It’s not the first time that Petro Poroshenko announces referendums on Ukraine's accession to NATO and the European Union - he has been talking about it for three consecutive years already, since his election campaign in 2014. This time he stated that such a referendum should take place in the near future.
From a technological point of view, the referendum on Ukraine's accession to NATO is optional. But this would be neither superfluous nor harmful. Even more so, if the outcome of the people’s will is positive, it will have a tangible propaganda effect. This will enable the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian negotiators at the table with NATO to enjoy a more solid negotiating position on future membership.
When joining NATO, the state does not delegate any part of its sovereignty to any supranational bodies
The referendum itself guarantees nothing but increases Ukraine’s chances. However, from a legal perspective, this procedure is not mandatory for joining the Alliance: NATO does not require from aspirant countries to hold such referendums. The Alliance would be fully satisfied with public opinion surveys. Moreover, the criterion is that there should be more supporters of membership than its opponents (that is, there is no requirement for an absolute majority).
That’s because when joining NATO, the state does not delegate any part of its sovereignty to any supranational bodies. NATO does not have such bodies - all decisions there are made by consensus while each country can block any move.
Instead, the situation in the European Union is quite different. There are these supranational bodies there, and part of the sovereignty of the members of the European Union is delegated to members of the European Commission, and so on. That is, in case Ukraine decided to accede to the European Union, holding a referendum on this subject would be compulsory, in accordance with Ukraine’s Constitution, as the country would have to delegate part of its national sovereignty. To this end, Constitutional amendments must even be passed.
Holding such referendums may be useful to Poroshenko as a politician in his internal political struggle. That’s because it positions him as the leader on the issues of Western integration
On the one hand, this is an ancient topic, and Poroshenko has long been talking about a referendum. On the other hand, in the current situation he has found himself in the third year of managing the country, he could use this as an instrument of political mobilization of his electoral support. That is, holding such referendums may be useful to Poroshenko as a politician in his internal political struggle. That’s because it positions him as the leader on the issues of Western integration. And, accordingly, it draws its opponents beyond the scope of this topic because then they will either have to take a position against the EU and NATO, and, consequently, against Poroshenko, or to take a position in favor of the referendum, and, consequently, in favor of Mr Poroshenko. This is a kind of method of political technology, which we are seeing Poroshenko’s calculations as he speaks about holding a referendum. That’s especially so if these referendums will happen to coincide in time with the presidential or parliamentary elections.
Volodymyr Horbach is a political analyst at the Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Institute