Netherlands expected to hold referendum on EU-Ukraine treaty

The Netherlands is expected to hold a referendum on the European Union's association agreement with Ukraine after an initiative launched by a popular blog secured nearly half a million supporters, significantly more than what was required under a new referendum law, according to preliminary numbers.

Website GeenStijl said it had received 451,659 digital signatures by Sunday night's deadline. The number excludes tens of thousands of signatures which have been sent in by mail. All signatures will still have to be verified by the country's Electoral Council, which will announce the final results on October 14.

The referendum will address the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement that was signed last year and which establishes a political and economic association between the EU and Ukraine, which is in the midst of an armed conflict. The treaty will enter into force once all 28 EU member states, plus Ukraine, have ratified it.

The organizers of the initiative, which is called GeenPeil, have expressed concern over the European Union's expansion without direct approval from the union's citizens. "[The initiative is] not to block an association agreement with Ukraine ... but to send a signal. GeenPeil wants to constructively encourage the dozed off debate about democracy and to improve the debate so that better informed citizens will be better heard," the organizers said in a video earlier this month.

The video added: "We want the politicians in The Hague to start doing what they were appointed to do: to represent the people, and not to push even more EU down the throats of citizens through an unelected European Commission in Brussels.".

GeenPeil was made possible after the Dutch government approved a law that enables citizens to force an advisory referendum if such an initiative gathers at least 300,000 signatures within 6 weeks. It would be the country's first referendum since 2005, when Dutch voters rejected a proposed European Constitution, and only the second referendum since the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established in 1815.

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