Dutch referendum tests EU ties ahead of Brexit

The Netherlands has been reluctantly voting today after an anti-EU petition forced a referendum...

Dutch referendum tests EU ties ahead of Brexit

Enda Kenny with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Picture by: Niall Carson / PA Archive/Press Association Images.

Over two months before the big Brexit vote, the Netherlands is putting the European Union's strength to the test with a referendum of its own.

The country has been hitting the polls on Wednesday to ostensibly reach a verdict on the terms of trade tariffs between the EU and Ukraine on items such as apricots.

The trade deal is "provisionally" in force but satirical website Geenstijl saw it as an opportunity to test a new law in the country. The anti-Europe group attained the 300,000 signatures expressing discontent with Brussels now required to call a referendum.

As such, the conversation has moved away from apricots to encompass the country's overall EU sentiment, its faith in the Dutch government, relationship with Russia and more.

The referendum is non-binding and confusion amongst voters as to the actual impact of it suggests an extremely low turnout.

It is even possible that the polls will not pass the 30% turnout figure required for the outcome to mean very much at all.

In the unlikely event of a strong turnout and resounding 'No' vote, a special deal with the Dutch might have to be done to ensure the "provisional" deal currently in operation could become permanent in some form across the other member states.

The Dutch coalition government has not campaigned hard for a 'Yes' vote, but a strong 'No' from the people could do significant damage as it currently has a majority of just one.

Meanwhile, the anti-immigration, anti-EU and right-wing Partij voor de Vrijheid ("Party for Freedom") achieved its highest ever victory of 40% in the last election, so the momentum would be behind them.

As for Brexit, at a Dutch referendum rally this week UKIP leader Nigel Farage declared:

"Your vote is the hors d’oeuvre, our vote is the main course".