On Wednesday the Dutch are holding a referendum on whether to accept a 2014 European Union treaty that eases trade and political relations with Ukraine. The other 27 members have all ratified the pact and the Dutch parliament has approved it, but full implementation has been delayed by the vote.
What is the agreement?
The pact allows for easier political and trade relations between the EU and Ukraine and calls for reforms in the former Soviet republic to bring it more in line with the 28-nation bloc. When President Viktor Yanukovych rejected the treaty in 2013, Ukrainians took to the streets in protest, triggering a crisis that forced him from office and led to Russia annexing Crimea.
Why are the Dutch actually voting on this?
A law passed last year allows referendums to be called on any new legislation, so long as 300,000 people sign up to the idea and a group of local activists decided the association agreement would serve as the perfect test case to try out the new mechanism.
They don’t actually care that much about Ukraine.
The real aim is to disrupt the relationship between the Netherlands and the EU, one of the architects of the plan said last week. The vote comes with Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party -- opposed to both Islam and the EU -- leading in some national polls.
What happens next?
Although the vote is not binding, the Dutch government has promised to respect the decision. If the treaty is rejected, the most likely solution would see the Netherlands opt out of the sections that deal with the political relationship between the EU and Ukraine, according to Mathieu Segers, an associate professor at Utrecht University. He said a “no” vote could also make other governments reconsider their position.
Still, there must be a turnout of at least 30 percent for the vote to be declared valid and it was only 7 percent in the four biggest cities around 1 p.m., pollster Maurice de Hond tweeted.
If the activists fall short of that threshold, it’ll be seen as a black eye for direct democracy.
What would a “no” vote mean for the Dutch government?
Brown Brothers Harriman says a rejection would effectively be a vote of no-confidence in the government. At the very least, the governing coalition would be shaken and it would probably be seen as a major victory for Wilders. Populists across Europe could also get a shot in the arm after the National Front’s setback in France’s regional election last year.
What do other leaders think?
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in January a vote against the treaty could cause a large continental crisis. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Tuesday called the vote “a bit absurd," while recognizing it reflects “big doubts” about the state of European politics amid a growing segment of the public.