sexta-feira, 1 de abril de 2016
Dutch referendum on Vladimir Putin
Dutch referendum on Vladimir Putin
Russia looms large in the coming vote on EU-Ukraine agreement.
By ADDIE SCHULTE 4/1/16, 5:32 AM CET
AMSTERDAM — The Netherlands holds a referendum next week on whether the EU should work more closely with Ukraine, but the campaign is just as much about Vladimir Putin.
On the surface, Dutch voters will decide if they should accept a treaty to strengthen political and economic ties with the country of 46 million. The agreement was the spark for the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that led to the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, which had reversed course under pressure from Russia and scuppered the so-called association deal.
A Dutch vote against the agreement, while not legally binding, would be hard for the government here to ignore. It would damage months of efforts by Brussels and Kiev to tie Ukraine more tightly to the West, which Moscow had worked desperately to stop. Polls show No is in the lead.
Proponents of the referendum — two Euroskeptic organizations and GeenPeil, an organization created by the right-wing GeenStijl blog — seized on the treaty as an example of the EU flouting democracy by not consulting voters.
That they succeeded in collecting more than 400,000 signatures over the Ukraine issue was a surprise, as there are no tight links between Ukraine and the Netherlands. Even trade is limited, although the Netherlands does have an important economic relationship with Russia.
While Ukraine may be almost an afterthought to many in the Netherlands, Putin is not.
“Putin is the central theme of the campaign, and we did our best to bring that about,” said Joshua Livestro, one of the founders of the StemVoor (Vote Yes) organization. “Do you want to give Putin leeway or do you oppose him? When you talk about relations with Ukraine, it is inevitable that this question comes up sooner or later.”
The Putin problem
Supporters of the Ukraine agreement see the Russian leader as a bully who has to be taught a lesson. In their view, rejecting the accord would betray Ukrainians, boost the Kremlin and reward Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
A digitally manipulated poster created by Yes backers and displayed in the Amsterdam subway shows a passionate kiss between populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who opposes the treaty, and the Russian president.
“Yes, Putin would like to see Europe fall apart. But if you ignore the verdict of voters time and again … you are to blame for the collapse, and not Putin” — GeenPeil
Opponents of the Ukraine agreement think Russia has legitimate concerns about NATO and EU encroachment into its sphere of influence. Tying the Netherlands more closely with Kiev risks alienating Russia, and potentially involves the Netherlands with Ukraine’s corrupt and ineffective government, opponents argue.
One of the referendum’s initiators argues that the vote isn’t about Putin. “It’s about the direction the EU is heading,” GeenPeil wrote. “Yes, Putin would like to see Europe fall apart. But if you ignore the verdict of voters time and again … you are to blame for the collapse, and not Putin.”
Not all opponents of the treaty agree.
“It’s true that the referendum is also about relations between the EU and Russia,” said Harry van Bommel, an MP for the Euroskeptic Socialist Party and one of the most active No campaigners. “But neither Putin nor the Ukrainian people decide what we think. We make our own analysis.”
Van Bommel said Ukraine is of utmost strategic and military importance to Russia, and Moscow sees the treaty as a threat. The agreement could entangle the EU in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, he warned. “The EU could become involved in a Ukrainian attempt to recapture the Crimea,” he said, referring to the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.
Livestro said the referendum suits Russia, which is already working to destabilize the EU by supporting Euroskeptic parties like France’s National Front.
The war in eastern Ukraine came into sharp focus for Dutch voters in 2014. Russian-backed separatists were generally blamed for shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight 17, killing 298. Nearly 200 victims on the airliner, which took off from Amsterdam, were from the Netherlands. But MH17 doesn’t enter into the debate often.
When Bert Lanting, an editor at De Volkskrant, one of the leading newspapers in the Netherlands, wrote that a vote against the treaty is a vote for the people probably responsible the killings, GeenStijl and other opponents accused him of abusing the dead to make a political statement.
Though most polls show the No side ahead, the gap is closing.
One opinion poll suggested an even split, with about 25 percent in each camp. The threshold for the referendum result to be considered valid by the government is 30 percent. Another survey in late February showed that almost half of Dutch voters were not aware of the referendum, but that was before the campaign started seriously.
For the Dutch government, currently holding the rotating EU presidency, a No vote would be an embarrassment and an unwanted problem to solve.
If there is a valid vote against the treaty, the Dutch parliament said it would accept the verdict, while the government has only said it will “reconsider” the treaty. It may ask for an opt-out, as 27 out of 28 member countries have ratified the agreement, which has also received the backing of the Dutch parliament. No one expects the referendum to scrap the treaty, which has been provisionally in force since the beginning of the year.
The political impact would be greater. For the Dutch government, currently holding the rotating EU presidency, a No vote would be an embarrassment and an unwanted problem to solve in a period of multiple crises.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in early January that Russia would “pick the fruits of an easy victory,” if the association agreement is rejected.
“A No vote will be celebrated in the Russian media as a major triumph,” Livestro said. “It will be a PR victory, even if it doesn’t change much on the ground.”
Van Bommel said he thinks there would be similar joy in the Kremlin in the event of a narrow Yes result. He predicted that outcome would help Putin because the EU would be weakened by its association with war-torn and corrupt Ukraine.
“It’s a win-win situation for him,” van Bommel said.