Unless you’ve been living in a cave there’s no way you could have missed it: on Wednesday we will go to the ballot box to vote on the association treaty between Ukraine and the European Union. The treaty pertains to a number of matters including trade, domestic reforms, and security and stability the Eastern European country.

Many issues – including siding with or against Putin, the supposed dissension among Ukrainians themselves, and what is perceived as lack a lack of democracy in the European Union – have all been alluded to, but many no longer see the forest for the trees. EM asked four Rotterdam-based student politicians for their voting recommendations.

FOR – ‘For a more stable Ukraine’

Marco voormolen d66
Marco Voormolen

Marco Voormolen (26), Bachelor’s student History and Law, political consultant for D66 Rotterdam

“I’m in favour of this association agreement because of the benefits it will bring in the areas of trade and security and stability for all parties. We can’t forget the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for freedom and democracy on Maidan (Independence) Square in Kiev. A lot of people are worried that Ukraine will join the EU as a result of this agreement, but I believe that that is out of the question for the time being.

Opponents believe that we’re meddling in Russia’s sphere of influence with this agreement, and that this could jeopardise Europe’s stability. What I feel is most important is that Putin crossed a line with his aggressive behaviour. Ukraine is a sovereign, democratic state that has the right to self-determination. I’ve been told that 72% of Ukrainians support this agreement and it would actually make Ukraine, and by extension the external borders of Europe, more stable.

This agreement is beneficial for Europe’s future. Even though it is complicated and doesn’t seem to be our concern, it is important to exercise your right to vote. If not enough people participate in the referendum (less than 30% of voters), the agreement will be adopted in any case. But I believe every citizen has the civic duty to vote.”

AGAINST – ‘Cast your ballot as a protest vote’

Wassim Benali Burak Yildiz sp
Wassim Benali en Burak Yildiz

Wassim Benali (22), Bachelor’s student Public Administration, member of SP Rotterdam and youth wing ROOD

“The average voter has no idea what this agreement is about. Instead of democracy and anti-corruption, this agreement is mainly about expanding the influence of large European organisations. One example is that European banks will invest 1 billion in megastables, something that is very detrimental to animal welfare in Ukraine. It’s mostly the banks who will benefit from this agreement as the treaty makes it easier for them to conclude ‘package deals’ with large Ukrainian companies.

Simply removing Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence and placing it in Europe’s sphere of influence won’t result in democracy. Real independence would be better served, for example, by a free-trade agreement that would allow Ukraine to trade with both the EU and Russia.

I recommend that students who aren’t sure what the agreement is about should abstain from voting. This way, you’re exercising your right to vote and above all, the electoral threshold will be reached. This means that in the end the voice of the people will be respected.”

Burak Yildiz (24), Bachelor’s student Law and Philosophy, member of SP Rotterdam and youth wing ROOD

“While supporters of the agreement have said a lot about democracy, it’s actually the European Union that on the whole is undemocratic. The EU makes decisions without consulting citizens and this association treaty is an excellent example.

The ‘yes’ camp asserts that the vast majority of the population supports the agreement, but I think that at least half of the country leans in the direction of Russia. You have to ask yourself why you would want to destabilise Ukraine even more by creating a rift between pro-Europe and anti-Europe groups.

This is an advisory referendum and this emphasises once again that the decision has already been made. On 6 April Dutch voters have to show whether there is still support for the European Union. So your vote is about more than just this particular agreement: cast your ballot as a protest vote.”

BLANK – ‘Supporter, but not fully convinced’

henk van beek jovd vvd
Henk van Beek

Henk van Beek (23), Bachelor’s student Economics, Fiscal Economics and Law, secretary and vice-chairman JOVD Rijnmond and member of VVD

“The debate is very polarised and there are so many other issues involved when voting for or against. It’s D66 versus PVV and pro-EU against anti-EU. This shouldn’t be the issue; it should be purely about the agreement itself. In that regard I find myself in agreement with arguments from both camps.

For example, in the area of trade I think it’s good if we get access to the Ukrainian market and they get access to the European Union market. I’m much less positive when it comes to eliminating corruption. Look at Romania and Greece. Both countries are still corrupt even though they are members of the European Union. It is far too idealistic to think that we as the EU can just step in and change Ukraine.

I’m not sure it was such a good idea for EU politicians – including Hans van Baalen from my own party – to meddle so explicitly in Ukrainian domestic affairs. But now that it’s done, I think it’s going too far to obstruct the agreement. Still, I’m not sufficiently convinced enough to actually support the agreement which is why I’m going to give in a blank vote.

If you don’t vote you’re letting others decide for you. I feel that everyone – especially university students – should vote and be counted. It’s a pointless exercise not to vote in the hope that the electoral threshold won’t be reached.”