“The initiative is up to the Caribbean islands” – Dutch parliament divided about Commonwealth

POSTED: 12/2/14 7:03 PM

THE HAGUE – The Netherlands cannot force the Caribbean islands to change the Kingdom into a Commonwealth. In spite of this, the Second Chamber reflected yesterday on a plan (from the Socialist Party and the VVD) to do this, Jamila Baaziz reports on Caribisch Netwerk.

VVD and SP say that they are in particular after ‘clarity and a vision’ and that they want to kick-start the discussion with their initiative memorandum. But PvdA, Christian Union, CDA and D66 do not want to exclude any option. “That is useless if the other countries don’t see the point of a Commonwealth,” says Gert-Jan Segers (Christian Union). “It’s not our move.”

The large differences of opinion between the parliamentarians become clear pretty fast during the consultation. Initiators André Bosman (VVD) and Ronald van Raak (SP) emphasize that they would love to get rid of the ‘suffocating ties’ and of the Dutch responsibility for the developments in the Caribbean islands. This is why they propose the Commonwealth-construction whereby the countries are completely autonomous, but whereby they are able to work together if they agree to do this.

The two Members of Parliament say that they are prepared to make individual agreements with each island in a Commonwealth-construction. These agreements will be based on equality and establish where the Netherlands will offer assistance, and where not. “We do not want to sever all ties as is thought sometimes, but what we do want is that these ties finally become clear,” Bosman said.

The equality mentioned in the proposal suggests that the Netherlands is allowed to say no to a request for cooperation, PvdA-parliamentarian Roelof van Laar noted. He wondered therefore whether the VVD and the SP do not make their proposal look more attractive than it really is. “How are you going about the fight against poverty and how do you tackle human trafficking and corruption if the political parties in the countries do not work in the general interest? Why don’t you look at the possibilities in the Kingdom Charter?”

Van Laar’s party wants to leave all constitutional options for the islands open and debatable.

“Is there support in the islands for this plan?” asked Gert-Jan Segers, who represented D66 and the CDA as well because their members were unable to attend. “The ties in the Kingdom are grating, but it is not up to us to decide unilaterally about that.”

Segers prefers to await the outcome of the evaluation of the constitutional reform process. “What matters to me is that we tackle problems with governance, corruption and poverty.”

PVV-parliamentarian Sietse Fritsma said that a Commonwealth is a step in the right direction, but he prefers enabling the Netherlands to decide on its own to cut the ties with the islands. For this reason, Fritsma wants to contest a United Nations Treaty the Netherlands signed, but his proposal did not get any support.

While the consultation did not end with a conclusion or a follow-up action the initiators say that they are happy with the discussion. “The Charter and the Kingdom are continuously in movement. Of course, the initiative to change the relationships is up to the Caribbean islands, but that does not take away that we too are entitled to have an opinion about the future. And in case you say no to the Commonwealth and you are also sick of the Charter, I will be happy to hear about an alternative. I hope that the islands are going to engage in that discussion now,” Bosman said.

Bosman and Van Raak may have presented the Commonwealth as their idea – in fact it was Johan Remkes –at the time faction leader of the VVD – who brought up the concept in 2009. Commissioner Sarah Wescot-Williams made St. Maarten’s position clear after hearing about Remkes’ proposal: “The Commonwealth is a very old idea. When I read about it, it took me back to 1991, when a similar concept was subject of discussion,” she said on March 20, 2009 at a press briefing of what was then the Executive Council of the Island Territory of St. Maarten.

“The Commonwealth was the original idea,” Wescot-Williams said. “But it is water under the bridge, because the people of St. Maarten chose for country status in the referendum in 2000. I will stick with the outcome of the referendum.”

For Remkes it was all about the money: “We have to learn to master the art of letting go. The Netherlands has the tendency to interfere with everything. The islands have long toes where autonomy is concerned, but they want to keep presenting the Netherlands with the bill. Those two do not go together.”

Bosman revived the idea four years later, in July 2013. In December of last year, Prime Minister Wescot-Williams took another, necessary, shot at the concept after her Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson openly flirted with it. She said that Richardson had made remarks about the Commonwealth concept in the context of a debate with Minister Plasterk. “A Commonwealth has not been discussed in the Council of Ministers.”

Wescot-Williams said then, as Gert-Jan Segers did yesterday, that she prefers to focus on the evaluation of St. Maarten’s constitutional status before talking about a new structure.


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