A country of six will never be revived, but the six islands of the former Netherlands Antilles should unite in a different way, according to Golden Meand Society, a think tank for human rights issues and sustainable socioeconomic development spearheaded by attorney Michiel Bijkerk. “Changes in our Kingdom constitutional structure are in the air. They are coming. We better get prepared.”
“In Synergia Unanimus” (In Synergy we Unite) is the title of a series of articles offering suggestions for a new constitutional structure in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, from the perspective of a legal expert.
The publication was spurred by a motion presented to the Dutch House of Representatives in July 2022, calling on the Dutch government to convene a Kingdom conference in 2023 to discuss the Kingdom Charter, the European Union Law in relation to kingdom law, human rights, climate change, economic expansion and consolidation, as well as regional and international cooperation.
The motion was submitted by Members of Parliament Jorien Wuite of D66 and Lammert van Raan of the Party for the Animals and adopted on July 8.
“The fact that Holland wants to talk means that the Dutch want changes,” said Bijkerk, who suggests the islands come together to prepare themselves. “Holland must find itself confronted with a united Caribbean front — not a hostile front, but an assertive front.”
Bijkerk proposes opening all Caribbean borders for residents with a Dutch passport. “To strengthen our re-found unity, we can agree to internally restore freedom of movement and residence for Dutch nationals from the other islands. We had this freedom since 1634,” Bijkerk says. “The present immigration restrictions are a violation of article 12 CCPR [Centre for Civil and Political Rights litigation — Ed.] anyway.”
Moreover, he says, “Each island is now sufficiently strong to be able to absorb an influx from the other islands. It will not pose a serious threat to our labour markets. So, let us all agree to change our immigration laws and welcome back Dutch national residents from our sister islands.”
“In Synergia Unanimus” suggests new constitutional solutions for Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire that may equally apply to the windward islands. Golden Me-and Society has come to the conclusion that the future of the six islands lies in the formation of two groups of three islands each: Windward islands St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius as one group and the leeward islands Aruba Curacao and Bonaire as the other group.
“Can anyone be against cooperation if all participants win?” Bijkerk asks. “For instance, if Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire decide to cooperate on higher education, resulting in higher quality, more opportunities for less money, would it not be insane to reject such cooperation?”
Synergy is the cooperative principle whereby the whole is more than the sum of its parts. “If this is understood, there can be no reason why the islands should not voluntarily cooperate in synergy,” he says. “So, cooperation only when two or three islands can see mutual benefit with extra bonuses on top.”
The responsibility remains to decide which governmental organ could be entrusted with the power to determine which specific governmental tasks and/ or responsibilities would pass the synergetic test. “For this we propose the `Council of Elected Governors’ (CEG),” Bijkerk says. “Each island will democratically elect its own governor. The three governors meet regularly to decide which tasks and responsibilities will produce synergetic benefit.”
According to the proposal, each island remains free to withdraw from any synergetic project, with due observance of a predetermined term of notice agreed on for each and every synergetic project.
It is suggested that, instead of governors being nominated by Dutch Royal Decree, as is customary, each island will organise a general election every four year during which the people vote to elect its governor. The elected governor then nominates his or her cabinet to carry out all executive tasks and responsibilities entrusted to the governor as stipulated in each Island’s Federal Constitution.
Federal States normally have their own constitution, Bijkerk explains. “The State of Florida, for instance, forms an integral part of the United States of America. Yet it has its own constitution. Florida has its own government, headed by an elected governor. It has its own legislature (parliament) and its own judiciary (courts, including its own supreme court).”
In principle Florida is a complete and sovereign state on its own. However, Florida (as all American states) decided of its own free will to form a union with the other 49 states of the United States of America (USA). This union-agreement entailed that it had to transfer some of its sovereign powers to the union, known as the “Federal Government”.
“Now, the Kingdom Charter is based on this same principle,” Bijkerk says. “That is why we [Golden Meand Society] concluded back in 2002 that the Kingdom of the Netherlands is in fact a federation. We published an article about this in a Dutch law magazine and its basic thesis was academically acknowledged. It was, however, politically rejected.”
The academic truth was politically inconvenient, Bijkerk concludes. “Fact is, however, that the islands of Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten also have shared or dual sovereignty with the Dutch government in The Hague. To symbolise this, the original Netherlands
Antillean coat-of-arms should really have had two crowns on top, not just one.”
Nonetheless, Golden Me-and Society does not propose to change this. “The Crown and the Dutch Royal Family is a Dutch invention, introduced in 18131815 in order to foment unity following the French Revolution. From it grew a quirky but liveable democratic system that is not up to the islands to change.” For the foreseeable future the think tank does not recommend full political independence for the six islands. “We will probably be better off under the wings of the kingdom, until we can safely and naturally merge as two federal states into the Greater Caribbean region,” Bijkerk notes.
Federal states have their own constitutions, he says. “And in fact, Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten do already have their own constitutions. They are called `Staatsregeling’, which may be translated as ‘State Regulation’. Content-wise these are federal state constitutions.”
From this it follows that Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba will also have to get their own constitutions to be able to join the Leeward Islands union or the union with St. Maarten on an equal footing. “This may be done by inserting art. 132b into the Dutch Constitution (`Grondwet’). The law will then function as the Bonairean, Saban or Statian ‘Federal State Regulation’,” Bijkerk explains. “This way all six islands will have their own constitution, albeit not by the same route.”
Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius will remain an integral part of the Netherlands, whereas Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten maintain their present integral status within the (wider) Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Opting for presidential style elections to nominate our governors will strengthen the people’s democratic will, said Bijkerk. “We must learn to assert ourselves more. In a measured and just way, but we (the 2×3 islands) must ultimately take responsibility for our collective destiny. Not outsiders. We must decide within the limits of each island’s federal constitution.”
The Netherlands Antilles was dismantled so that it could be rebuilt, Bijkerk asserts. “Not as it was, of course. But in our heart of hearts we all know, including the Arubans, that the only three Papiamentu speaking islands in the world belong together. Historically so, culturally so and even still politically so. After all, all three of us still form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.”
The same applies to the three windward islands, which are strongly linked historically, culturally and economically.
The people living on the islands as federal island states embedded in the Dutch constitution are entitled to the same level of human rights protection as citizens living in the Netherlands, the Golden Meand legal expert says. “This principle also extends to economic, social and cultural rights. And as the kingdom is a federation, it also extends to St. Maarten, Aruba and Curacao.”
To get this right recognised the islands will have to join forces, Bijkerk stresses. “Yet another reason to cooperate,” he says. “We must stop weakening ourselves.
“You may have wondered why it was politically inconvenient to accept the academic truth that the Kingdom of the Netherlands is a federation? Well, it is because the UN Human Rights Covenants state explicitly that the provisions of the covenants ‘shall extend to all parts of federal states without any limitations or exceptions.’ This costs money. So, now you know why.”
On an inter-governmental level, Holland always speaks to the islands from a position of factual, financial and psychological preponderance, Bijkerk concludes. “Moreover, the Kingdom Charter itself contains various loopholes which practically transfer many of the islands’ powers back to Holland.”
As an example, he refers to Art. 12a Kingdom Charter which paves the way for the institution of a Constitutional Court to pass judgment on disputes between the Kingdom (read: Holland) and the islands of Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten.
“The article, which was inserted in 2010, does not mention what kind of disputes,” says Bijkerk, who notes that it stands to reason that the article refers to disputes about the meaning and application of the kingdom charter and kingdom laws. But the law leaves room for different interpretation, he says. “The result is that the islands must rely on unorthodox methods to get their way.”
Golden Meand Society proposes to petition the European Commission to arrange that a special branch of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) may be tasked to adjudicate constitutional cases between the Kingdom partners.
“This would include Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius as soon as these islands will have obtained the status of federal island states,” the attorney says, quoting the Antilles’ most influential writer Boeli van Leeuwen to stress that it is time for smart moves: “When Holland starts playing chess with us, we start playing checkers. And then we always win.”
The Daily Herald.