The suggestion by the Netherlands that it will call for amendments to the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement could undermine the whole project, analysts in Kyiv warn.
The government wants to discuss the result of the non-binding referendum held in the Netherlands – in which Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement – at a EU summit in Brussels on June 28-29. Brussels' position, in the face of Russian pressure, is that the agreement is not open for amendments, so if the Dutch go ahead with starting a discussion it could open a Pandora's box.
"The [Dutch] government intends to discuss the association agreement and the result of the referendum at the upcoming European Council," Brussels-based news outlet EUObserver quoted the Netherland's foreign minister Bert Koenders as saying on June 7. According to the official, the Netherlands had already spoken at EU level and in bilateral talks about the referendum, but "no agreements were made about the content or scope of a possible solution".
On April 6 more than 60% of Dutch voters rejected ratification of the treaty signed with Ukraine in 2014, while only around 38% supported the deal. Turnout was estimated at 32%, above the 30% threshold of voters needed for the referendum to be valid.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the treaty with the EU after his predecessor, the pro-Moscow leader Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign the pact in November 2013, and was ousted in early 2014 as a result of an uprising in Kyiv and western regions of the country.
Meanwhile, Kyiv-based experts are afraid that the Dutch government could amend some conditions of the EU-Ukraine association agreement.
On June 6, the diepresse.com news site reported that the Netherlands seeks to eliminate cooperation between Ukraine and the EU in the defence sphere, or at a minimum reduce such cooperation. The Dutch government also wants guarantees that Ukraine won’t gain automatic access to the EU’s financial resources, and the association agreement shouldn’t guarantee Ukraine’s EU membership, according to an unnamed Dutch diplomat.
"We see a possible dead end emerging with the ratification of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement," Zenon Zawada at Kyiv-based brokerage Concorde Capital believes. "It would be possible that the Dutch government would simply ignore the referendum results. But if it sees the need to take them seriously, a bigger problem emerges in light of the fact that the EU’s official position has always been that the association agreement can’t be amended."
The expert added in a research note published on June 8 that, coupled with resistance from Ukraine’s neighbours (Poland and the Baltic states), Kyiv could see" another case of diplomatic gridlock for Ukraine".
In related news the EU is due to vote on renewal of sanctions on Russia following its annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and intervention in the east of Ukraine. But pressure to end sanctions in the EU is growing. While sanctions are widely expected to be extended at the end of June, observers increasingly believe this will be the last extension.