Dutch PM seeks compromise on Ukraine-EU association deal

Dutch PM seeks compromise on Ukraine-EU association deal
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
By bne IntelliNews November 1, 2016

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is still seeking a compromise with the country’s lawmakers to save the Ukraine-EU association agreement after April’s non-binding referendum, in which more than 60% of Dutch voters rejected the treaty’s ratification, news reports said on November 1.

In order to take the concerns of Dutch citizens into account, Rutte said he proposed in a letter to lawmakers that the agreement does not serve as a basis for Ukraine’s legal membership in the EU. Nor does it offer collective security guarantees or mandatory military support, and does not give Ukrainians the right to work in EU countries, Deutsche Welle reported.

The prime minister is due to submit the proposals to EU leaders ahead of their summit scheduled for December 15.

Signed in 2014, the agreement with Ukraine is one of several undergoing ratification or still in negotiation with various countries to help converge economic policy, legislation and regulation across areas including labour rights, visa-free movement, and exchange of information and staff in the justice sphere.

Earlier, Rutte said the Netherlands is unlikely to ratify the Ukrainian treaty in view of the results of the referendum. On April 6, more than 60% of Dutch voters rejected the agreement’s passage, 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 pact after his predecessor, the pro-Moscow leader Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign it in November 2013. Yanukovych was ousted in early 2014 in an uprising in Kyiv and western regions of the country.

On October 31, Poroshenko held phone conversations with the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and European Council President Donald Tusk. “The parties coordinated the next steps and agreed to continue active work to ensure ratification of the association agreement,” Poroshenko’s media office said in a statement without elaborating.

Observers remain pessimistic about the agreement’s survival prospects.

“It’s a strict rule that the Ukraine-EU association agreement can’t be amended and we share the widely held view that it won’t be,” Zenon Zawada at Kyiv-based brokerage Concorde Capital wrote in a note on November 1. “We expect the agreement will maintain its current status as temporarily implemented for an extended period of time, with ongoing to efforts to implement its conditions without full ratification.”

At this point the agreement reflects Ukraine’s membership status with the EU, Zawada wrote, in that, “It can’t be cancelled, but it’s far from approval.” Ultimately, the failure to ratify the agreement in the next year or so doesn’t affect Ukraine’s Western integration efforts in any meaningful way, the analyst believes. “Far more important are meeting requirements for Western loans and measures such as the visa-free regime.”

However, the visa issue is reportly absent from the draft agenda of the November 21-24 plenary sessions of the European Parliament, suggesting the move has been pushed back despite optimism in Kyiv that it will happen soon.

Poroshenko spoke with Schulz about the matter on October 28, and was told that the European Parliament “stood on the side of Ukraine and had a majority to provide the visa-free regime for Ukrainians”, his media office said in a statement.

However, Evropeiska Pravda reported on October 27 that France and Belgium had expressed concerns about the level of anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, with the online publication suggesting that this contravened the criteria for the removal of EU visa requirements.

In late September, the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs voted to include Ukraine in a list of countries the EU would grant a visa-free regime. The move has been touted by the Ukrainian leadership as a looming milestone in its relations with Europe.