St. Eustatius, Saba, Bonaire and The Hague Reach Historic Agreement
More talks with Curacao and St. Maarten
The final declaration states that the three islands, also referred to in The Hague as the K3, the K referring to Klein (small in Dutch), will be given a constitutional position in the Dutch constellation in the form of a public body (“openbaar lichaam”). This possibility exists in article 134 of the Dutch Constitution.
The agreement sets out responsibilities and tasks for parties on both sides of the ocean. It also speaks of the position of the islands, supervision, assistance, further analysis, rights, a transition process and an interim period.
The agreement was signed at the end of a two-day mini-summit in The Hague that ended Wednesday, which was held in the wake of preliminary talks in Bonaire last week.
The agreement doesn’t go into effect right away and it is dependent on the results of political talks between the Dutch Government and the two larger islands Curaçao and St. Maarten.
If no agreement is reached with the two other islands, Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius can return to the Netherlands to discuss the next step.
Statia’s delegation leader Commissioner Roy Hooker referred to Wednesday’s signing of the agreement as a “giant step.”
His colleague from Saba Will Johnson called the agreement a “major breakthrough” for the three smaller islands of the Netherlands Antilles.
Bonaire’s Commissioner Reginald Dortalina described the signing of the agreement as an “historic moment” for the three islands.
Dutch Minister of Administrative Reform and Kingdom Relations Atzo Nicolaï also spoke of a “breakthrough.”
In keeping with the agreement, legal regulations of Dutch municipalities will apply, taking into consideration the special conditions of the islands, which will have to comply with criteria similar to those of Dutch municipalities in the area of proper governance.
Antillean legislation will remain in effect at the start of the new status and Dutch legislation will be introduced gradually. Citizens will be able to vote in elections for the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament and the European Parliament. A provision will be made to vote in the First Chamber elections.
The point of departure will remain that the islands will carry out as many tasks as they can. Quick scans will be carried out in the areas of education, public health and social security. Another point of departure is the level of social services as determined by the Havermans Committee, based on indicators to be set in the future by the Social Economic Initiative (SEI).
The Netherlands will become responsible for legal security on the islands. The Netherlands will cooperate with other countries in the Kingdom to secure this. The Joint Court of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, be it under a new name, will remain responsible for the administration of justice.
Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius will have to present balanced budgets and have multi-annual perspectives when they integrate with the Netherlands. They will not have borrowing authority.
There will be financial supervision by The Hague. In the interim period, this will be in the form of a general Kingdom measure (“algemene maatregel van Rijksbestuur”). The possibility of unforeseen investments will be looked into. Also studied will be the issue of the official currency, the economic effects of that choice, as well as issue of monetary supervision.
The future fiscal system and the role of the Dutch Tax Office will also be looked at. Customs will be involved in this. The desire of the islands to remain tax-free ports will be taken into consideration.
The possibility of Dutch structural support in the areas of social security, pensions and public health will be investigated. According to Johnson, the islands had to negotiate especially hard for this part. The original document, he said, only contained responsibilities for the islands and none for The Hague. He said the islands had strongly protested against this.
The islands are not getting much freedom where it concerns formal relations and contacts in the region. It was agreed that the islands have to involve the Dutch Minister of Foreign Relations before they can make agreements with countries in the region. Saba had especially asked for more leeway. It was agreed that a study will be done on the possibility of acquiring and the implications of Ultra-Peripheral Territory (UPT) status in the European Union (EU).
The need to stimulate the islands’ economies is recognised in the agreement. The tool will be the SEI, something which St. Eustatius has been stressing continuously during constitutional talks with the Antillean islands and the Netherlands. SEI will take into consideration the special ecological situation on the islands. An analysis of the budgets will be part of SEI’s initial work.
A joint plan of action will be drawn up for the transition process. The plan, which will contain an overview of activities and time schedules, has to be ready by January 2007. Based on the analyses, parties will decide together on the division of tasks and responsibilities and the application of legislation. A joint evaluation is planned five years after the new status goes into effect.