Translate into your preferred language

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

An EU referendum in the Netherlands during its EU presidency?

BREAKING: UPDATE 27 September. Geenstijl reports over 450 000 registered referendum requests. If that's correct, then a referendum seems very likely. The final word however is with the Election Council (Kiesraad), which will do the official counting, remove fake, incorrect and duplicate requests, and determine the number of valid requests. 

UPDATE 23 September: with about 4 days to go Geenstijl reports 255 000 out of 300 000 referendum requests have been received; which still means -if the data are correct- it will a close call whether NL will organise a referendum on the Association Agreement...

UPDATE 8 September: About halfway in the 6 week period available to obtain the necessary 300 000 signatures, 140 000 (47%) have been obtained. It seems to becoming a close call, whether a referendum will need to be called. 

The UK will have its in-or-out referendum in 2016 and Denmark organizes in December an opt-out to opt-in referendum: changing their default opt out in civil and justice matters to an opt in. In this way they can, like the UK and Ireland, decide regulation by regulation whether to participate or not. 

Also for the Netherlands an EU-related referendum might be in the works. IF it happens, its timing will be interesting: in the first quarter of 2016 and during the Dutch EU presidency.

A possible Dutch EU referendum is however not an in-or-out referendum, but addresses a less immediate topic: the association agreement the EU (and its 28 member states) concluded with Ukraine last year. Approval of the Agreement is running smoothly, with ratification of Ukraine, 22 EU states as well as the European parliament already fully finished. The Netherlands have finished their parliamentary process resulting in publication of the approval act on 28 July 2015. If it had been approved 1 month earlier, that would be the formal end of the democratic process and the Netherlands could proceed to deposit its instrument of ratification with the Council of the European Union. But on 1 July quietly the "Wet raadgevend referendum" (WRR, "Consultational" Referendum Act; translation as "Advisory Referendum Act" is also possible, but note it only advises after an act has been signed into law) came into force, giving groups of people the possibility to call a referendum.

Ukraine Association agreement

The request for a referendum is a two-stage process: first 10 000 signatures for a "preliminary request" have to submitted to the Dutch Election Council (Kiesraad) within 4 of the publication. After that stage is succesful, 300 000 applications for a referendum have to be raised within 6 weeks.

The first act to pass the preliminary stage was the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement approval act, after a campaign by website (via and This means the approval act is now suspended until the Kiesraad has announced wether sufficient applications for the referendum have been raised. The deadline for submission of applications is 28 September.

An EU referendum or a Association referendum?

While the referendum formally "just" is about the Association Agreement, the referendum-groups argue that it presents the only way for the Dutch people to have their say on the EU as a whole, so they are prepared to present a possible referendum in that context. The Association agreement is further placed in the EU enlargement context: the Association Agreement provides the first stage in alignment with the EU acquis, which has historically often ended in full membership of the EU. Ukraine-specific arguments are also provided and are linked foreign policy effects of the agreement has had in relationship to Russia.

Chances for success?

Will the call for a referendum be successful? That is hard to say at this moment. While website geenstijl drives a lot of traffic, discussion in newspapers and main Dutch television has been piecemeal. The bar of 300 000 requests amounts to over 2% of eligible voters and the requirement to submit request on paper provides a further burden. however seems to have found a loophole in the "in writing" requirement and has produced a browser-fillable form (including a signature system) that produces pdf files it can print and hand deliver to the Kiesraad. The form has been submitted about 30 000 times in the first 1.5 days, but was not able to double that amount in the 4 days that followed.

And IF a referendum is held?

Then the WRR requires it to take place in 3-6 months after the announcement has become final. I am not sure when that is, but -unless legal actions are started against the decision- it must be in the first half year of 2016, awkwardly coinciding with the Dutch presidency. Until such a referendum, the approval act is suspended and the Netherlands can not ratify. The planned 1 January entry into force will in the case not be met, and the Netherlands can only ratify after a positive vote (approving the act) in the referendum, or if the turnout is below 30%. If the Act is rejected, it can only enter into force, after it is resubmitted (and re-approved) by parliament.

After a NO-vote in a referendum?

Although formally possible, it seems politically impossible to pass the approval act after it has been voted down in a referendum [well, if it the "against" votes would be 50-51% a case would possibly be made for ignoring; interpreting the result as a draw] unless and until changes are (NL-specific) negotiated. And that would be complicated, as the association agreement is just one agreement in a framework of many. Meanwhile the practical effect of non-entry into force may be small: the agreement is already for a large part "provisionally applied" since December 2014 and the practical difference between formal entry into force and lengthy provisional application seems small [there are effects however: Ukraine agreed to forbid use of terms of Champagne etc for products made on its territory within 10 years of entry into force; a term that does not start running until all states have ratified].

No comments:

Post a Comment