BRUSSELS – European Union leaders reached a compromise with the Netherlands Thursday that should allow the bloc to enact an agreement on closer ties with Ukraine, regarded as a landmark deal to counter Russian influence.
Dutch Prime Minister Rutte said Thursday he now has the necessary guarantees to push the deal through the Dutch Parliament as of Friday and to remove the objections that led to a referendum defeat of the EU-Ukraine agreement in the spring. The Netherlands was the lone holdout in the 28-nation bloc in ratifying the agreement, which needs unanimity.
“I am going to fight to get a majority” in Parliament, Rutte said. “We will have to see. It won’t be easy. We’ll have to work hard for it.”
The deal, if approved, would allow the EU to show a united front in the face of an increasingly hostile Russia and to boost trade and cooperation with an eastern European nation finding it hard to keep out of Moscow’s sphere of influence.
“The EU can now keep a united front against the destabilizing policies of Russia,” Rutte said, arguing that not getting EU backing would have been a perfect Christmas present for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The EU-Ukraine association agreement looked like a done deal until the Dutch government was forced into a referendum on it early this year. The rejection left the EU in a bind since the agreement needs unanimous approval from member countries.
Among the additions Rutte obtained were assurances that the Ukraine agreement is not a stepping stone to EU membership and cannot be used as one in the future. The deal also does not provide a collective security guarantee or extra money for Ukraine and requires Kiev to do more to counter corruption.
Rutte said getting the deal was essential for national and geopolitical reasons, pointing time and again to Russian involvement in the Ukraine crisis and its annexation of Crimea.