The difference between signing and ratification

A number of steps need to be taken before a treaty enters into force. The states involved first conduct negotiations. Once they reach agreement, the treaty is signed. In the Netherlands, treaties require parliamentary approval. If parliament gives its approval, ratification will follow.

Signing: agreement between national delegations

The negotiations that precede a treaty are conducted by delegations representing each of the states involved, meeting at a conference or in another setting. Together they agree on the terms that will bind the signatory states. Once they reach agreement, the treaty will be signed, usually by the relevant ministers. By signing a treaty, a state expresses the intention to comply with the treaty. However, this expression of intent in itself is not binding.

Ratification: approval of agreement by the state

Once the treaty has been signed, each state will deal with it according to its own national procedures. In the Netherlands, parliamentary approval is required. After approval has been granted under a state’s own internal procedures, it will notify the other parties that they consent to be bound by the treaty. This is called ratification. The treaty is now officially binding on the state.

Information on treaties

Information on treaties can be found in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Treaty Database.