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Dear Antilleans – ‘more Europe’ – is that what you really want?

February 6th, 2013 • By Ronald van Raak

Dear fellow citizens of the Kingdom of the Netherlands,

Ronald van RaakIf that’s what you want, you can enter into closer relations with the European Union. I’ll be speaking about this on Wednesday in Parliament with the Dutch government. Aruba, Curacao and Saint Martin form part not only of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but also of the EU. Your country isn’t a full member in the manner of the metropolitan Netherlands, but forms part of the ‘Overseas Countries and Territories’ (OCT). That means that your island isn’t really a part of Europe and, unlike the metropolitan Netherlands, doesn’t use the euro as its currency. This OCT status doesn’t mean much in practice, but neither does it give you many difficulties.

On Wednesday 6th February I must decide, in my capacity as a Member of Parliament, whether you wish to integrate more deeply into the European Union. Europe wants to intervene more in your trade and economy, nature and the environment, and the social and cultural development of your islands. That sounds all very fine: more aid and – who knows – also lots more money. But I want to warn you that it will also lead to more bureaucracy and more interference. It could mean in addition that you will be obliged to introduce the euro, the common currency which has thrown Europe into deep crisis and the arrival of which many in the Netherlands have come to regret.

In October 2010 Bonaire, Saba and Statia (also known as St. Eustatius), following a referendum on future status, became municipalities of the Netherlands. (Translator’s note: The difference between being part of the ‘Kingdom of the Netherlands’ and part of the Netherlands proper, as a ‘special municipality’ are technical, but can be important for a range of purposes.) The people of these islands hoped then that the result would be a great deal of assistance and a lot of money. But what principally arrived were aeroplanes stuffed with laws and regulations, so many of them that neither the local governments nor the population were all that happy about it. The Netherlands may be very bureaucratic, but there is nothing like the bureaucracy of the EU. It’s true that money is set aside for new OCTs, but Aruba, Curacao and Saint Martin won’t see much of it, competing as you will have to with other islands such as the British dependencies Anguilla and Montserrat and the French St. Barthelemy, but also with islands in the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Antarctic region.

In addition to the Overseas Countries and Territories, the European Union recognises another status for islands beyond Europe - the Ultra-Peripheral Region (UPR). This applies to islands which are indeed regarded as part of the European Union and must thus abide by all EU laws and regulations. They include the French ‘départments’ Guadeloupe and Martinique. Your island’s government is not really clear about the future of your island within the EU, which makes it difficult for me as an MP in the Netherlands to take a decision on the matter.

Aruba would like to join the EU, but doesn’t want to adopt the euro. Tourism explains why they prefer to keep the dollar. Aruba is also justified in saying that the EU wants to interfere in everything, but won’t do anything to promote tourism, despite this being the island’s lifeblood. St Martin echoes this, and expresses the wish to work together with other islands in the region. But for cooperation between Caribbean islands you don’t in my view need the European Union. Curacao is, I think, asking what the consequences will be for government finances and for employment.

I find it difficult to take a decision that will have so much influence on your island’s future. If you decide that you want closer ties with the European Union, then in my view the Netherlands should help you to achieve that, in order to avoid your island facing unnecessary European interference and being saddled with superfluous EU bureaucracy. But in the Netherlands we have also learned that we should not take this kind of decision without asking the people. It is therefore important that the advantages and disadvantages of closer ties with Europe are clearly laid out. What will it mean for your future and for the future of your island? I will be asking the Dutch government to join your own government in doing this, so that you will have the chance to express your views on your future in Europe in a referendum,

Respectfully,

Ronald van Raak

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