Dutch voters are going to the polls on Wednesday — but the topic is Ukraine, not their own country. When Ukrainians rose up against their government in February 2014, the trigger for their anger was then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an agreement fostering closer links between his country and the 28-nation European Union. After Yanukovych was toppled, his replacement, Petro Poroshenko, signed the Association Agreement with the EU, a broad free trade deal that — supporters say — also seeks to tackle corruption and improve human rights in the troubled former Soviet republic.
Now, long-simmering anti-EU sentiment in the Netherlands threatens the deal, much of which is already in force. In a non-binding “advisory referendum” on Wednesday, the Dutch can vote for or against Dutch ratification of the deal with Ukraine.
While the Ukraine agreement is nominally the target, the referendum is seen by many as an opportunity to protest the EU’s expansion and what they consider its undemocratic decision-making processes.
“We, of course, couldn’t care less about Ukraine,” history professor Arjan van Dixhoorn, one of the leaders of the euro-skeptical Citizens’ Committee EU that pushed for the referendum, told the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.