By Krzysztof Głowacki, CASE
The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has recently announced that his country is unlikely to give the green light to the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine, putting in jeopardy a treaty with immense economic and geopolitical significance.
The Ukraine-EU Association Agreement is a comprehensive integration effort that sets ground for a free trade area, visa liberalization and gradual harmonization of laws across a number of areas. The Agreement has been signed and ratified by all EU Member States, including the Netherlands, and has been applied provisionally.
However, the deal has been unpopular with the Dutch population, eventually leading to an ex-post non-binding referendum in which over 60% of the voters expressed their disagreement with the ratification. In fact, the bid for non-ratification has served to spearhead a civic campaign against the politics of the EU, seen by part of the society as irresponsible and out of sync with national interests.
While the conservative‑liberal Dutch cabinet seems to support the Agreement, it must also heed the public mood ahead of the parliamentary elections due in March 2017. Prime Minister Rutte has pledged to make his final decision by November.
For the EU, the Dutch disagreement is a reminder that Eurosceptic contagion, which has recently wrought havoc in the UK and helped cement the conservative cabinets in Hungary and Poland, hardly leaves any Member State immune. For Russia, it serves as another proof of Europe’s dividedness and vulnerability to external pressures.
But for Ukraine, the stakes are even higher. The Association Agreement is the very same deal from which Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s former President, unexpectedly withdrew in late 2013. Yanukovych’s defection set the country afire, paving the way for the Euromaidan Revolution and provoking Russian military intervention in southern and eastern Ukraine. In this sense, European abandonment of the deal three years later would be at least as painful symbolically as it would be practically.