The Dutch referendum on the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine of April 6, 2016 reveals how non-uniform the public opinion in the European states is. This plebiscite shows that the opinion shared by a Euro-skeptic minority can be included in the public agenda by democratic methods. The referendum also shows that the EU policy on the Eastern Partnership countries is not understood by many of the European citizens.
The Netherlands should not be regarded as the only country where the Euro-skeptics are against the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. France, the UK or other EU states, where the anti-European views gain popularity, can combine forces with the Dutch people. But these cannot initiate plebiscites so easily. Also, the problem resided not strictly in the opposition to the development of the EU – Ukraine relations, but in the attitude of the Dutch Euro-skeptics to the EU. For them, Ukraine represents rather a pretext for showing their attitude to the EU, not a simple method of penalizing the Ukrainians.
Besides the Dutch Euro-skeptics, Russia uses the referendum to discredit the EU and prevent the coming into force of the Association Agreement with Ukraine. In this regard, the Russian propaganda efficiently exploits the shortcomings of the Ukrainian state (corruption, political instability, armed conflict in the eastern region that is fueled by Russia), manipulating the Dutch public opinion as well the European and Russian ones.
Indirect effects on Moldova
Surely, the Dutch referendum does not directly affect Moldova. There are yet indirect aspects that should worry us. We therefore should understand that Ukraine is a key country for the Eastern Partnership and thus for Moldova too. That’s why the offensive against the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, launched through the Dutch referendum, is aimed at the EaP.
Also, Ukraine has a huge impact on the economic stability and security of Moldova. The obstacles to the European agenda of Kiev can easily affect the Moldovan interests too.
Moreover, we speak about the ‘contamination effect’ that the Dutch referendum can have on the European public opinion. So, the negative attitude to Ukraine, even if this is shared by a reduced number of Dutch people, could strengthen in the Netherlands and other European states. Furthermore, the negativism expressed in relation to Ukraine could be easily extended to other DCFTA countries. This refers first of all to Moldova, which is already in the focus of the European public opinion over the huge frauds committed in its banking system and the escalation and development of the phenomenon of ‘captured state’.
Instead of conclusion...
The Eastern Partnership and, respectively, the signatory states of the Association Agreement with the EU are victims of the shallow informing that leaves room for erroneous interpretations and inimical positions among the European citizens. This is the partial explanations of the Dutch referendum whose result is beneficial to the Dutch and non-Dutch Euro-skeptics and to the Russian propaganda.
The indirect effects of the Dutch referendum on Moldova are evident, though they are mainly neglected. The affected image of Ukraine and the postponement of the Ukrainian European agenda (by delaying the ratification of the Agreement by the Netherlands) can have implications for Moldova. Furthermore, the Euro-skepticism in relation to Ukraine can easily spread to other European states, targeting other DCFTA countries, in particular the Republic of Moldova, which now faces a serious deficit of positive image following the theft of the billion and the amplification of the phenomenon of ‘captured state’.
The voter turnout in the Dutch referendum held on April 6, 2016 was of about 32%, the minimum threshold needed for validating the referendum being exceeded. Over 60% of the participants in the referendum voted against the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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