Constitutional basis public entities has Senate’s consent

The constitutional securing of the position of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba as part of the Netherlands and the arranging the voting rights of Dutch nationals residing in the Caribbean Netherlands for the Senate are now one step closer.

Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk shakes hands with Chairperson of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Ankie Broekers-Knol after Tuesday’s plenary debate. (Suzanne Koelega photo)
Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk shakes hands with Chairperson of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Ankie Broekers-Knol after Tuesday’s plenary debate. (Suzanne Koelega photo)

On Tuesday, the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, the Senate, handled the first reading of the law proposal to amend the Constitution and the law change to introduce an Electoral Council (“Kiescollege”) for the Caribbean Netherlands after a delay of several years. The law proposals will be approved by voting next week Tuesday with the support of a vast majority of the Senate.

With the approval of the first reading of the law proposal, the Senate has closed off the first part in the lengthy process to amend the Constitution. The law requires that two subsequent Parliaments must give their consent to amend the Constitution. The constitutional status of the three islands is now only secured in the Kingdom Charter which was amended at the time the new constitutional relations within the Kingdom went into effect on October 10, 2010.

The second reading will be sent for consultation in March 2017, immediately after the Dutch Parliamentary elections. With some luck, the amendment will be a fact by 2019 so persons with the Dutch nationality residing in the Caribbean Netherlands can vote for the next Senate that year. Currently these residents cannot vote for the First Chamber, only the Second Chamber.

The law proposal to amend the Constitution to include the constitutional status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, and the securing of the voting right of Dutch nationals of these islands for the Senate through an Electoral Council suffered much delay after it reached the Senate almost four years ago.
A unanimous Senate decided to put the securing of the change to the Constitution on hold until the evaluation process of the constitutional structure in the Caribbean Netherlands five years after the new relations went into effect had been concluded.
The Senate also demanded a solution for what was termed the “constitutional dilemma” of securing the voting rights of persons with the Dutch nationality for the First Chamber, while excluding the influence that foreigners living on the islands could have on national Dutch policies through the local Island Council elections.

As such, the Senate requested Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk to prepare a change to his original law proposal so an Electoral Council could be established, which in turn would vote for the new members of the First Chamber together with the members of the Provincial Council.

The law proposal to take away the voting rights of foreigners for the Island Councils, which the Dutch Government had prepared to solve the issue of foreign influence, would be withdrawn, Plasterk confirmed after questions by Senators Thom de Graaf of the Democratic Party D66, Ruard Ganzevoort of the green left party Groen- Links and Peter Ester of the ChristianUnion CU.

Several Senators made mention of the stubborn attitude of the Minister in the process to amend the Constitution. “It didn’t go down that easily. The Minister defended his original proposal without any stubbornness. It took some time for him to bow his head and I appreciate that because a proposal to amend the Constitution is quite something and as such it has to be stubbornly defended,” said De Graaf.

“It took quite some effort to get the resisting Minister this far, but three years later we finally had a law change that arranges matters in the correct manner. It could have been done faster and smoother, but we will get there,” said Ganzevoort about the establishing of the Electoral Council. He said it was a “matter of honour” for the Senate to secure the voting right in a correct manner.

The Senate was critical of the choice of the Dutch Government not to term the public entity status as the final model for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Ganzevoort called it “unsatisfactory” that after being told that the final model would be established after the evaluation, the Dutch Government opted not to do so in the end. He said it remained unclear whether the islands would remain public entities or that the status of “special municipality” (“bijzondere gemeente”) was still a possibility.

Ganzevoort asked Minister Plasterk whether government was still planning to evaluate the structure and to open discussions about the final model. He said GroenLinks had no objections to the public entity status as the final model, but that the party did object to an automatic fixing of this status after the promises of evaluation and discussions.

Plasterk confirmed during the one-hour plenary debate that indeed no definite decision was taken on the constitutional final model of the islands. He said that in this way the option would be left open to give content to the public entity status or to still opt for the special municipality status. He said that he did not prefer to use the term final model.

The Minister said he would consult the islands on the second reading and the execution of the voting rights and the Electoral Council. Senator Sophie van Bijsterveld of the Christian Democratic Party CDA had asked the Minister to promise that he would consult the islands.

Senator Ester wanted to know how the Electoral Council would work in practice, and whether there would be one Electoral Council or three, one for each islands. Plasterk responded that the options would be weighed and that this would be decided at a later stage.

All Senators expressed satisfaction that the first reading to amend the Constitution and to arrange the voting rights would finally be approved. “It is high time to say yes,” said Meta Meijer of the Socialist Party (SP).

Van Bijsterveld said her party agreed to the chosen formulation whereby the final structure would be left open, while still providing a constitutional basis for the three public entities. She said the public entity status versus that of a special municipality was a “semantic discussion.” Plasterk thanked the Senate for its persistence in the process to amend the Constitution. “That is also the role of the Senate.”

The Daily Herald.

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