The degree of idiocy and sheer meanness that currently seems to be prevailing in European politics is truly astounding. If this goes on, then the days of the European Union are counted. And despite the EU’s many shortcomings, this is no reason to rejoice.
The Netherlands have some time last year enacted a new law that makes it mandatory to hold a referendum on new EU legislation if it is so required by a citizen initiative who collects a certain number of signatures. Immediately after the enactment of this new law the extreme right-wing Partij voor de Vrijhijd looked out for an occasion to test this new instrument, and found … the EU’s new Association Agreement with Ukraine. The referendum was held yesterday, and 62% of participants voted against the ratification of the Agreement. The required quorum of 30% of the electorate was narrowly surpassed.
This Agreement is, however, not one of the countless superfluous and obnoxious interferences of the Brussels bureaucracy with the tranquil lives of ordinary citizens, but it actually is one of the most positively useful and important political acts the EU has achieved in the course of the last five or ten years. And indeed, even the Dutch right-wingers who launched the citizens initiative to prevent it from being ratified candidly stated that they had nothing in particular against this Agreement, nor against Ukraine, but intended their political action as a form of protest against the EU in general.
This is sheer political vandalism. We have no other word for it.
To be sure, there are thousands of reasons to be critical of the EU. But this Agreement definitely is not one of them. Instead, it is an instrument of paramount importance for the peace and economic development in Eastern and Central Europe. In addition, it is a very ambitious deal, in which Ukrain has undertaken to sign up to European standards in a wide range of areas, including good governance and the fight against corruption. And while it is true that certain “liberal” EU politicians have had the bad taste and bad judgment to use the agreement as a lever to impose questionable agendas such as “LGBT-rights” on a country that neither needs nor wants them, the opposition against these misguided ideas certainly was not what has today motivated the Dutch electorate to vote against it.
The situation is fairly simple: between the eastern border of the EU and the western border of Russia there exists a group of in-between countries: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia. For obvious geopolitical reasons these countries face the choice of either turning westwards towards Europe, or eastwards towards Russia. Russia’s current leadership indeed is quite keen to re-absorb them in order to rebuild the defunct Soviet Union.
Vetoing the Ukraine-Agreement is a safe way of pushing Ukraine, a country with twenty times the surface and three times the population of the Netherlands, back into the arms of Russia – with all the dangerous consequences that this might entail.
Vladimir Putin can rejoice: he might soon be taking control over Ukraine without firing a shot, and it is the Dutch know-nothings who have offered him this nice little gift.
Of course, to many Dutchmen Ukraine is a terra incognita – unknown, and too far away to be of any interest. They probably have not even the remotest clue of what the non-ratification of this agreement might mean not only for the EU, but for Europe.
It was grossly irresponsible of the Dutch government to allow this referendum, and irresponsible of Dutch citizens to participate in it. For opponents of the PVV it would have been better to abstain from voting rather than helping, through their vote, to narrowly pass the 30%-quorum that makes the referendum valid.
The outcome of the vote is however not binding. Let us just hope that the Dutch government, who has so far exhibited a deplorable lack of leadership, will find the courage to stand up and overrule the outcome of this mad and irresponsible referendum. If not, then it would be better that the Netherlands leave the EU: in this time of crisis, the EU has no need for irresponsible troublemakers.