4 reasons to vote yes in the Ukraine referendum

Tomorrow the Netherlands goes to the polls for a referendum on the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement. For international readers, here’s more information on what this referendum is, and who’s called for it. For Dutch readers, who know all that already, I just want to get straight into it, as tempting as it is to write pages on why this sort of referendum is neither effective nor democratic. Here are 4 reasons to vote Yes tomorrow.

Onderaan staat een samenvatting van de belangrijkste punten in het Nederlands!

euromaidan_011. The Association Agreement does not lead to EU membership

It’s very easy to point to the deal and say that Ukraine is on its way to EU membership, but this is simply not true. Page 5 of the agreement states “This Agreement will not prejudice and leaves open future developments in EU-Ukraine relations”.  Actual EU membership for Ukraine is a very long way into the future. It’s true that this agreement is designed to bring Ukraine closer to an EU level of regulation and governance, but this is going to take a very long time. Even if Ukraine does reach this level in the future, legitimate questions will be raised about whether they would be a good candidate for membership, and I expect many European governments would oppose it. But that is a question for decades from now. This agreement doesn’t even let Ukrainians work in the EU without a visa – merely works towards the same visa-free 90 day travel that plenty of other countries have (Article 19). The point of this agreement is to enhance political and economic cooperation – nothing more.

2. Ukraine is extremely corrupt – and this agreement will help change that

Opponents of the agreement continuously talk about how corrupt Ukraine is, which is entirely true. It is endemically corrupt at all levels,  as I know from plenty of personal experiences during my family’s time in Donetsk. But this is exactly what the agreement is trying to help Ukraine with, by assisting with implementing stricter regulation and anti-corruption measures. The opponents’ argument is essentially “You’re corrupt, so stay over there and be corrupt by yourself”. The Partij voor de Dieren has a similar argument, campaigning against on the basis of Ukraine’s lax rules on animal welfare and child labour – but this is exactly what Article 64 and 291 of the agreement set out to do, to raise the standard of regulation to the EU level. If corruption and child labour are bad things, surely it’s a good thing to help one of the EU’s neighbours overcome it?

3. A no-vote is a big win for Russia

This agreement is what started the Ukrainian Revolution in the first place. When President Yanukovich decided at the last minute to sign a deal with Russia instead, frustration at the corrupt system and the country’s direction away from Europe boiled over. The opponents of the deal seem to agree with Vladimir Putin that this revolution was a mistake, and that Ukraine’s place is under Russia’s thumb. This position throws all our ideas about state sovereignty and democracy straight out the window, choosing instead to push Ukraine away. Russia will not bring Ukraine progress, it will not bring them freedom from corruption and it will not bring them prosperity. All they have to offer in terms of a vision for a better future is authoritarian rule. Say what you will about the EU, but it’s undeniably a tremendous force for human rights and individual freedoms in Europe.

However, it’s also untrue that this agreement will lead to war or further conflict with Russia. It’s been an assumption ever since the revolution that the agreement would go ahead, and it’s unlikely that the actual implementation would lead to a escalation. With the conflict in the East frozen, and Russia’s economy under pressure, now is not the time to give up and hand a victory to the Kremlin.

4. This referendum isn’t even about Ukraine

This is one thing the proponents of the referendum have made very clear. These consultative referendums are not allowed to cover EU membership, so a coalition of Eurosceptics, and other leftists and rightist opponents of the EU were simply waiting for a new law that would provide a convenient way for people to express their dissatisfaction with an “undemocratic EU”. They hope that this in turn will lead to a Dutch exit from the EU.

However, while the referendum might be aimed at The Hague and Brussels, the effects would hit Ukraine the most. If you think the EU is anti-democratic, then there are other ways to communicate this. You could also simply vote for the Euro-sceptic PVV or SP. But a no-vote tomorrow is expressing anger at Brussels by punishing Ukraine.

There’s a whole lot more that I could write on this subject, especially on the extremely unpleasant and dubious nature of one of the biggest proponents of the referendum, Geen Stijl. But as someone who wants a better future for Ukraine, this is a good point to end on – when you vote tomorrow, please think of the people who could be affected by your vote. A yes vote is a powerful moral statement, a decision to support a country torn apart by war and corruption, and to help them continue to make progress on their reforms. A no vote, for whatever reason, is a huge blow to the efforts of ordinary Ukrainians to change their future for the better.

For more information on Ukraine and its struggle over the last two years, have a look through these articles

Helaas heb ik geen tijd gehad om een Nederlandse versie te schrijven, maar dit zijn in ieder geval de belangrijkste punten!

  • Dit verdrag leidt niet tot de toetreding van Oekraïne tot de EU, en er staat expliciet in het verdrag dat dat een vraag apart is. Dat zou ook een veel meer omstreden vraag zijn, die pas ver in de toekomst van toepassing zou zijn. Verder zou elke EU staat goedkeuring moeten geven, wat waarschijnlijk tot nog een referendum zou leiden.
  • Oekraïne is inderdaad heel corrupt, maar daarom is dit verdrag zo nodig, het gaat ook over strengere regulatie en regels om corruptie te bestrijden. Het argument van de tegenstanders is hier “Ze zijn corrupt, maar laat ze lekker corrupt blijven” – wat ik niet echt een logisch standpunt vind ten opzichte van een buurland met wie de EU sowieso moet handelen.
  • Een nee-stem is een grote overwinning voor Poetin in zijn campagne om Oekraïne zwak en afhankelijk te houden, aangezien de afwijzing van het verdrag door de huidige president de aanleiding was voor de revolutie in 2014. Hij zal Oekraine ook niks anders brengen dan meer corruptie en minder vrijheid. Maar, het verdrag zal ook hoogstwaarschijnlijk niet leiden tot een groter conflict tussen de EU en Rusland, aangezien er al 2 jaar ervan uit wordt gegaan dat het verdrag doorgaat. Met een economisch crisis gaande in Rusland, is dit niet het moment om Poetin een overwinning te geven.
  • Dit referendum gaat helemaal niet echt over Oekraïne, en daar zijn de voorstanders van het referendum ook heel eerlijk over. Zij willen vooral hun ontevredenheid met de EU laten zien, en het verdrag is maar een handig excuus hiervoor. Helaas zullen de consequenties voor Oekraïne wel echt zijn; een negatief resultaat zou een grote tegenslag zijn voor de Oekraïners die hervormingen willen. Een positief resultaat integendeel is een duidelijk boodschap aan Oekraïne en Rusland dat de EU zich sterk maakt voor landen die voor een betere toekomst vechten.
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