control mode.

Mr. Rutte asked for time to reach out to Dutch lawmakers and regional partners before deciding on his next steps. “It is clear that ratification cannot just proceed as if nothing has happened,” the government said.

European officials in Brussels stressed the EU-Ukraine agreement remained provisionally in effect and pledged not to abandon Ukraine.

Russia, which has long sought to scuttle the pact, said the vote represented a European rejection of Ukraine’s pro-Western political class.

The collateral damage from the vote could extend to Ukraine’s bid to win visa-free access for its 40 million citizens to the EU, one of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s biggest priorities. That move needs backing by all EU governments, including from the Netherlands.

The vote could even complicate the EU’s deal with Turkey to help stem the continent’s migration crisis. That deal is premised on the EU speeding work on Turkey’s EU membership bid and, meanwhile, reaching a visa-free travel deal for Turks. Both are likely to spark opposition in the Netherlands.

Mr. Rutte has shown in recent years he’s willing to say no to Brussels. His government was key to keeping Romania and Bulgaria outside Europe’s border-free travel zone, known as Schengen.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage at a club in Edinburgh, where he launched his party’s Scottish Parliament election manifesto Thursday.

Yet the biggest fallout could be on the U.K.’s June 23 referendum.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron brushed off suggestions the Dutch vote would boost the Brexit camp, saying the issues were completely different.

Yet UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who is campaigning for a British exit, predicted that the Dutch vote may provide the “hors d’oeuvre” for the British “main course.”

Speaking in the Netherlands this week before the vote, he said a Dutch “no” would encourage British voters who dislike the EU but worry about Britain striking out on its own.

“A no vote in this referendum will send a big message to the British electorate that we are not alone in thinking something has fundamentally gone wrong in the direction of the European Union,” he said.

Amid such uncertainty, the future of the EU-Ukraine deal itself looks relatively secure.

All EU governments agreed in 2014 to provisionally apply their part of the deal, pending formal ratification. The final hurdle was in the Netherlands.

Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders speaking to reporters after voting Wednesday in The Hague.

Some in Ukraine immediately blamed the rejection on Mr. Poroshenko, a confectionery tycoon who was widely criticized at home when a massive leak of documents from a Panama-based law firm indicated he had set up an offshore company while president. A spokesman has said none of the holding company’s accounts held more than €2,000 ($2,278).

Others in Ukraine said the main motivations for “no” voters were internal Dutch and EU issues and the president wouldn’t be too badly burned.

“This is a vote against Brussels, not Kiev,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, a political scientist at the Kiev-based Penta center.

Brussels has no imminent deadline for completing ratification.

One option, said Jan Techau, Director of Carnegie Europe, would be for EU leaders to attach a statement to the accord asserting that it doesn’t pave the way for Ukraine to join the bloc—a concern of some Dutch voters.

The EU could also offer the Dutch an opt-out from some political chapters while leaving the centerpiece, which slashes tariffs, in place. Even if the Dutch government objected to that, trade deals don’t require unanimity in the EU.

“There needs to be some sort of way of accommodating what just happened,” said Mr. Techau.

But reopening the accord could delay ratification by two or three years, said Hylke Dijkstra, assistant professor of political science at the Netherlands’ Maastricht University.

It would also give Russia more time to try to block the deal.

Write to Laurence Norman at

Dutch ‘No’ Vote on Ukraine Reverberates Across Europe – Wall Street Journal