Mr Juncker, the President of the Commission, made clear in an interview just before the Netherlands referendum on the EU/Ukraine Association Agreement that a vote against the EU plan would “open the doors to a continental crisis”. As I presume he is an honest man who knows his EU, I await his measures to deal with this crisis that he has helped create. The results rejected the Agreement roundly, by 64% to 36%.
The vote was called on a petition by Netherlands voters. Though it is advisory, the Netherlands government has rightly said they cannot ignore this strong expression of public opinion. The proposition was rejected despite a vigorous and hard hitting campaign to persuade people to vote for the EU scheme. Voters were told in no uncertain terms that a vote against was a vote for Mr Putin. One poster showed Mr Putin embracing the leading opposition politician in favour of voting down the Agreement.
So why didn’t voters believe the EU and their government? The first thing to realise is the EU/Ukraine Association Agreement is not just about trade, as some sloppy people in the media have claimed. To the government in Kiev the most important parts of its are probably the opening sections about political, foreign policy and defence collaboration. The Agreement sets up “regular meetings both at the level of high officials and of experts of the military institutions of the parties”. It establishes a Political and Security Committee. Article 7 promises to “intensify the dialogue and co-operation and promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy including the common security and defence policy”. Whilst I have no time for illegal military actions by Russia, I can understand why Russia thought this Agreement provocative. Some Netherlands voters were clearly concerned that the EU is over reaching itself in making financial and military commitments to Ukraine, and saw that this very Agreement is part of the important background to the civil war in Ukraine between pro Russian Ukrainians and pro EU Ukrainians.
The sad deterioration in the Ukraine and the split of the country with Russia taking Crimea has come about against the backdrop of the EU making overtures to Kiev to strengthen ties between Ukraine and the EU. Maybe voters thought this a bad idea. They also had doubts about regulation of standards in Ukraine in areas like keeping chickens, and worried about any possible future relaxation of border controls between the Ukraine and the EU.
Mr Juncker now needs to tell us how he will handle the “crisis” he forecast. In the meantime apparently the Netherlands government has been asked to suggest a way forward.I would have thought the answer was obvious. The Netherlands cannot have its name on the Agreement. The people have spoken.