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Published On: Wed, Oct 20th, 2021

European Union continues its relationship with OCTs

PHILIPSBURG — St. Maarten appears not to be the brightest bulb on Broadway where securing funding from the European Development fund (EDF) is concerned. But the relationship between St. Maarten – with its status as OCT (Overseas Country and Territory) – and the European Union remains intact. The Union has committed to support its OCTs for the next seven years (2021-2027). Therefore there is time for St. Maarten to clean up its act and become a more active and successful participant in the battle for EU-millions.

In December of last year, the EU hosted a virtual OCT-Forum. The news there was that the OCT’s linked to Great Britain are no longer part of the forum, after the Brits left the European Union. The other news was that the EU has made €110 million ($127.6 million) available for the OCT’s as part of its global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The OCTs are benefiting from “reorientations of on-going programs and front-loading of budget support operations, as well as mobilizing all remaining emergency assistance funds,” the EU-website states.

Reports that St. Maarten can no longer benefit from the European Development Fund – and that it ought to change its status from OCT to UPT (Ultra Peripheral Territory) to qualify for European subsidies – do not find confirmation in the EU’s report about the most recent OCT-Forum that took place in December of last year. On the contrary, the EU-Commissioner for international partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, assured the OCTs that there is nothing to worry about: “2020 is the culmination of the current 7-year period of special relationship between the OCTs and the EU. Now it is time to look ahead and forge a renewed and ambitious partnership between us.”

“Faced with social, economic and environmental challenges, we share a vision of the future that is greener, more inclusive and more sustainable,” Urpilainen said. “Boosting the overall resilience of the OCTs will be the goal of our cooperation for 2021-2027, based on our joint priorities: the green deal, digitalization, growth, jobs and education.”

Curacao’s former Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath, in his role as chairman of the OCTA (Overseas Countries and Territories Association), told this meeting about the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the islands and confirmed the strong link with the European Union: “The OCTs belong to the EU family; we share a mutually beneficial partnership. The OCTs play a geostrategic role with the immense Exclusive Economic Zone and marine resources, and with their exceptional biodiversity, the OCTs can become laboratories for innovation, helping to tackle global challenges. The OCTs welcome the EU support linked to the COVID-19 crisis. With ever-increasing cooperation, the OCTs and the EU can achieve great things.”

The relationship between St. Maarten (and other OCTs) and the European Union is regulated in article 198 of the treaty that explains how the EU works.

The six islands of the former Netherlands Antilles are not a part of the territory of the Union; European law does not apply to them and they do not have the euro as their official currency.

“Because of their special relationship they do qualify for European funds and EU-wide cooperation agreements like the Erasmus+ program,” the EU states on its website.

Citizens of the Caribbean part of the Dutch Kingdom have, apart from the Dutch nationality also European citizenship, which entitles them to freely move through and stay in EU-member states. They also have the right to petition the European Parliament, to address the European Ombudsman and to approach institutions and advisory bodies in the Dutch language and to receive answers in the same language.

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Related article: How St. Maarten fails to pick up millions in European subsidies



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