What will happen if the Dutch vote ‘No’ in the Referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement?

On 6 April 2016, a referendum on the approval of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement will be held in the Netherlands. This is the direct result of the Dutch Advisory Referendum Act (DAR), which entered into force on 1 July 2015. According to this Act, citizens can initiate a referendum on most laws and treaties after these have been approved by both chambers of parliament. This so-called ‘corrective’ referendum may thus be regarded as an experiment with direct democracy giving the Dutch citizens a possibility to refute decisions taken at the political level.

An EU-critical foundation (Burgercomité EU) and a popular anti-establishment blog (GeenStijl) joined forces – under the name GeenPeil – and gathered the necessary 300,000 signatures to call for a referendum on the approval of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. That precisely this agreement became the subject of a public debate is a mere coincidence and can only be explained on the basis of timing. It was simply the first legal text approved in the Dutch parliament after the DAR entered into force and, therefore, the first occasion to test its implications in practice. Be that as it may, the crucial question is what the consequences will be when the Dutch citizens reject the Approval Act of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. This is not an implausible scenario taking into account that the first polls indicate a significant majority for the ‘no’ camp.

It is striking that none of the official bodies gave a clear-cut answer to this question. Prime Minister Rutte communicated that the government will wait for the outcome of the referendum to decide on its implications. The European Parliament simply took note of the upcoming referendum and ‘trusts that the decision of the Dutch people will be taken on the basis of the merits of the agreement, recognising its tangible effects on the EU and the Netherlands in particular ...

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