A New Deal for Ukraine

Saturday 16 April 17:19

After the Dutch ‘No’ in the referendum on the Association Agreement of the EU with Ukraine, Prime Minister Rutte needs to rediscuss the treaty in Brussels. Focused on the short term with its Eastern Neighbourhood Policy, the EU has only consensus in than that is willing to share all but institutions, making it hard to defend the accord. The European Council needs come with a better vision and define a common perspective on where it wants Ukraine to be in the future. An improved agreement with proposed accesion to the European Economic Area could be the solution.

Ukraine’s turn to Europe

To understand Ukraine, we first need to go back in time and examine Ukraine‘s demographics and attitude towards both Russia and the European Union. Ukraine at first tried to pursue a multi-vector policy in which it tried to both appease the EU and the Russian Federation in order to not have to choose between the both of them. The country had a huge split, with the more pro-Russian people in the south and east, and the more pro-EU people in the north and in the west. The first felt that fraternal nations have a common past and culture, and the latter fears that Eurasian integration would strengthen authoritarian trends in the country.

As Fesenko points it out, permanently choosing sides is highly controversial, because the victory of either side could increase the risk of the country’s disintegration between a pro-EU Ukraine and pro-Russia Ukraine or „Novorossiya‟. One can see, that after the Orange revolution with the Kuchmagate, Yushchenko ended the multi-vector policy and directed the country towards a more pro-EU direction, with the preparation of an association agreement with the European Union. Doing so, he ended the de-facto neutrality of Ukraine between Russia and the European Union.

The leadership of Yanukovych in 2010 tried to restore the multi-vector policy, but it was unable to do so, as both the EU and Russia developed as more powerful actors demanding alignment, and Ukraine had to choose between engaging either in the association agreement or the custom union with Russia, as both would exclude the other. Yanukovych’ decision to cancel the association agreement that have been worked on for several years on the last moment, sparked protest in Ukraine, leading to the revolution of dignity, in which the country has adopted a pro-European stance, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and independence movement in Lugansk and Donetsk are still at war.

The Dutch Referendum

The loss of Crimea with 1,5 million Russian voters and the fear of Russian aggression consolidated the European direction of Ukraine. Henceforth, I argue that the Ukraine of today has irreversibly chosen to align with the West. Contrasting the 2007 reality, EU citizens have expressed ‘expansion fatigue’. The Russian federation is more skeptic than ever about the EU interfering in its close area. Lastly, Ukraine’s aspirations of joining the Union might be even more devastating for popular support in the Netherlands on engaging in activities with the country. And hence, the Dutch voted ‘No’.

There are many reasons to ignore the outcome of the Dutch referendum. The initiators of the referendum, Geen Peil, declared that they care about the fate of Ukraine, but they just picked the first EU thing on which the referendum was possible. Second, the referendum law had a flaw. If you were in favour, you either strategically stay at home hoping the threshold is not met or you vote in favour. Lastly, it is quite possible that the referendum was launched to make the Geen Stijl weblog more profitable, as it wasn’t. An columnist wrote about that possibility in a column for Metro, but as that newspaper is owned by the same company as Geen Stijl, he got censured.

Nevertheless, even though the initiators of the referendum are controversial, I do not think it is smart to ignore democratic decisions. The Dutch ‘No’ of almost two third of the voters clearly demonstrates the distrust in the current agreement. As reasons were many, we could say that some plead for not associating with Ukraine at all, but many other stated that we need a different approach. Although I believe that what we had was good enough, I believe that the only way to respect the outcome of the referendum in a constructive manner, is to look how to improve the deal.

A New Deal for Ukraine

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) as it is far from perfect. Contrasting to its activities towards candidate members, it only provide support for state-reform to comply with the EU system. Candidates are offered support for private actors as well, in order to motivate grassroots support for implementation of EU and international standards. In the ENP, cooperation is much more intergovernmental, lacking support building from within the society. The greatest problem with that is, that when crises emerge and leaderships are changed in these often unstable countries, all work done is resetted when regulatory integration lacks popular support.

The EU dealing with Ukraine basically means that it is working with its current president and oligarch Petro Poroshenko and a pro-EU parliament that does not always deliver. Maksan judges that the lack of joint efforts and weak coordination of activities stand in the way of implementing reforms: out of 118 planned provisions, 39 have been implemented, 13 partially implemented and 54 are in the phase of execution. Dutch trust in the Ukraine leadership is weak, and it did not help that Poroshenko was one of the main figures exposed in the Panama Papers, last week. It is of the greatest importance for the EU to now institutionalize proper monitoring of the made agreement.

Lastly, a new approach should contain vision where we want Ukraine in the future. Rather than not mention any eventual accession towards the European Union, we should provide Ukraine the perspective on joining the European Economic Area. On the long term, Ukraine could join the group of well-respected, stable countries outside of the Union with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. In that way, we provide Ukraine the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the internal market of the EU, without lowering standards and sharing institutions.


The Dutch prime minister Rutte has the tough task of negotiation a better deal on Ukraine, and the Dutch Parliament has given him time to come with a new deal for Ukraine. As outlined above, with a multi-actor approach, proper monitoring of made agreements and perspective on integration in the EEA, we can create greater support of European citizens as a whole. There are too many countries against Ukraine even becoming a candidate country, but meanwhile the Union has a responsibility for the country, as well as self-interest for a stable border country. The Dutch referendum could be a change for the better, if we offer Ukraine the perspective of joining the European Economic Area.