Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte threatens to block the EU association agreement with Ukraine unless Netherlands obtains guarantees that its major requirements are met.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will ask European Union leaders on Thursday to rule out financial or security guarantees for Ukraine and – as an additional demand – not to offer Ukrainians the right to live and work in the EU.
Failure to meet the Dutch demands would jeopardise the agreement, which establishes closer political ties and envisages a gradual freeing-up of trade to bind Ukraine closer to western Europe and draw it away from Russia’s orbit.
Rutte is trying to free himself from the political bind after Dutch voters, concerned about the costs and a surge in immigration, rejected the association agreement in a referendum in April. The Netherlands is the only EU member state which has not ratified the EU-Ukraine treaty after it had been rejected in the April’s referendum. Although the referendum turnout was low and the result non-binding, most parties agreed to abide by the outcome, triggering months of talks between The Hague and Brussels.
If Rutte’s demands are met, he plans to go back to his parliament to win an endorsement that would overwrite the negative vote.
The Dutch are therefore seeking a legally binding decision by the 28 EU leaders that the association agreement is “not a stepping stone” to EU membership for Kiev, one source said. This is not to the liking of Poland, a key supporter of Ukraine.
A draft document for the EU leaders to approve, prepared by the Dutch, also rules out financial or security guarantees for Ukraine and spells out that Ukrainians are not being given the right to live and work in the bloc.
For that reason, diplomats expect a deal, even if some governments – especially Ukraine’s close allies in eastern Europe – are concerned and irritated by the Dutch demands. EU ambassadors were discussing the issue further on Monday in Brussels.
The draft Dutch document says the Ukraine association agreement “does not contain an obligation for the Union or its member states to provide collective security guarantees or other military aid or assistance to Ukraine”, and nor does it require additional EU financial support.
While these were not specifically promised to Ukraine in the agreement, the Dutch want them clearly placed off-limits in order to reassure their voters.
The draft also says that fighting corruption in Ukraine is key to fostering closer ties between Kiev and the bloc.
The association agreement is being provisionally applied but the Dutch have said they will strike it down unless their requirements are met. The Netherlands is the only EU state not to have ratified the accord.
Even if Rutte gets the EU decision he is seeking, he may still struggle to push it through the Dutch parliament, where he lacks the necessary majority.
The deal has huge importance in Ukraine as a symbol of the country’s future direction, 25 years after the break-up of the Soviet Union.