AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A landmark cooperation agreement between the European Union and Ukraine will be delayed and might even be voided as the Netherlands puts off approving the treaty.
The Dutch parliament will not approve the treaty until after the Netherlands holds national elections on March 15 at the earliest, ANP Nieuws reported on Monday.
The ANP cited a parliamentary spokeswoman who said the treaty would not be debated before next week. That means parliament cannot vote on the treaty before going into recess Feb. 24.
The treaty would be legally void if the Dutch failed to endorse it, although the other 27 EU members who have approved it might attempt to negotiate a compromise or another way to work around the Dutch failure to ratify it.
That has already happened once. The agreement, which establishes closer trade and political between Ukraine and the EU, has already been approved by European governments and is partly in effect.
But its status was dragged into question last April, when Dutch voters rejected it in a referendum, overriding Mark Rutte’s centrist government.
Rutte then went back to other European countries to re-negotiate an annex to the treaty that would pacify Dutch “no” voters. The annex specifies that the treaty gives no guarantee Ukraine will be able to join the EU, no guarantee of military assistance and no rights for Ukranians to work in the EU.
Despite the painful renegotiation process, which annoyed other EU governments and embarrassed Rutte, it has never been clear whether his government would be able to approve the amended document. Rutte’s coalition lacks a majority in the Senate, and defections put its one-vote majority in parliament in doubt for the Ukraine treaty.
Parliamentary approval now hangs on the outcome of the election. Rutte’s coalition is expected to lose up to half its seats and the eurosceptic party of Geert Wilders is expected to gains seats.
Any government led by Wilders’ Party for Freedom would be likely to scupper the treaty permanently, though a coalition that excludes his party should be able to see it through both houses of parliament.
Reporting by Toby Sterling, editing by Larry King