Promoting Ukrainian Interests in the EU: What did we Learn from the Dutch Referendum on 6 April 2016?


On the 14 of April 2016, within the frameworks of the 9th Kyiv Security Forum, the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels held a discussion: “Promoting Ukrainian Interests in the EU: What did we Learn from the Dutch Referendum on 6 April 2016?” The event brought together Ukrainian officials, analysts, representatives of media and donor organisations to discuss the lessons learnt from the referendum in the Netherlands and how this experience could help Ukraine promote its interests in future.

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Natalia Popovych, a co-founder of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, praised an excellent coordination and collaboration of all Ukrainian groups which performed information support activities around the Dutch referendum. This positive experience could also be applied in other countries, where there are threats to Ukraine’s interests similar to those in the Netherlands. However, according to Mrs Popovych, Ukraine failed to hold a wide emotional campaign in the Netherlands due to the lack of resources: “Our PR campaign was pretty good there, but we did not have sufficient access to the Dutch television to appeal to the emotions of Dutch citizens and win their hearts”.

Vasyl Miroshnychenko, a co-founder of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, was not surprised by the outcome of the Dutch vote, as opinion polls results before the referendum were negative for Ukraine. “The only surprising thing was the gap. The correlation of 45 to 55 would mean victory, but in the end the gap was much larger,” said Mr. Miroshnychenko. “Panama papers scandal just before the vote virtually killed all our efforts – it was a stab in the heart,” he said.

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Alyona Getmanchuk, Director of the Institute of World Policy mentioned the opinion polls that her research centre conducted in six EU countries, one of which was the Netherlands, last year. The study showed that the Dutch knew very little about Ukraine and were most skeptical about Ukraine’s EU membership prospects. Therefore, the work before the referendum in the Netherlands required greater efforts from the Ukrainians. Also, she noted the negative experience with Dutch analytical centers, as they were not cooperative and did not help hold the campaign in support of Ukraine, she said.

“The Dutch referendum results are a reputational loss for Ukraine, but the vote won’t affect either the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, or visa-free travel,” said Dmytro Kuleba, Ambassador-at-Large at Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry.

“There is a long and systematic work ahead of us, a significant part of which should be awareness raising,” said Taras Kachka, Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation.

The discussion aimed at working out an algorithm of how to react to the challenges of this nature in the future. “In this respect, the Dutch vote is a case study for Ukraine. We have to learn from the mistakes we made during the Dutch campaign, to better promote Ukrainian interests in the EU”, said Olena Prystayko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Think Tank Liaison Office in Brussels, when moderating the discussion.