By Stefan Beck, a full-time teacher, involved in the ‘No’ campaign for Dutch referendum based in the Netherlands
While war was raging in his country president Poroshenko signed an agreement to closely ally Ukraine with Europe (note – November 2015). Despite the sensitivity of this agreement between Ukraine and the EU, there was little opportunity for Ukrainians for voice their opinions. Now there might be a last chance to stop the Agreement and Poroshenko’s plans to integrate Ukraine into the EU, namely by a referendum being held in the Netherlands this April. This referendum might not only let the Dutch be able to voice their opinions on the agreement but also the Ukrainians.
The events the agreement set in motion are already numerous. Back in 2013, president Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement resulted into the Maidan protests. These protests in turn were eventually able to overthrow the government of Yanukovich. Shortly after the civil war in Donbass erupted. Eventually Ukraine’s new president Poroshenko would sign the association agreement in June 2014 while the Ukrainians were fighting each other, amongst others on whether or not to closer relate to Europe.
The agreement mainly focuses on trade but also has strong consequences for other fields. For example article 322 states that any dispute relating to the interpretation and application of obligations contained in the agreement about
trade barriers, services, establishment e-commerce and public procurement should be settled in the court of justice of the EU. Hence the effective control of the Ukrainian economy is placed into the hands of the EU, not of the Ukrainians.
But even if this agreement was only judged by its impact on Ukraine’s economy based on a change in trade relations with the EU the results prove to be very severe. By signing the agreement Ukraine pledges to a free-trade zone with the EU and to produce goods in accordance with EU regulations. Russia felt like it had no other choice than to cancel its own free-trade agreement with Ukraine and has announced further measures. This deterioration of trade relations with the Russian federation will have dramatic consequences for Russian-oriented industries, especially in the east of the country.
Although originally no referendum on the Association Agreement was planned, the people of the Netherlands forced the Dutch government to organize a referendum on the 6th of April. Polls are now indicating a minor lead for the people voting against the agreement. However the campaign is still in full swing and the supporters of the agreement are slowly gaining ground.
One of the arguments used by the supporters of the association agreement is that all Ukrainians look towards Europe for support. There is little to no mention of the fact that the pro-EU Association Agreement led to the Maidan protests and partially to the war in Donbass. Supporters of the agreement are silent about any Ukrainians that feel more related towards Russia. The obvious is kept hidden: Ukraine seems to be deeply divided on whether or not to engage in closer relations with the EU. (Photo, from BBC article of October 2015, given as typical example of how Ukraine is portrayed in western media)
All in all the Ukrainian voice in the debate prior to the referendum seems to be dominated by supporters of an EU-oriented Ukraine. A primary reason for this bias is a lack of more neutrally- or Russia-oriented contacts with the Dutch press. This results into a very one-sided coverage on what Ukrainians think about the European Union and its Association Agreement with Ukraine.
This means that the people in Ukraine oriented against a closer relation with the EU have a final chance to let their opinions be heard. This can be done by contacting the ‘No’-campaign on firstname.lastname@example.org, or by using hashtags like #referendumoekraine on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. This way the Ukrainians can influence the referendum by making clear what the Association Agreement means for them. Giving them an opportunity to influence the implementation of the agreement in a way they never had before.
For more information about the agreement, see: