Our constellation is not etched in stone

~ Plasterk on the fifth anniversary of 10-10-10 ~

By Suzanne Koelega.

The construction of the Dutch Kingdom is not etched in stone. No constellation is for that matter, but changing the constellation every five years is undesirable. Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk said this on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of what has been popularly termed 10-10-10 when the new constitutional relations went into effect.

Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk. (Suzanne Koelega photo)
Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald
Plasterk. (Suzanne Koelega photo)

“I don’t think that there is any constellation that can remain unchanged for 25 years. A constellation should always move, breathe along with the developments. My guess is that in 25 years the constitutional structure will not be exactly the same as it is today. At a certain point there will be changes,” said Plasterk in an interview with The Daily Herald and de Volkskrant.

However, having frequent changes in the constellation would not be beneficial or desirable. “I don’t think we should revise the constitutional relations every five years. Of course, evaluations are necessary but we should not start over every five years with a blank piece of paper,” he said, noting that it was more important to continue working on stronger island economies, better education, health care, infrastructure and improved children’s rights.

One of the things that could change in the foreseeable future would be the elimination of financial supervision which was imposed when Curaçao and St. Maarten attained country status on October 10, 2010, but only when the countries have their finances and budgetary discipline in order. “Financial supervision is not there to harass people; it is to arrive at a stable, sustainable budget. It has a function.”

The Minister, who was appointed in November 2012, after the current constitutional relations went into effect, described the current constellation as one that consists of four autonomous countries:  the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, with a number of tasks that are shared such as defence and foreign affairs.

The individual countries are responsible for all other tasks. Be it that the ultimate responsibility for matters such as good governance and basic human rights remains a task of the Kingdom as defined in the Charter of the Kingdom under the guarantee function in article 43.

Under stress
Relations between the Netherlands and the overseas countries have been under stress several times in the past years with the issuing of instructions by the Kingdom Council of Ministers as a result of budgetary/financial management (Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten) and breeches of integrity (St. Maarten).

The islands have objected to these instructions, which the local governments often interpreted as neo-colonial meddling in internal affairs. Nonetheless, Plasterk remained positive about the relations within the Kingdom, “The relations in the past two-and-a-half years have been more harmonious than ever.”

Naturally, there have been harsh talks with both Aruba and St. Maarten in the previous two years, but those disagreements ultimately benefitted the people of these countries. According to Plasterk, parties were able to arrive at a solution for Aruba by installing the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT.

In St. Maarten, the screening process ordered by the Kingdom Government resulted in a number of candidate ministers not being appointed, and the process to establish an Integrity Chamber. “But, generally we are on speaking terms. The occasional serious talks are a sign of mutual respect. While acknowledging that we are all equal countries, we should also be able to say that there are developments that we are very worried about.”

Pressure by The Hague will always remain a factor; that has to do with the dissymmetry in the Kingdom and the fact that the Netherlands is a much larger country, said Plasterk. “The largest asymmetry is that 98 per cent of the people of our Kingdom live in the Netherlands.” Proportional representation is, therefore, not possible. “That is the result of having 325,000 inhabitants on one side of the ocean and 17 million on the other.”

Dispute regulation
All countries agree that having a dispute regulation (geschillenregling) could diminish the friction and the existing democratic deficit within the Kingdom. However, the governments have not arrived at a solution on the details of establishing such a regulation. There is no agreement on crucial points including the format and range of the regulation.

Plasterk said that the dispute regulation was a complex matter and that was why he had presented an intermediate solution at the Kingdom Conference in June this year by appointing the Council of State as a temporary authority in the area of disputes. “It will take years and several Parliaments to establish a formal dispute regulation; that is why I proposed to involve the Council of State, which is a considerably shorter trajectory as it could be formalised through a decision of the Kingdom Council of Ministers.”

With Plasterk’s proposal, the countries could go to the Council of State in cases where they feel disadvantaged by the Kingdom Council of Ministers. “With the broadest possible range and with an adjourning character so the advice can have an optimal influence on the decision taking.”

Plasterk showed comprehension for the reservations of the three overseas countries because they fear that this transitional arrangement would become permanent and that the Council of State’s judgment would not be honoured by the Kingdom Council of Ministers if it was merely of an advisory nature.

However, Plasterk does not see any other options. “The Council of State is a respectable organisation in which all countries of the Kingdom are represented. I don’t see any other body that can assume this task. I am not in favour of some ad-hoc committee. Besides, I don’t believe that the Council of Ministers would put aside the advice of the Council of State. To the contrary, I think it will be taken very seriously. I suggest trying this option for two years and if it doesn’t work, we’ll figure out something else.”

Common interests
Looking back at the five years that have passed since October 10, 2010, Plasterk said that it was a process where despite the differences, the countries still managed to have an eye for common interests such as developing the economies, combating poverty and improving children’s rights.

“Naturally, we have discussions on certain issues, but that is nearly unavoidable if you look at our situation geographically and take into account the asymmetry. It is only logical that there’s friction once in a while. I truly feel that I am a defender of the current constellation, but that is not easy because the voices for looser ties are getting louder on both sides of the ocean. Large political parties on the islands are campaigning for independence, and I am not so sure that the parties that want to continue together in this Kingdom form the majority in the Dutch Parliament.”

Plasterk is not in favour of introducing a commonwealth structure in the Kingdom, as has been proposed by the VVD and SP parties in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament. Under the commonwealth structure, every country would stand on its own and the responsibilities of the Kingdom would no longer exist.

“In such a construction, the Netherlands, being the richest of the four countries, would be able to decide that it will dedicate its resources to elsewhere and ultimately that would be bad for the islands. I am of the opinion that the Netherlands should continue to maintain the responsibilities that it has for the Kingdom.”

Asked about St. Maarten’s country status versus the opinion of some that the island would have been better off if it had become a public entity like Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, Plasterk said it was more important to look ahead and to focus on making it work. “At the time, there were some that said that St. Maarten was too small to for a country, but a choice was made. We should live with that and give content to the new structure in the best possible way.”

Statia supervision
As for St. Eustatius, which was placed under supervision in June this year because its finances and administration are not in order, and the move of the local government to start the process of seeking more autonomy, Plasterk said that it had the right to do so, but he wondered whether it was a wise step.

“International law states that a former colony may always choose its own destiny, if that is the wish of the people. The question is whether it is wise. St. Eustatius is a factor 10 smaller than St. Maarten. Supervision wasn’t implemented for nothing because the local government has been failing in executing its tasks properly,” he said.

In the Minister’s opinion, maintaining the current relations with the Netherlands as a public entity benefits the people of Statia. “The Netherlands invests 10,000 euros per head in the Caribbean Netherlands after the reduction of the tax revenues.” He said he hoped the supervision would be temporary. “We are doing our utmost to get St. Eustatius to stand on its own feet again soon.”

Dutch Ministers and State Secretaries may not be visiting St. Eustatius until that time, but Plasterk promised that he would keep a keen eye to prevent the Statia people from ending as a victims of this temporary measure.

Today, Wednesday, the handling of the 2016 Kingdom Relations budget will start in the Second Chamber; two consecutive afternoons have been scheduled for the debate.

Source: The Daily Herald.

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