Dutch PM urges opposition to support EU-Ukraine treaty

After voters rejected the referendum on amending the EU and Ukraine agreement in April 2016, Netherland's Prime minister Mark Rutte now warns that his government might have to propose a law withdrawing support from the pact (AFP Photo/Thierry Charlier)

The Hague (AFP) - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Friday appealed to opposition parties to help find a compromise over amending a EU-Ukraine treaty, rejected by voters in April, or risk seeing the key cooperation pact fail.

If no solution is found, Rutte warned his government would have no choice but to propose a law perhaps as soon as Monday withdrawing the country's support for the accord between Kiev and the European Union.

"In the interests of our country, I call on all of those who feel responsible to find a solution," Rutte told journalists at his weekly press conference.

The Netherlands is the only member of the 28-strong bloc yet to ratify the accord, which aims to nudge Ukraine closer to Europe and away from the orbit of former Soviet master Russia.

Rejecting the agreement "will lead to greater instability and a suggestion of a divided Europe," Rutte said, highlighting the need for a united front on issues such as the war in Syria.

He has been walking a political tightrope since the April 6 referendum -- organised by eurosceptic groups -- in which 60 percent of voters rejected the accord, despite a very low voter turnout.

But he is in a Catch-22 situation having failed to convince opposition parties to back his proposals to amend the accord by adding a military "opt-out" clause and guarantees of no EU membership for Ukraine.

- 'Bigger than the Netherlands' -

The opposition wants him to negotiate with Brussels first and bring back an amended treaty for debate.

But Rutte said Brussels first wants assurances the accord will be passed by the Dutch parliament before asking other member states to accept any proposed changes.

His coalition government needs 38 votes in the 76-seat upper house of parliament for the accord to be ratified, but he only has 21 votes so far.

"Time is running out and I am not optimistic," said Rutte, who has been given until Tuesday by the lower house to come up with a solution.

But he warned "this issue is bigger than the Netherlands, much bigger. We are also part of a broader community and have to show a united front in the fight for stability on our borders and aggression in the world."

The European Union is battling deep divisions over various crises, including an unprecedented wave of refugees, financial woes in some member states and criticism over trade accords with Canada and the United States.