Published On: Tue, Jun 2nd, 2020

Exposé report: Reasons for the continued French side border controls after May 17

29-05-2020-Bellevue-1 French side Border Controls - Photo by FaxInfo

~ What the French side wanted to learn from their border controls ~

PHILIPSBURG – When opportunity knocks, governments have a tendency to spring into action. This train of thought offers possible explanations from the continued border controls by French-side authorities after May 17, when the Dutch-side authorities ceased their operations.

School children

The first issue that comes to mind is the number of children that live on the Dutch side and attend school on the French side. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that education expenditures go up when a school system has to accommodate more children. So by executing controls at the border and prohibiting children from traveling to the other side, the French-side authorities will gain some insight into the number of Dutch-side kids that are in their schools.

School is mandatory in France for children and for foreigners who live on its territory from the age of 3, based on an ancient law that goes back to March 26, 1882, the so-called Jules Ferry Law.

Another law, dating back to June 16, 1881, stipulates that education in public primary schools is free. This includes, or is supposed to include, school manuals, teaching materials and supplies. In the Dutch school system, public schools have a tendency to ask parents to contribute to these costs.

Education is costly

The French ministry of education wants to reduce the number of students per class in first and second grade to 24, to equip schools for accommodating children with disabilities and to recruit teachers to fill – nationwide – almost 24,000 vacancies.

To make these wishes a reality – especially the desire to bring down the number of students per class – the government has to build more schools. Again: if many Dutch children attend school on the French side, the French taxpayer is going to foot the bill for these investments.

The cost per student in the French education system varies from around $7,500 to almost $17,500. Small wonder that the Collectivité de Saint Martin would love to see fewer Dutch-side kids in its classrooms.

The overload of its education system is not the only reason why the French side keeps its border controls in place. They also want to get insight into the number of French-side residents that work on the Dutch side, don’t declare that income and collect social benefits on the French side.

Business owners

Another group that is of interest to the French state consists of French business owners that operate on the Dutch side. It is possible that some of these entrepreneurs are liable for taxes in France. Under French law, they are considered French residents for tax purposes if their household is established in France – or in this case, on the French side of the island.

Dutch number plates

Then there are French-side citizens whose cars run on Dutch number plates. Registration on the Dutch side is cheaper and simpler and – more importantly – these drivers are not fined by the French authorities when they commit traffic violations. Residents on the French side are obliged to register their cars with French plates and undergo a costly and tedious inspection process.

French financial aid

Another sore point is that a lot of money from the French side disappears in the Dutch-side economy. Financial aid provided by the national and the local French government ends up in the pockets of Dutch-side entrepreneurs, and through the taxes they pay (or are supposed to pay) into the treasury in Philipsburg.

Border controls did not stop the outflow of French money to the Dutch side, but the controls gave the authorities at least some insight into the magnitude of this phenomenon. Whether that information will inspire the authorities to take countermeasures remains to be seen.

Photo caption: French border police (PAF) monitoring the frontier at Bellevue. Photo taken from FaxInfo.

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