Monday 11 December 2017

Dutch vote 'No' to proposed EU free trade deal with Ukraine

Dutch PM Mark Rutte
Dutch PM Mark Rutte

Zoe Gertha in Amsterdam

A clear majority of people who voted in a Dutch referendum have rejected a far-reaching European Union free trade deal with Ukraine.

With all votes counted it was clear that the key threshold of 30pc voter turnout would be met and the result would be valid. The turnout was at 32.2pc, according to broadcasters NOS and RTL.

While it was long in doubt if the result would be valid, the sentiment among those in the nation of 17 million who voted was crystal clear: according to one count, 61.1pc rejected the EU-Ukraine pact while just 38.1pc voted for it. The remaining votes were blank or spoiled.

Anti-Islam, anti-EU, right-wing politician Geert Wilders tweeted: "It looks like the Dutch people said NO to the European elite and NO to the treaty with the Ukraine."

He said this was "the beginning of the end of the EU".

The vote highlighted a deep-rooted scepticism about the Netherlands' place in Europe. The non-binding Dutch vote came less than three months before British citizens decide in their own referendum whether to leave the EU altogether.

The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU, a trading nation that benefits from its internal market, but paradoxically also a hotbed of Euroscepticism which rejected the bloc's proposed constitution in a 2005 referendum.

Exactly what will happen to the agreement now remains unclear.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said: "If the turnout is above 30pc, with such a big victory for the 'No' camp, you can't just go ahead and ratify the treaty."

However, Mr Rutte said he would not be rushed into action, saying he wanted to discuss the result in his Cabinet, at the European Union and in the Dutch Parliament, a process that could take "days, if not weeks".

The referendum was the first in the Netherlands since the 2005 rejection of the EU constitution and was forced by a loose coalition of Eurosceptics that managed to gather nearly 430,000 signatures in just six weeks last year.

Irish Independent

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