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Sunday, 10 January 2016

“No, Jean Claude Juncker, a Dutch vote against the EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement will not lead to a continental crisis in Europe. The current, utterly lack-luster guidance of the European Union might, however!”

In other to discourage The Netherlands from administering a negative vote in its dreaded “anti-Ukraine” referendum, the President of the European Commission Jean  Claude Junckers turns to good, old fearmongering. By warning that a Dutch ‘No’ against the Ukraine-EU  Association Agreement might lead to a continental crisis , Juncker hopes to turn the tides in favour of the Yes-voters .

I totally disagree with Juncker’s fearmongering, and think instead that the lackluster European Commission and Council and the total lack of fundamental unity and fresh, new ideas within the EU are much more dangerous for the future of the EU than this Ukraine-EU Association Agreement being abolished eventually.

“The European Union is perhaps the best crafted product ever...
With currently the poorest marketing department in history to advertize it”
Ernst Labruyère  – 9 January 2016

These are populist times, there is no denying it. Every proposal that is made and every decision that is taken by the ‘powers that be’, is regarded with the utmost distrust by large parts of the population and by radical politicians who gain influence from the current pandemonium in the political arena’s of Europe.

The European Union and its predecessors, bedrock of Western European stability for so many years since the 2nd World War, are currently like the ugly duckling in a beauty contest: everybody is aware that it could become a swan one day, but for now we look rather at its ugly appearance and its obvious flaws.

And these flaws are not very hard to find, unfortunately. In spite of the fact that its total leadership has been renewed less than one-and-a-half years ago, the EU operates seemingly more lackluster than ever. The ‘new’ leaders Jean Claude Juncker – as ‘Chief Commissioner’ – and Donald Tusk – as President of the European Council – fail blatantly in their battle against the lack of new, fresh ideas and totally absent pizzazz in the EU. And now the EU almost falls apart under internal conflicts and quarrels based on self-interest of the different member states.

As a provisional low we might look at the current Chairmanship of the European Union, filled in by The Netherlands. The Dutch PM Mark Rutte gets a leading role in trying to guide the EU through arguably the toughest time of its sheer existence.

In spite of the undeniable qualities of Rutte as ‘shopkeeper’ and ‘manager’ of the EU, he even boasts about having no grand vision and no important ideas about what the EU should become in the coming years and decades. While PM Rutte thinks that having such a grand vision is only detracting from the tasks that lie ahead, the Union as a whole almost falls apart, because of the fact that citizens in every country think they are better off without the interventions, vast tax-expenditure and meddlesomeness of the EU.

In 50 years, the EU has turned from a ‘bond of archenemies-turning-into-close-collaborators’ into ‘a bureaucratic, self-reinforcing monster and prestigious-job-machine for overdue politicians’, seemingly without a clear ‘raison d’etre’. And still PM Mark Rutte thinks that it is dangerous to have a ‘grand vision’ and a dot on the horizon to travel to in the near future.

And now there is the Association Agreement of the EU with the Ukraine, that should take away trade barriers and other bureaucratic thresholds in the trade between the EU and Ukraine, thus enabling easier traffic of people, goods and services, as well as creating a bigger cooperation and understanding between all the countries involved. Although it is widely denied that this is the first step towards a full membership of the EU for Ukraine, there is little doubt that the Ukraine does see this Association Agreement as such anyway.

This association agreement was at least one step too far, according to the right-wing multimedia and lobby platform GeenStijl (i.e. litterally ‘no style’, but also ‘not fair’ in daily speech), that likes to throw a large stone in the pond and does not scare away from a mild dosis of populism and guerilla journalism, against whoever p*sses them off at a certain time.

Associate journalists of GeenStijl started a national lobby for a Dutch referendum under the moniker ‘GeenPeil’ (i.e. ‘no gauge’),  in order to mobilize a firm ‘No’ against this association agreement, instead of the hammer-beam-ish ‘Yes’ that would otherwise have been administered by the Dutch government.

GeenStijl/GeenPeil managed to collect 427,000+ autographs (as of January, 2016): more than sufficient to force the Dutch government to indeed organize this referendum.  

Probably the first autographs came from jokers and troublemakers, who saw this as a golden opportunity to pull a trick on the Dutch government and annoy the people in charge. Little later many other people voted also in favour of this referendum: worried citizens, who were opposed to this particular agreement from the beginning, and other Dutch people who see the EU itself as a threat for the stability and democracy in The Netherlands,

And now the referendum is a fact of life of which the final outcome cannot be ignored lightheartedly by the Dutch government, without them making a total fool of themselves.

When a clear ‘No’ would be the outcome of the referendum, the Dutch government has to choose between either alienating the Dutch population (i.e. by signing the association agreement with Ukraine anyway) or the leaders of the European Union (i.e. by NOT signing the agreement).

Unless the ‘Yes’-camp would have a landslide victory after all, this referendum is in fact a lose-lose situation for the Dutch government. The odds for such a landslide ‘yes’ victory are minute, in my humble opinion, when we look at the current stance against the EU in The Netherlands.

To be frank: even I consider this referendum to be a quite difficult decision. While the association agreement could be an enrichment for both the Ukraine and the European Union and open the way for closer cooperation and better mutual understanding, it would put further pressure on the relation between Russia and the EU.

And whether we like it or not and irrespective about how we think about Vladimir Vladimirovich” Putin, Russia is definitely a force to be reckoned with and one that we need to reach a situation of stability in Europe. And in his slightly paranoid eyes, a membership of the EU and a membership of the NATO are two birds of the same feather.

My second scruple is about the Ukraine itself. While most European think that our ‘friends’ live in the western part of the Ukraine and our ‘enemies’ in the eastern part of the country (i.e. the Russia-oriented rebel groups), the situation is slightly less black and white. Within the current Ukrainian political system a number of extreme right parties, like Right Sector and Svoboda, have considerable influence in various important layers of society. These are parties with dangerous and reactionary ideas that must never be incorporated in the European Union.

On top of that, there is the ubiquitous and profound corruption in the country. With the association agreement, the European Union could not only become an involuntary accessory to this corruption, but it could also mean that millions and millions of European tax money are squandered in the form of structure funds, landing in the pockets of the wrong people.

On the other hand, the EU has brought more and broader positive change within Europe, than any other special interest group could have brought. With the combination of financial/economic carrot and stick and with its nearly incorruptable charisma, the EU is a beacon of light in a world of darkness: numerous European citizens have now a better life than they ever dreamt of having in the past.

Being part of the European Union is something that would be in the best interest of the Ukraine and even of Russia itself [before you start a rant against me: I consider this to be impossible myself, without an enormous change in leadership reaching from top to bottom in Russia – EL].

Anyways, President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker is extremely concerned about the GeenPeil referendum and today he responded in a way that many leading politicans do: fearmongering.

The following article was printed in the NRC Next:

A Dutch ‘No’ during the Ukraine referendum on April 6 ‘could open the floodgates for a large continental crisis’. This was stated by Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission in an interview with Dutch newspaper NRC.

Juncker: “Russia would pluck the sweet fruit of an easy victory”, when the Dutch voter abolishes the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU. 

According to Juncker it would also be easy bait for populists, who want to blow up the EU. “So let’s not change the referendum into a referendum about Europe” says Juncker. “I truly hope that the Dutch will not abolish the agreement for reasons that don’t have anything to do with the agreement itself”.  

Some parts of the agreement, regarding trade, came already into effect on January 1st, 2016, albeit on a preliminary basis. However, as there is no time limit for this preliminary phase, reversing these parts can take place by unanimity alone.

To that respect, the influence of a Dutch ‘No’ is probably very limited, as the Dutch government does not have to take over the outcome of the referendum. When more than 30% of the voters show up, the government must only reconsider the treaty.

Nevertheless, the Dutch voter ‘must understand that this question superseeds the Dutch interest’, according to Juncker. He calls the Dutch voter "to act like a European strategist", on April 6.  

Juncker might have a point with his request to not treat the referendum on the agreement as a referendum upon Europe. Too many of the statements coming from GeenPeil seem indeed to point in that direction:

When you look at the development of the Greek crisis, the inconsiderate Dutch money transfers to Europe of billions of Euros in after-taxes and the unrestrained hunger for expansion of the EU, than the question rises: how much influence has the voter left upon the democracy? How far may politicians go in stretching their mandates to do things at will?!

This snippet alone shows a combination of classic fearmongering and spreading doubt about the honourable intentions of the EU leaders.

On the other hand: Juncker’s threat that this referendum may lead to a continental crisis within the EU is also widely exaggerated and – consequently  classic fear mongering. Even the concept that Putin will be smiling by the prospect of having an easy victory, seems a little bit over the top, for the simple fact that Putin could not care less probably.

In my opinion ‘the only thing that the European Union has to fear, is the European Union itself’. At this moment, the current European Union and its current leaders are their own worst enemies.

So many Dutch and European citizens are completely fed up with the lackluster, totally uninspired and utterly bureaucratic modus operandi of the EU itself. There is no basic unity between the member states of the EU, there are no fresh ideas, no dots at the horizon and no feeling that things will be better soon, when we look at our European leaders. 

Nowadays Europe seems to consist of managers and does not have genuine leaders. From the best thing that could have happened to Europe [my own opinion – EL] after the 2nd World War, the Union has degenerated to a bureaucratic extravaganza for job hunters, third grade career politicians and mindless apparatchiks.

The best crafted product ever is currently advertized by the poorest marketing department of all times; irrespective of those marketeers being national or pan-European politicians.

European people want to have answers to their questions and people, with their own hopes and fears, want to have a safe beacon to rely on. European citizens also want to be inspired by truly great politicians, in my humble opinion, where we seemed to have so many of in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Not that these politicians were flawless, uncorruptable and/or always right: far from that. Some of them have even made grave mistakes and left their country in a worse shape than when they arrived.

Yet, when I think about Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, Valerie Giscard-d’Estaing, François Mitterand, Giulio Andreotti and for The Netherlands Wim Kok, Ruud Lubbers and Joop den Uyl, it seems that these guys and lady were all about inspiration and about having a story to tell to the people. 

It seems that Europe and the EU nations could use a few of such politicians very badly. 

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