THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch prime minister said Monday he still is searching for a legally binding compromise that would allow him to sign off on a free trade pact between the European Union and Ukraine by addressing concerns that led to voters in the Netherlands rejecting the deal in a referendum.
The Netherlands is the only country in the 28-nation EU that has not approved the association agreement, which needs unanimous agreement from all member states. If the Dutch government ultimately rejects the pact, it would deal another blow to European unity in the aftermath of Britain's vote to leave the bloc.
The hunt for a solution, underway since the April 6 referendum, is a delicate political balancing act for Prime Minister Mark Rutte ahead of the parliamentary elections in March in which he is seeking a third term. Although the referendum was only advisory, it would be politically damaging for Rutte to reject the outcome without persuading voters he is dealing with the factors that spurred the "No" vote.
Rutte wrote to lawmakers that his desire to sign the deal is based "in the national interest," adding that European unity "is the best answer to Russian foreign policy that leads to the destabilization of Europe's borders."
Rutte said he wants to negotiate a revised text that makes clear that the association agreement is not a stepping stone toward full EU membership for Ukraine. Other amendments he plans to propose would state the deal does not imply any collective security guarantees or obligations for military support and that it will not give Ukrainians the right to work in the EU.
In his letter, Rutte said that he would keep negotiating with his European colleagues leading up to the next EU summit on Dec. 15-16 and believes he can win backing for the changes he is proposing.
If he does, Rutte wrote, his government will introduce legislation approving the agreement. That legislation must still pass both houses of Dutch parliament.
Jan Roos, one of the driving forces behind the referendum, tweeted: "Rutte totally untrustworthy."