Dutch Premier’s demands cast new doubt over EU-Ukraine pact - WSJ

21:50, 20 October 2016
Politics
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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will press European Union leaders Thursday for a declaration stating that the bloc’s trade and political agreement with Ukraine doesn’t set Kyiv on a pathway to EU membership, according to European officials, raising fresh doubts about the fate of the accord, The Wall Street Journal reports.

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Mr. Rutte’s push, one of several options he is expected to float at an EU summit in Brussels, is part of his effort to persuade domestic voters he is responding to their concerns about the Ukraine deal, which Dutch voters rejected in an April referendum, WSJ wrote.

Mr. Rutte faces elections in the spring. Among his principle rivals is Geert Wilders, whose anti-immigration Party for Freedom favors leaving the EU.

However, the Dutch prime minister’s Ukraine demands risk undermining the EU’s Ukraine pact, which has offered Kyiv a key economic lifeline and become a symbol of the EU’s alliance with Ukraine’s pro-western government. There is growing frustration with Mr. Rutte’s handling of the issue, with some saying he has done too little, too late to resolve it.

"The risk of an impasse is big. The implementation of the agreement could be suspended," a Belgian diplomat said Wednesday.

Mr. Rutte has said publicly he is pessimistic a deal can be reached and that the Netherlands may therefore be unable to ratify the agreement.

The deal, which has helped drive a modest boost in Ukraine’s exports to the EU, has been ratified in Kyiv, Brussels and all member states except the Netherlands.

The EU has said it won’t reopen the text of the agreement since this would force everyone to ratify it again. It could also provide an opening for Russia, which fiercely opposed the pact, to block it.

According to Dutch and European officials, Mr. Rutte will tell EU leaders he is exploring a couple of options. One is a military opt-out of the EU deal, which covers trade, political and military ties. He will also press for a legally binding declaration by EU leaders that will state, among other things, that the agreement doesn’t pave the way for Ukraine’s EU membership or necessitate further financial assistance.

Read alsoEU leaders and slackers in supporting Ukraine’s reforms - Euromaidan PressThose options are similar to ones that have been talked about in the aftermath of April’s referendum.

Dutch and European officials say Mr. Rutte will also warn EU leaders that even if the bloc agrees to his demands, he may not win domestic backing for the deal. The Dutch parliament is pressing Mr. Rutte to set out his plans by Nov. 1.

"No one is very keen to deal with this," said one senior EU official. "It is seen as Mark Rutte’s problem."

European diplomats have long since identified legal and political problems with Mr. Rutte’s options.

Read alsoEuropean Parliament has stable majority to introduce visa-free regime with Ukraine – SchulzThe biggest concern is that a failure by Mr. Rutte to win his parliament’s support for the deal could force the EU to end its provisional application of the deal. The legal position isn't crystal clear but EU officials believe that as long as Dutch authorities still intend to eventually ratify the deal, the EU can apply the accord. That could change, though, if the Dutch government and parliament formally drop the deal.

"I think there is a lot of worry about this," said one senior EU diplomat. "This is big stuff" for Ukraine.

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