Dutch 'No' to Ukraine pact forces government rethink

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 4:38 AM

Although the results were preliminary, they exposed dissatisfaction with the Dutch government and policy-making in Brussels - signaling a anti-establishment mood in a founding EU member weeks before Britain votes on membership.

The Dutch government said on Wednesday it couldn't ignore the resounding "No" in a non-binding referendum on the European Union'south organization treaty with Ukraine, but that it may get weeks to determine how to respond.

Although the results were preliminary, they exposed dissatisfaction with the Dutch government and policy-making in Brussels - signaling a anti-establishment mood in a founding EU member weeks before Britain votes on membership.

There could also be far-reaching consequences for the delicate Dutch coalition government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency and which has lost popularity amid a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Exit polls indicated roughly sixty-four % of Dutch voters voted "No" and thirty-six % said "Yes". Although turnout was too near to call, early tallies indicated it was just ahead of a turnout minimum of thirty % required for the vote to be valid.

"It'south clear that 'No' have won by an overwhelming margin, the question is only if turnout is sufficient," Dutch Prime Minister Label Rutte said in a televised reaction.

"If the turnout is above thirty % with such a large edge of triumph for the 'No' camp, then my sense is that ratification can't simply go ahead," Rutte added.

That sentiment was shared by Diederik Samsom, boss of the Labour Party, the Jr partner the governing coalition. "We can't ratify the treaty in this fashion," he said.

A person familiar with internal EU discussions on how leaders in Brussels would reply said EU executive had been hoping for very low turnout that'd disqualify or diminish the impact of a "No" vote.

The European Commission, the bloc'south executive, will play for time, waiting for the Dutch government to propose a way forward, the official said.

The political, trade and defense treaty is already provisionally in place, but has to be ratified by all twenty-eight EU member countries for every portion of it to have full legal force.

The Netherlands is the only country that's not done so.

SECOND DUTCH "NO" TO EU

Options comprise leaving the agreement in force provisionally, or drafting exemption clauses for the Netherlands. Nothing will happen in a hurry, not minimum to avert giving any succor to Britain'south "out" campaigners.

Rutte said the government would advise with parliament and European partners "step by step. That could get days or weeks."

Pollster Ipsos said the validity was still unclear with provisional turnout at thirty-second percent - over the threshold - but within a three % edge of error.

The referendum, called by eurosceptic forces, was the first since a two thousand fifteen law made it possible to force through plebiscites by gathering 300.000 signatures on the Internet - a law which is already being criticized.

"It's an instrument for anti-establishment forces," said Cad Mudde, an expert on Dutch politics and populism at the Univ of Georgia.

"It looks love the Dutch people said number to the European elite and number to the treaty with the Ukraine. (This is) the beginning of the finish of the EU," Geert Wilders, boss of the eurosceptic Freedom Party, said in a tweet.

"I hope that later, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, other countries will follow," he said earlier.

Dutch leaders campaigning for the treaty had said voting against it'd also hand a symbolic triumph to Russian President Vladimir Putin. They'd feared a repeat of two thousand five when the Dutch rejected the European Union constitution, also in a referendum.

But ignoring a clear "No" would be risky for Rutte'south already unpopular government - which has lost further ground over Europe'south refugee debate - ahead of national elections scheduled for number later than March 2017.

(Extra reporting by Toby Sterling and Svebor Kranjc in Amsterdam, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow and Alessandra Prentice and Natalia Zinets in Kiev; editing by Angus MacSwan and G Crosse)

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