AMSTERDAM The Dutch government on Monday sought up to six more weeks to broker a deal at home that will prevent the Netherlands withdrawing support for a partnership agreement between the European Union and Ukraine.
In an April referendum, nearly two-thirds of Dutch voters said "No" to the EU's association treaty on closer political, military and trade relations with Ukraine and the Netherlands is the only EU state not to have ratified it.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who does not want the agreement to be rejected, had agreed to inform parliament of the government's plan for dealing with the results of the non-binding vote by Nov. 1.
Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said in a letter to parliament on Monday that the government needed more time to negotiate a "legally binding" deal that would be acceptable to the 27 other EU countries while honoring the referendum.
Koenders said the government would now aim to reach an agreement opposition parties, other EU governments and Ukraine, by Dec. 15 to avoid having to withdraw Dutch support.
"This process takes time, more time than many people in the Netherlands prefer," Koenders wrote.
It was rejection of the EU agreement by Ukraine's pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovich, that led to mass street protests and violence that brought his downfall and triggered Russia's annexation of Crimea and a separatist rebellion in Ukraine's east.
A Dutch pull-out would have serious negative geo-political implications for the EU and the Ukraine at a time of heightened tension with Russia, Koenders said.
"Considering our national interests, the Cabinet decided to continue international negotiations in the coming period ahead of the European Council meeting of Dec 15-16 with the aim of reaching a legally binding solution," he wrote.
Specifically, the Netherlands was seeking an agreement that would be signed by EU leaders, it said.
This would state that the treaty did not guarantee EU membership or entail any security guarantees by the EU. It would also not provide Ukrainian workers with automatic access to employment in the EU or oblige EU member states to provide financial support for Ukraine.
(Reporting By Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Richard Balmforth)