Over the past few years, cohesion and solidarity among European Union member states has been rather limited.
Take for instance, the Ukraine crisis. The annexation of Crimea by Russia resulted in the EU imposing sanctions against Moscow. This served as just another divisive issue among the EU member states.
Not all member states agreed with the sanctions. Some states contested the EU’s sanctions and their governments underlined their national interests.
Diverging opinions also emerged at the beginning of the crisis in Syria. And, bigger disputes were marked when the waves of refuges and migrants began to wash up in Central Europe.
However, it is not only policies the European Union needs to adopt as an entire body that are being contested by some EU members. In fact, even previous acts and agreements between EU and third parts could be questioned and disputed.
The Dutch satirical website GeenStijl collected enough signatures to call a national referendum on a European pact on the East Partnership policy. The focus is on Ukraine, but there could be repercussions for Moldova and Georgia, which have also signed an Association Agreement with the EU.
The Dutch authorities confirmed on October 14 that the poll organised as a protest against the government’s pro-EU stance will take place six months from now.
GeenStijl’s initiative highlighted the dwindling support for the rise of Euroscepticism in the Netherlands, to the benefit of the ultra-libertarian, Islamophobic and Eurosceptic Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders.
Like Wilders, GeenStijl has built its popularity by feeding on a divisive agenda – on issues ranging from Islam to immigration. As of recent, it has objected to the Ukraine crisis.
The Dutch Electoral Council confirmed the website did indeed collect 420,000 signatures, that is, well above the 300,000 required by law to trigger a referendum. Initially, GeenStijl claimed it had gathered 440,000 names.
While the referendum – the actual voting – must take place, Dutch law does not stipulate the government’s obligation to respect its outcome.
But this will fuel more polarisation in the Netherlands, given that the country lost 193 citizens in the missile strike on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-held territory in east Ukraine in July 2014.
These events will feed the GeenStijl website.
It is not clear whether the GeenStijl will affect only the Association Agreement with Ukraine or Georgia and Moldova as well. The agreement with Ukraine enraged Moscow, triggering a chain of events that began with the annexation of Crimea and continued with the war in the Donbass (northern industrial zone of Ukraine).
The result of the referendum is not binding.
But, if there is more than 30% participation and a majority of votes against the agreement, the Dutch government would be hard-pressed not to revisit the deal. No matter what happens, there is already a resounding public relations victory for Russia and a boost for the Dutch far right.
In the Netherlands, this may be a joke with serious implications. In Ukraine, nobody is laughing. And, it will also be a serious blow to the European Union’s credibility.