In Brief

Netherlands rejects EU-Ukraine partnership

Dutch referendum seen as a wider test of anti-European sentiment in run-up to UK vote in June

Voters in the Netherlands have rejected in a referendum an EU partnership deal with Ukraine.

At 32.2 per cent, the turnout was low but above the 30 per cent threshold for the vote to be valid. Just 38.1 per cent of voters were in favour of a deal with Ukraine, while 61.1 per cent rejected it.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his government may have to reconsider the deal, which has been ratified by all the other 27 member states of the European Union.

Although the non-binding vote is technically a referendum on removing trade barriers with Ukraine, it is being seen as a wider test of anti-EU sentiment.

Even the referendum's Eurosceptic organisers admitted it was not essentially about Ukraine but instead was a "handy hook to push a broader anti-EU agenda and 'give citizens more say in Brussels'", says The Guardian.

Despite the low turnout, the outcome could have big repercussions for Europe and the UK.

Whatever voters' motivations, a clear vote against the treaty in the run-up to Britain's EU referendum in June is likely to "escalate into a domestic or even a Europe-wide political crisis", says Reuters.

The EU's decision to push on with the Ukraine treaty regardless of the vote, which has angered some of those opposed to what they see as the arrogance of the Brussels bureaucratic machine, could be "damaging for the EU project by highlighting internal problems ahead of the British vote", says Newsweek.

"If politicians ignore the Dutch 'No' then it will be an even stronger signal than what the British have already received that there is no way to correct the European political class and that they should vote to leave," said No campaigner Thierry Baudet, one of the architects of the Dutch referendum.

Speaking in Amsterdam ahead of the vote, Ukip leader Nigel Farage said that a vote against the treaty would "embolden" those campaigning in the UK to leave the EU and "send a big message to the British electorate that we are not alone in thinking something has fundamentally gone wrong in the direction of the European Union".

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said his country will nevertheless "continue" its movement "towards the EU".

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