'A return to the Cold War is not to be expected' Azeri.Today from the Netherlands
Azeri.Today interviews Tony van der Togt, Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute.
- The upper chamber of the Dutch parliament re-approved the association of Ukraine with the EU. Last year, at a referendum, the majority of the country's citizens opposed Ukraine's association with the EU. What happened this year, why did the mood in Holland change?
- Yesterday the Dutch Senate approved with almost two-thirds majority ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The Second Chamber/Lower House had already voted in favour a few months ago.
In doing so, the Dutch parliament accepted the legally binding statement, which Prime-minister Rutte negotiated in December last year in the European Council and which explains in explicit terms what the Agreement is (not) about.
This statement adresses the most important concerns of those citizens who voted in a (non-binding) referendum last year against the Agreement:
- the Agreement does not imply future EU membership for Ukraine;
- it will not cost more Dutch tax payers' money;
- it will not imply military obligations which could bring us in direct conflict with Russia;
- it will not imply free flow of Ukrainian labour.
In the referendum last year only 32 % of the electorate turned out to vote. More than 60% of those voted against. So, it was not a majority of Dutch citizens voting against the Agreement. Futhermore, the NO-vote turned out to be more an anti-EU vote and was less inspired by concerns about Ukraine. Even a number of those politicians who initiated the referendum stated that they were not interested in Ukraine at all. They just wanted to make a strong statement against Brussels.
Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the referendum ultimately failed.
Ratification by the Dutch parliament delivers two important political messages:
- that the EU stands united in its support for Ukraine;
- that Russia has not been able to divide the EU on this issue.
- How do you assess the level of confrontation between the EU / NATO and Russia? Will this lead to a return of the Cold War?
- Relations between the EU and Russia will not improve fundamentally, as long as the Minsk agreements are not fully implemented. Any new initiatives could be expected only after the German elections. Both elections in France and in Germany are probably not going to sway the EU to take a more accommodating position towards Russia. So, the new normal will continue to be a mix of engagement and confrontation.
Relations between NATO and Russia will continue to suffer from the lack of clarity about the US position. Even after the recent NATO Summit, it is still unclear how US policies towards Russia and Europe will develop.
A return to the Cold War is not to be expected. In a way the Cold War period was more stabile, as rules were clear and communication was sufficient to prevent any major crisis from getting out of hand. This is the real danger in the present situation: we could sleepwalk into a conflict nobody really wants.
- How do you see the future of the EU after Brexit?
- Brexit and the present situation in Washington force the EU to actively develop its own policies, as Bundeskanzler Merkel stated after the recent NATO and G-7 meetings.
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