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Dutch referendum signals deep distrust of the EU

Today’s European media outlets continue to report on the aftermath of the Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. Participation in the referendum reportedly surpassed 30% which is the limit to ensure validity. Although voter turnout was low, and the referendum is not formally binding, the result cannot be ignored, writes Annika Ström Melin for Dagens Nyheter

Its overwhelming rejection is more bad news for Europe, as it expresses a widespread lack of trust in the EU institutions, says Le MondeLibération’s Jean Quatremer even writes that this poll was a “popularity test” for the EU’s construction process in one of its founding member states. The Wall Street Journal Europe’s editorial shares this view saying that this referendum is a symptom of the failure of the political centre in the Netherlands, and in Europe. The result of the Dutch referendum hurts Ukraine not only politically and economically but also emotionally, says Ukrainian researcher and expert on Europe Olena Prystayko in Politiken. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko even says that Ukraine is being made to suffer because of a populist minority against the European Union. In an interview with SWR Info, European Commissioner for Digital Economy Günther Oettinger clarifies that Ukraine is in need of the EU’s partnership.

It is also a painful blow for the EU’s foreign policy, which relies heavily on trade agreements, Association Agreements and enlargement treaties. The rejection of this one reveals an “enlargement fatigue”, a Brussels official commented, quoted in Libération. In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says that this is a “humiliating failure” for the Dutch government, which currently has the presidency of the European Council. The failure of the Dutch government is a symbol for the dilemma in the entire EU whose decisions disregard national interests, notes Tageszeitung. Indeed, De Tijd’s Bart Haeck states that this referendum is the umpteenth rebellion against the European “super state”. Many European newspapers wonder what the Dutch government will do after those results. The author of an opinion piece in NRC Handelsblad writes that he expects Prime Minister Rutte to respect the outcome of the referendum. Trouw comments that Dutch ministers now have the difficult task of negotiating possible adjustments to the Association Agreement with Ukraine, but they will not have much leeway.

Brussels did not react officially, but European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in January that victory for the ‘no’ side could lead to a “continental crisis”. European Commission Chief Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said “the Commission remains strongly committed to the development of its relations with Ukraine”, Magyar Hírlap reports. He adds that President Juncker spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and EP President Schulz after the announcement, and was sad about the results, protothema.gr says. However, President Juncker added that the agreement was already partially in effect and this would not change, BNR reports.

Hungarian press says that French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Minister for EU affairs Konrad Szymanski among others, confirmed their respective countries’ commitments to support Ukraine and respect the association agreement. Die Presse’s Wolfgang Böhm fears that as a result, any future agreement the European Commission concludes may immediately be called into question. Kurier says that EU leaders are alarmed at the outcome of the vote, which is viewed as strengthening eurosceptics, nationalists and growing anti-EU sentiment. Indeed, EU critics across Europe are congratulating Holland, and the British eurosceptic Nigel Farage believes the Dutch ‘no’ will help him convince British voters to vote Britain out of the EU in their referendum on June 23rd, says Politiken. For his part, leader of Dutch eurosceptics Geert Wilders said this moment is “the beginning of the end of the EU”, the Cypriot press reports. An El País editorial describes the result as having “marked the limits of direct democracy”, adding that like most of the referendums on European issues, voters have not responded to the question they have been asked, but to the one they would have liked to have been asked. Kurier’s Andreas Schwarz goes even further saying that most of those voting against the association agreement with Ukraine never even knew what was written in it.

According to Die Welt’s Richard Herzinger, the outcome of the Dutch referendum negates the values of European solidarity, adding that this will encourage Russia to further destabilise the EU and Ukraine. Moreover, he said that if Europe does not support Ukraine, it undermines its own democratic future. In the Wall Street Journal Europe, Laurence Norman underlines that Russia said the vote represented a European rejection of Ukraine’s pro-Western political class. In Lidové noviny, Zbyněk Petráček notes that the result is another victory for Mr Putin. Indeed, Ronald Pofalla, the Co-Chairperson of the Petersburg Dialogue, states in an interview with Handelsblatt that recent developments showed that international problems can often only be solved together with Russia. However, Právo daily’s Michal Mocek writes that the “propagandistic chorus” claiming that the result is a victory for Vladimir Putin and an attack on the EU only depreciates the clear signal sent by Dutch voters.

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