Dutch confirm 'No' vote on EU deal

 12 Apr 2016 - 18:58

Dutch confirm 'No' vote on EU deal
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, pictured on April 24, 2015 at The Hague. AFP, Martijn Beekman


The Hague: Dutch officials on Tuesday formally confirmed the validity of last week's eurosceptic-driven referendum in which voters rejected a key EU deal with Ukraine in a fresh blow to European unity.

More than 4.1 million people, accounting for around 32 percent of the 12.8 million eligible voters, turned out to cast their ballots on Wednesday in a non-binding plebiscite, with 61 percent spurning the pact with Kiev and only 38.21 percent in favour.

The result was quickly hailed by eurosceptics across the continent as well as in Russia, ahead of a British referendum in June on whether to remain in the European Union.

"The turnout was 32.28 percent, therefore the referendum is valid," Dutch Election Board chairman Henk Kummeling told a press conference in The Hague.

Since the required 30-percent voter turnout threshold was reached, the results now have to be considered by the Dutch government.

Voters were asked if they supported the European Union's association agreement with Ukraine, which aims to foster better trade relations with the war-torn country and former Soviet satellite.

But referendum organisers admitted the non-binding ballot was essentially about pushing a broader anti-EU agenda -- a humiliating move at a time when the Netherlands is holding the rotating EU presidency.

Lawmakers are to discuss the results in parliament on Wednesday.

The Netherlands is now the only country in the 28-nation EU bloc still to ratify the accord, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte has the unenviable task of finding a solution acceptable both to parliament, to the people and to the Netherlands' EU partners.

Rutte, who had encouraged a vote in favour of the agreement, said his cabinet will take a "step-by-step" approach on what to do next.

Dutch media reports said he could now possibly argue in Brussels for a clause to be written into the accord, explicitly stating that Ukraine cannot join the EU.

Another option could be to try and split the agreement into its trade and political components with the Dutch keeping the trade section and dumping the political side, the centre-left De Volkskrant has suggested.

Or Rutte could insist on scrapping a paragraph about closer military cooperation and demand a tougher stance on corruption in Ukraine, the paper said.