Juncker 'sad' about Dutch No vote on EU-Ukraine deal
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is "sad" about the results of a Dutch referendum on an EU-Ukraine deal, an emotion shared Thursday by many European politicians to what is being seen as another sign of voters' antipathy to Brussels, the European version of Politico reported.
Dutch voters on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected a cooperation agreement between the EU and Ukraine that opponents portrayed as the first step in a largely undesired accession of Ukraine to the bloc. While the vote is non-binding it requires the Dutch parliament to reconsider the agreement, Politico wrote.
The vote, coming just two months before a referendum in Britain on the U.K.'s membership in the EU, was watched more closely as a barometer of public support for the bloc and for European integration and the result gave Euroskeptics plenty to crow about.
The outcome made Juncker "sad," according to his spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, who otherwise tried to downplay the political fallout from the vote, which he said would have "no impact" on the EU's agreement with Ukraine.
"The European Commision has taken note of the outcome of the vote," Schinas said, adding that it is now the Dutch government's role to "analyze" the outcome and "decide on the course of action."
Read alsoU.S. hopes Dutch referendum not to affect European integration of UkraineSome members of the European Parliament also expressed disappointment at the Dutch No, and criticized the use of national referendums to punish EU policies.
Alain Lamassoure, a French leader of the center-right European People's Party in the European Parliament called the vote "dreadful" and said it was unfortunate that referendums could be used to "challenge" foreign policy decisions taken at an EU level. "It is a distortion which can lead to the collapse of a very important agreement for the EU."
Lamassoure said he feared the use of referendums in the bloc would prove contagious in other countries, citing the example of Hungary, which recently announced it would to put the EU's immigrant quotas policy to a vote.
That view was echoed by Jo Leinen, a member of the Parliament's center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group who called the referendum an "abuse" of direct democracy.
"If European decisions become increasingly subject of national referendums, the EU will ultimately be unable to act," Leinen said.
Some MEPs also pointed at the votes 32.2% turnout, just above the threshold needed to require that the measure by reconsidered by the Dutch parliament. Richard Howitt, a British Labour party MEP, called it "the lowest turnout ever on any referendum on the EU anywhere in Europe."
"Dutch voters appear to have been apathetic or confused about the issues involved," Howitt said in a statement, adding that the No vote should be an "urgent warning" for Britons to show up and participate in their own referendum on June 23 on whether their country will remain a member of the European Union.
Read alsoCameron: I hope Dutch rejection of Ukraine deal will not affect EU referendumSchinas, the Commission spokesman, said there was no link between the Dutch result and the prospects for the U.K. referendum. "These are two different processes and two different issues," he told reporters.
But other politicians said the No vote should prompt a reform of the EU, which has been weakened by the migration crisis and the debate over Britain's re-examination of its membership.
Guy Verhofstadt, president of the centrist Alliance for Liberals and Democrats group in the Parliament, said the No vote was another wake up call for the EU.
"Europe is not capable of dealing with the big crises we face," he said. "We can only solve this by working more closely together and reform Europe. It is time for another way for Europe."
Many Euroskeptic parties took pleasure in the referendum result, with Marine Le Pen calling it a "step further towards the Europe of nations."
"Look at these masses of smaller, less powerful than France nations," Le Pen tweeted. "Yet, they are free and sovereign."
Some EU political figures took the result as a sign that European citizens are hungrier than ever for more of a say in setting policy, rather than leaving it up to Brussels.
"The EU is much more political," said Michiel van Hulten, a former Dutch MEP and senior fellow at the London School of Economics who worked on the unsuccessful Yes campaign. "What you could do behind closed doors in the past, you can't do them now. We have to get used to that, big decisions at a EU level may be taken to a referendum."