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EU Integration

Ukraine referendum in the Netherlands: unique in the EU

09 Mar 2016 - 12:58
Source: © Flickr - William Murphy

Nowhere else EU-citizens can choose whether they are for or against an Association Agreement with Ukraine.

On 6 April, Dutch citizens may choose whether they are for or against an Association Agreement with Ukraine. Nowhere else in the EU are citizens offered this possibility. Below, an overview is provided, based on research by Wytze van der Woude.

Binding or non-binding
The referendum in the Netherlands is non-binding and is therefore called ‘advisory’. In other countries referenda may be binding, but only if a pre-determined voter turnout threshold is met. In the Netherlands, many politicians make it known whether and when they will accept the outcome.

Advisory or consultative
The referendum in the Netherlands is an advisory one, which means that voters advise the government. The government does not ask for advice itself; that would involve a consultative referendum. The referendum on the European Constitution in 2005 was also consultative. According to referenda expert Wytze van der Woude, an advisory referendum in the EU like the one in the Netherlands has, to date, never been held in the EU.

Mandatory or non-mandatory
The referendum in the Netherlands has been made possible by law and is non-mandatory, unlike in, for instance, Ireland, where an amendment to the Constitution requires a referendum. In Denmark, a referendum will be mandatory if a decision has been adopted with too narrow a majority.

Corrective or non-corrective
The referendum in the Netherlands may be called ‘corrective’ if the government acts on its outcome. A corrective referendum concerns decisions and laws that have already gone through the entire legislative process. A non-corrective referendum can be held while the decision-making procedure is still ongoing.

Referenda on accession to the EU
The European Union has 28 Member States, 16 of which held a referendum about their respective accession to the EU. The Norwegian people voted against accession in 1972 (52%) and in 1994 (53%). In France, a referendum was held in 1972 about the enlargement of the EC, the precursor to the EU; 67% voted in favour.

Referenda on other EU issues
Practically all current EU Member States have experience with referenda on the EU or EC. Only Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany and Portugal have never organised one. Portugal did announce a referendum on the European Constitution, but decided against it after the Dutch and French had already rejected it.