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Dutch voters have sent out a strong anti-EU message to the world

Voters were asked if they supported the European Union’s association agreement with Ukraine.

Netherlands EU Ukraine Referendum Source: AP Photo/Peter Dejong

DUTCH VOTERS REJECTED a key European pact with Ukraine yesterday in a people’s referendum seen as a barometer of anti-EU feeling, media predictions said, dealing an embarrassing blow to the government.

In a result swiftly hailed by eurosceptic groups, the Dutch news agency ANP said that with 99.8% of the votes counted the “No” camp had won the day with 61.1%. Only 38% voted in favour of the two-year-old treaty with Kiev.

After initial doubts, ANP also projected that 32.2% of the electorate had turned out, meaning the ballot is valid and must be considered by the coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

“It looks like the Dutch people said NO to the European elite and NO to the treaty with the Ukraine. The beginning of the end of the EU,” far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders crowed late last night.

Netherlands EU Ukraine Referendum Gert Wilders casting his vote Source: AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Voters were asked if they supported the European Union’s association agreement with Ukraine, which aims to foster better trade relations with the war-torn country and former Soviet satellite.

But organisers admitted the non-binding ballot was essentially about pushing a broader anti-EU agenda – humiliating at the very time that the Netherlands holds the rotating EU presidency.

The vote was being closely watched by Europe and Moscow, and could prove an important yardstick only months ahead of Britain’s “Brexit” referendum in June.

Far-right boost?

The Dutch “No” may pose a major headache for the European Union as it also gears up for the ramifications of a possible British exit from the bloc.

The Netherlands is now the only member in the 28-nation EU not to have ratified the Ukraine accord which has already been given the thumbs up by both the upper and lower houses of the Dutch parliament.

Rutte agreed “the ‘no’ camp won convincingly”.

Netherlands EU Ukraine Referendum Mark Rutte casts his vote Source: AP Photo/Peter Dejong

And he was forced to concede that “if the turnout is above the (30%) margin then this accord cannot be ratified as is.”

He had earlier urged voters to vote in favour of the pact with Kiev saying “we have to help Ukraine build up a judicial state and its democracy.”

Europe needs more stability at its edges.

It remains unclear what will happen next, with Rutte vowing a “step-by-step” approach in full consultation with the government and Brussels. Official full results are only due on 12 April.

The vote is non-binding. But it could mean that the coalition government – already under fire due to the refugee crisis – will seek to opt out of certain provisions of the EU-Ukraine deal to satisfy the voters.

It could also boost Wilders’s Freedom Party (PVV) which is already riding high in the polls due to his stand against migrants.

© – AFP 2016

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