On April 6th the citizens of the Netherlands are given to opportunity to vote in a referendum for the second time in history. After the 2005 European Constitutional Referendum next month we are now allowed to give our opinion on the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement, the treaty between the European Union and Ukraine that seeks closer cooperation between Ukraine and the member states of the EU. A not altogether undisputed agreement, as Russia is very much against. Europe however seems to be largely in favour, of the 28 EU member states the Netherlands is the only country that has not yet ratified the agreement. As the House of Representatives and the Senate have already agreed to the association agreement the April 6 referendum is the last hurdle to be taken towards signing. This last hurdle however seems to be somewhat of a problem now.
The population of the Netherlands seems to have grown somewhat tired of European affairs. As one of the founders of the predecessor of the European Union the Netherlands were among the first to realize the necessity of European cooperation after the Second World War. And although we have profited a lot from EU membership, in the new millennium opinions became less and less in favour of Europe. The new coin, the Euro, made holidays abroad a lot easier and comfortable, but prices too rose rapidly. To discontent over the loss of purchasing power was added a financial crisis, in which Western Europe was seen as forced to stand by weaker brothers and sisters, such as Greece. New countries joined the EU almost on an annual basis, and the rapid expansion of the EU was not always received with equal enthusiasm by the Dutch, who had to compete for work with Poles and other Eastern European people willing to do their jobs for a lot less. Not just Geert Wilders thinks we should leave the EU, so to say.
The vote against the European Constitution in 2005 was mainly a vote against the rapidly increasing influence of Europe and the fear of being just a tiny fish in a large pond. Nothing much has changed since then. If anything, the aversion against Europe has increased after the crisis hit hard. This does not promise much good for next month’s referendum. Our government has already accepted the agreement, and although the referendum is legally not binding it will of course be very difficult to ignore the majority of the Dutch people voting no – should it come to that.
I have not given the Association Agreement matter much though yet, but as a good and loyal Dutchie I have already formally asked for permission to vote from abroad. Always a pain in the ass. I should know, as although I have been 18-plus for quite a while now I haven’t actually done much voting in person so far. At least half of the times I have been abroad during elections, but thankfully there are many ways to let your voice heard in the Netherlands – even when you’re not officially a resident anymore. Trying to find out how to vote from abroad is always challenging with the maze of opportunities available depending on the nature of your stay abroad – from voting per email or letter to voting at an embassy or consulate and allowing someone else to vote in your place – but I finally managed to register, so let the reading, thinking and reflecting begin!
But regardless of what the Dutch people might think of the European Union and the association treaty with Ukraine, as a Dutchie working in a neighbouring EU country I can’t help to appreciate the EU. Without the EU it is unlikely that I would be here at all, and would be given the chances that I’m given now. It is the possibility to move around the EU freely, without too much hassle, that makes all the difference for me. No bureaucracy whatsoever, you just pick up your bags and leave for the next EU country whenever you want to. In that respect, I differ hardly from a Pole or a Bulgarian coming to work in the Netherlands. We both are economic refugees, going wherever the jobs are. If only for that reason, I will continue to support the European Union. Whether that also means that we should sign this treaty with Ukraine though, I’m not so sure about that. Any thoughts?
Photo credits: H2Woah!/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0