Dutch AEGEE Members Encourage to Vote in the Referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

Maarten de Groot, member of AEGEE-Amsterdam is the Manager of “Think before you Vink”, a campaign on behalf of AEGEE in the run-up to the referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which will be held on April 6th. We asked him for more info about this campaign and the activities concerning this topic.


Vink1During the Network Meeting (NWM) in Delft, in November 2015, Loes Rutten (AEGEE-Utrecht and Network Commissioner) started the discussion on the referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association within AEGEE. During a couple of Skype meetings with active AEGEEans interested in the topic, a basic outline of an AEGEE campaign was established. Members decided to launch an open call for campaign team members, because they needed more human resources to make their ideas come true. After a successful recruitment period, they managed to form a campaign team consisting of fifteen AEGEEans from six Dutch locals. In order to organise their work efficiently, they distinguished between a Core Team and three sub-teams (Content Team, PR Team, Video Team).

The following AEGEEans are members of the campaign team: Femke Lokhorst and Steven Hagen from AEGEE-Delft; Willem Laurentzen and Matthijs Dirks from AEGEE-Nijmegen; Rick Kloosterman from AEGEE-Groningen; Sien Rongen and Jeroen van Rijn from AEGEE-Utrecht; Isabel Louhenapessy from AEGEE-Leiden; Gijs van Amerongen, Leonie Francien Sellies, Herman Hilverda, Tessel Peereboom, Maxime Nelissen, Margreet Clemens, and Maarten De Groot from AEGEE-Amsterdam.

Vink3Since July 2015, a new Dutch law has come into force, which allows citizens to call for an advisory referendum on many of the bills that pass Parliament, as long as they collect the right amount of signatures (i.e. 10.000 in the first and 300.000 in the second round). The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was the first bill to pass the Parliament after this law had come into force, and a number of organisations working under the name of GeenPeil have taken this as a first opportunity to launch a citizens’ initiative. The basic reason behind their initiative is that citizens must have a more direct say in the political decision-making processes, and European ones in particular. They managed to collect 428.000 signatures, which is more than enough to call for a referendum.

The Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine would tighten the cooperation between the EU and Ukraine considerably. Most of the 323 pages of juridical text concern trade and economic cooperation, but others relate to the fight against corruption, strengthening the rule of law, human rights, and easing visa regulations.

Vink2Vink’ means ‘to tick a box’ in Dutch, which is what you do when you go to vote, so the campaign name basically states ‘think before you vote’. This is also what the team essentially wants to convey and facilitate with their campaign. They want to inform young Dutch people about the Association Agreement and the referendum in general, to involve them actively in balanced discussions on the topic, and to encourage them to cast a well-considered, well informed vote.

“We notice that many people in the Netherlands do not really know what to do with this referendum. The topic is a complex one, and not everyone is convinced that it is well-suited for a referendum. With our campaign we hope to stimulate Dutch youth not to take for granted their democratic right to vote, and to use it responsibly. That is to say, whether young Dutch people decide to vote or not, and if so to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is up to them, but we want them to take this decision only after careful deliberation” says Maarten.

The team started the campaign during the EPM Fair in Leiden, on February 27th. Subsequently, it held a lecture in Delft on March 4th, with Vasyl Myroshnychenko and Laura Starink, on the wider context of the Association Agreement. It was a successful event, in a room packed with 60 participants.

The biggest event took place on April 3rd, in Amsterdam: the Big Referendum Afternoon. There was an academic introduction of the topic of EU-referendums, followed by debates between six Presidents of Dutch youth political organisations, and a debate between a member of the Dutch national parliament for GroenLinks, the Dutch Left-wing Green Party and a member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Socialist Party. After this three-hour program, there was be the opportunity to talk to Ukrainians during a “living library” event combined with social drinks.

More information about the program of the AEGEE campaign can be found on their website or Facebook-page, mostly in Dutch.

Written by Matteo Lai, AEGEE-Cagliari.