Published On: Mon, May 28th, 2018

What becomes of St. Maarten in a Unites States of Europe?

Wouter Veenendaal - Caribisch Netwerk NTR

HILVERSUM – What will happen with the Caribbean countries in the Kingdom if Europe became a republic? Rik Haverman examined this hypothetical situation for Caribisch Netwerk with Caribbean-expert Wouter Veenendaal, who teaches political science at Leiden University.

Europe is debating more or less European Union. On Sunday the formation of a coalition in Italy failed because of this issue. But what would happen with the Caribbean islands in the Dutch Kingdom if Europe became a republic?

“That is a complicated question,” says Veenendaal. “So far the European integration has had little influence in the Dutch Caribbean.”

According to Veenendaal this is due to the Kingdom Charter. “This charter exists since 1954 and it establishes that the kingdom consists of different autonomous countries. Currently these are the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten.”

Of these four countries, only the Netherlands has opted to be a part of the European Union, Veenendaal points out. “Because of this, only Dutch citizens (in the Netherlands – ed.) are confronted with all consequences of the integration: all EU-rights and all EU-obligations.”

For St. Maarten, Aruba and Curacao the situation is different. “The European Union acknowledges that these countries have a special relationship with a member state – the Netherlands,” Veenendaal says. “But the union labels them, based on the Kingdom Charter, also as autonomous countries; they are not included in the European territory. The citizens therefore experience less of the European integration process. For instance, the euro is not legal tender there and the countries do not have to comply fully with European legislation.”

What about the Dutch public entities – Bonaire, Saba and Statia? “They are a complex exemption,” Veenendaal says. “While these islands officially are a part of the Netherlands, they have for the time being the same status within the European Union as St. Maarten, Aruba and Curacao. They do belong to the Dutch territory, but not to the territory of the EU. Just like Arubans, Curacaoleneans and St. Maarteners, the citizens on these islands miss out on certain EU-regulations.”

It is therefore a complicated constitutional construction. Veenendaal suspects that this construction will be overhauled if a European Republic ever saw the light of day. “If the Netherlands ceases to exist and becomes part of a new country – the United States of Europe – the old Kingdom Charter will have to be reviewed. In that case there are a number of options: new agreements or Europe takes over the role of the Netherlands. It is also possible that the charter becomes obsolete; that means independence for the islands.”

The islands won’t be in favor of that last option, Veenendaal thinks. And when the second option becomes a reality there is no need to change much. A review of the Kingdom Charter is the most exiting because it requires negotiations.

“The Caribbean part of the Kingdom will want as few changes as possible. This way they will keep their large measure of autonomy, just like they have it now. The curious situation of the BES-islands will also become a topic for debate. The current interim-situation where by these islands are part of the Netherlands but not of the European Union will no longer be possible. In the case of one Europe, they belong officially to the territory of a state; or they are autonomous.”

The first option, whereby the BES-islands would become an integral part of Europe, has pros and cons. “Europe would become fully responsible for what happens on the BES-islands. That means that exactly the same rights and obligations apply. On the other hand the autonomy would be limited, for instance due to the introduction of the euro; that can be a disadvantage for the connection with American markets.”

In this context, Veenendaal considers the attitude of the hypothetical European state especially exiting. “It is possible that such a European state would want to take away the special status from the Caribbean-Dutch islands and add them to its territory. Currently these islands have a very favorable agreement with autonomy, but also with financial and military support from the Netherlands. It is not unthinkable that Europe wants a bigger say over those territories, in exchange for the support it will have to provide.”

All in all, a complicated hypothetical future. But Veenendaal emphasizes that, in case Europe ever became a country, the Caribbean population always determines its own destiny. “Whatever happens, during such negotiations the Dutch Caribbean islands have the last word about their political status. That has been established in international law. This also applies to a possible future United States of Europe. So if these negotiations break down, independence is back on the agenda.”

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Photo caption: Wouter Veenendaal – Photo Caribisch Netwerk – NTR.