Caribbean islands become Dutch municipalities

Bonaire, Saint Eustace and Saba, three small islands in the Caribbean, are to become part of the Netherlands. With this decision the dismantlement of the Netherlands Antilles as a single state within the kingdom of the Netherlands has begun. The three islands have come to an agreement about their future after difficult and lengthy negotiations.

Their new status will be like that of a normal Dutch municipality, but the special circumstances in the Caribbean region are taken into account. With the two other islands of the Dutch Antilles, Curaçao and Saint-Martin, talks are still going on about a possible autonomous status within the kingdom.

At a conference in The Hague the delegates of the islands who’d reached a deal gave positive reactions: ‘An historical agreement’, and ‘a great moment’ were some of the responses.

The five islands have a colonial history going back over 300 years with the Netherlands and during that time they were always centrally governed from Curaçao.

Earlier in the negotiations, the Netherlands and the Antilles decided that the central administration would be lifted, a change which had been supported by public referenda. The new agreement lays out how that will work.

The status of the three islands is described as ‘public body’; in practice this means that they will have almost the same status as a municipality in the Netherlands. So the person in charge of an island will be called the mayor, just like the person in charge of a Dutch municipality. The inhabitants of Bonaire, Saint Eustace and Saba will be allowed to vote for the Dutch and European Parliaments – as if they’re citizens of the Netherlands.

However, Antillean law, for instance will still be different from Dutch law because of the isolated position of the islands. And the Dutch government will maintain financial supervision over the islands as well. It is not certain yet either whether the islands will adopt the euro currency. The social security system won’t be in line with the Netherlands but adapted to the economical and social situation in the region. Will Johnson, delegate from Saba said: “Dutch people who expect to get a tropical allowance, I advise them to stay in the Netherlands, because that is not going to happen.”

It has also not been decided yet when the three small islands will reach their new status. That depends on the negotiations with Curaçao and Saint Martin. The Netherlands want all five islands to adopt their new status at the same time.

But if an all-embracing agreement has not been reached before January 2007, the situation will be looked at again. It’s possible that Bonaire, Saint Eustace and Saba will leave the Netherlands Antilles. They don’t want to get caught up in the problems of the other two islands.

One of the biggest problems that must be solved is the huge debt of the islands; the Antilles are about three billion euros in the red. The Netherlands has promised support but so far there’s no agreement on how this will work.

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