The SP and the campaign against the EU-Ukraine treaty

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Not Now!

The Netherlands is preparing for a referendum to be held on 6th April. In 2005 the very first referendum took place in our country, on a proposed constitution for the European Union. The government and most political parties were in favour – but two thirds of the population voted against – to the delight of the SP, which had spoken out against the proposal in Parliament. This time too the SP is once again advising the electorate to vote against, as the party itself has already done in both houses of the national parliament in The Hague.

Vote against a treaty that provides for far-reaching political and economic cooperation between the EU and Ukraine, that is the SP’s advice. Ukraine is divided by a civil war and dominated by super-rich oligarchs and a colossal corruption. Not now, says the SP to the introduction of this Association Agreement, because it’s bad for the people of Ukraine and bad for the people of the Netherlands and bad for the European Union.

An Association Agreement is a binding accord between the EU and a country outside the Union, aimed at thoroughgoing cooperation. It must be approved by all of the member states. Some Association Agreements, such as those with the Balkan states,  are intended to be directed towards a country’s eventually acceding to the EU; others, such as those with North African states, emphatically not. In some cases it’s not so clear. This is the case for Ukraine. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, says that there is no possibility of future membership, but Ukraine’s President Poroshenko says precisely the opposite, that’s it’s an irreversible step towards EU membership. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk says the same. I have also heard him say categorically, when questioned, that he wants to see his country in the EU and also NATO, as quickly as possible.

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is, in its own words, directed at political association and economic integration of Ukraine with the European Union. Specifically referred to are political cooperation, convergence of security and foreign policies, and judicial, economic and financial cooperation. The Agreement consists of a preamble, seven chapters, forty-three annexes, and three protocols. In total there are 486 articles in the text, in which everything and anything is covered. There are only a few politicians who have read the entire treaty, which is another way in which it resembles the European Constitution. Take the trouble to acquire real knowledge of the contents, and you’ll see that it is actually directed towards extraordinarily far-reaching cooperation between the EU, its member states and Ukraine.

This Association Agreement has a long and difficult history. Ever since 2008 it has been the subject of negotiations between the European Commission and the government in Ukraine. After all sorts of obstacles had been removed and signature appeared in the offing, then president Yanukovych pulled out at the very last minute. He wanted first of all to see greater involvement from Russia, one of Ukraine’s major trading partners and the country’s powerful neighbour. Commission president at the time Jose Barroso immediately made it clear that Ukraine must choose between the EU and Russia, and that Russian interference with the treaty was not acceptable to the EU.

Mass protest from sections of the Ukrainian public in Kiev, supported by various European and American politicians, led in February, 2014 to the president fleeing, to his immediate removal by the parliament and to the installing of a new government. All of this was in conflict with the Ukrainian constitution. Nevertheless, a month later the new prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was received in Brussels with full honours by the heads of state and government of the EU member states. There he put his signature to sections of the Association Agreement. Three months later newly elected president Petro Poroshenko signed the full treaty.

Every member state parliament has in the meantime approved the agreement. This is also true of the European Parliament. Only in the Netherlands will a referendum be held. In our country, due to a law which had not yet been introduced in 2005, if 10,000 citizens request a referendum, and more than 300,000 support this call (this from a total population of around 17 million, over 13 million of whom are citizens old enough to vote), then a referendum must be held. In this case, over 425,000 voters answered the call. Over 30% of those eligible must participate for the result to be valid. Though the referendum is officially consultative, most parties appear prepared to respect the result. That means that the Association Agreement coming into force is dependent on the votes of the Dutch people.


In both houses of the Dutch parliament, the SP voted against the agreement, as we did in the European Parliament, together with the other parties which form the group of the United European Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL). Aside from the fact that it is bad for all sides, the people of Ukraine are seriously divided over the treaty, which was one of the factors leading to the outbreak of civil war. Order must first be restored, the enormous corruption tackled and the country returned to the rule of law. Ukraine is in co condition as things stand to enter into such a far-reaching political association and economic integration with the EU. The people of the Netherlands have no interest in thoroughgoing cooperation with such a seriously divided and failed country and must not be made party to the numerous dangerous conflicts which dominate the country at this time. And the European Union, itself on the wrong track, should not now be looking to take such a large and problematic country into its political and economic sphere of influence. The consequences of such a move cannot be foreseen. In cases of reasonable doubt the principle should apply: don’t do it now.

Yet the EU seems to see the treaty as a matter of life and death.  Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is putting Dutch voters under heavy pressure not to vote against the agreement which his Commission pushed through with Ukraine. Voting against it would be dangerous, asserts the former prime minister of Luxembourg. ‘I say: watch out, this could change the balance in Europe. Without wanting to threaten citizens, they must indeed be made conscious of their responsibilities…. And I heartily hope that Dutch people will not say no for reasons which have nothing to do with the treaty itself. They must understand that this question goes beyond the interests of the Netherlands.’ In saying this he is referring to the fact that the European Union as it now functions isn’t very popular with most Dutch people. What he consciously refrains from mentioning is that this lack of popularity has everything to do with the extensive and undesirable ambitions of the European Commission. What began as cooperation between European countries in pursuit of peace and the promotion of social and economic progress, is now in the eyes of many Dutch men and women – and other Europeans - a project which has got completely out of hand and which has turned against the people. The European Union is acting the boss in numerous policy areas, reducing the sovereignty of the member states and their citizens. What it favours is neoliberal development of economy and society. As a result, insecurity and inequality are increasing and we are moving ever further from the original goals of European cooperation. To once again set in motion at this time a new enlargement by means of far-reaching political and economic cooperation with one of the biggest countries in Europe, a country which is deeply divided, suits the ambition of Juncker and his ilk very well. For these reasons it would be perfectly reasonable if many voters when casting their vote in the referendum were to take into account these developments within the EU. The European Commission is greedily eying a major new market in the east, one which it wants to see opened to EU corporations. But what the public here and there will get is completely unclear and for that reason much too risky. It is on this basis that the SP is full of conviction when it advises the voters on 6th April not to vote for such a far-reaching and doubtful treaty. That would be better for everyone.

">Dutch Socialist Party (SP) SenatorTiny Kox has visited Ukraine on a number of occasions over recent years and is acquainted with the country’s major players. He is chair of the United Left Group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the January 2016 edition of the SP monthly magazine Spanning.