Dutch voters struck a blow against the E.U.’s Ukrainian association agreement – and the incessant Russia-bashing that has surrounded it – creating hope for less belligerence in Europe, writes Gilbert Doctorow.
By Gilbert Doctorow
On this overcast Thursday morning in Brussels, the political capital of Europe, rays of bright sunshine are breaking through from the east as the latest results of vote counting in neighboring Netherlands suggest that Wednesday’s referendum against the European Union’s Association Agreement with Ukraine won two out of every three votes and passed the 30 percent participation requirement of all eligible voters to be considered valid.
If those results are confirmed by the official results – to be released on April 12 – this referendum marks a resounding defeat for the Brussels-led conspiracy to pursue Russia-bashing policies of sanctions and information warfare without consulting public opinion at home.
To change metaphors and speak in terms of Dutch folklore, it is the first crack in the dam that many of us have been waiting for, the opportunity for common sense to prevail over the illogic, hubris and plain pigheadedness of those who control the E.U. institutions in Brussels, and afar from Berlin and Washington.
While the referendum was formally just “advisory,” both the public statements of parliamentarians and the acknowledgements of the Dutch government ahead of the voting indicated that it will force a new vote in parliament on ratification and likely send Prime Minister Mark Rutte to Brussels. hat in hand, requesting a renegotiation of the Association Agreement.
As such, it may bring the E.U. foreign policy machinery to a shuddering halt and open the illogic of all its policies towards its eastern borderlands over the past several years to public scrutiny and, possibly, to revision.
However, whether this was the decisive moment when the E.U. is brought to its senses or just the first of a series of knock-out blows directed at the political correctness and group think that have been driving policy ever since the coup d’etat in Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2014, its importance cannot be overstated.
We have been hearing for more than a year that the Russia-bashing policies – the sanctions in particular – were opposed by a growing minority of E.U. member states. Among the dissenters named at one point or other have been Italy, Hungary and Slovakia. Then came Bavaria, within Germany, whose minister-president Horst Seehofer just months ago flouted the policies of Chancellor Merkel and paid court to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. On Wednesday, the president of Austria did the same.
And yet, despite all the fine words to reporters about how the sanctions violate the basic economic interests of their countries and of Europe as a whole, none of these statesmen broke ranks when the sanctions repeatedly came up for renewal. The significance of Wednesday’s vote in The Netherlands was that this time the people spoke, not their elected or appointed officials. This was a consultation to remember.
In effect, the referendum played out at two levels. At the domestic level, it was a power struggle between the mainstream centrist parties in The Netherlands who stand for a “go with the flow” approach on E.U. decisions and decision-making, versus the Euroskeptic extremes on the left and especially on the right.
On the right, Geerd Wilders and his Freedom Party want to put a stick in the gears of the E.U. machinery and halt the slow-motion, seemingly unstoppable move towards greater union, indeed towards federalism that have gained momentum ever since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. In that sense, the vote foreshadows the campaign fight of the parliamentary elections that will take place in The Netherlands in 2017.
At the same time, the referendum had a geopolitical dimension going way beyond the spoils of office, as a proxy battle in The Netherlands between those who favor a pro-U.S./pro-NATO approach versus those seeking improved relations with Moscow.
In both dimensions, the particulars of the E.U.’s Association Agreement with Ukraine that runs several hundred pages were not the real issue on the ballot. All of which begs the question of what exactly Prime Minister Rutte will eventually be asking the E.U. Commission to renegotiate.
The signs are multiplying that the E.U. consensus on foreign policy driven by German Chancellor Angela Merkel is nearing collapse. Within Germany itself, her detractors are becoming ever bolder. Earlier this week, the German newspapers were carrying on their front pages news of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s invitation to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to visit him at his home next week.
This move is seen as a direct rebuke to Merkel and her policy of open-arms to refugees from Syria and the Middle East, a policy that Orban led a number of new Member States in opposing.
The next big test for the European Union, and the next opportunity to deal a severe blow to its complacent leadership in Brussels will be the Brexit referendum in the U.K. at the end of June.
NB: the issues in the referendum were the featured topic in RT’s Cross Talk show released on 6 April during which I expanded on these points and on the criminal folly of EU policy on Ukraine:
Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016 [For a video discussion about the Dutch referendum, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCAsC_dw8wY]