The dividing lines of the referendum are clearly drawn. Supporters say a yes vote will deliver security and trade; opponents see a chance to wrest back control from the so-called undemocratic forces of Brussels. Accusations of lies and spin are batted around on both sides. Many voters are confused or indifferent. This is not Britain, but the Netherlands. On Wednesday the Dutch will take part in the other referendum that is sending shivers through the EU establishment, a vote that has exposed bitter rifts in attitudes towards Brussels – and Moscow. It is the country’s first referendum since 2005, when voters rejected the EU constitution. This time, unlike their British counterparts, the Dutch will not be voting on whether to leave or remain in the EU, but on the more obscure issue of an association agreement with Ukraine that aims to deepen trade and cooperation.
The treaty has already been signed by 27 other EU member states, approved by the Dutch government and has partly entered into force.
But the Dutch government was forced to call a non-binding referendum on the agreement after a coalition of Eurosceptic groups gathered 420,000 signatures, enough to trigger a popular vote. The petition was organised by GeenStijl, a satirical website best known for its irreverent takes on Islam and immigration, working with two Eurosceptic thinktanks.