“Where over the world say where? You’ll find an island there… so lovely small. With nations Free…with People French and Dutch, they say, though talkin’ English much, as my St. Martin, as your St. Martin, Our sweet St. Maarten in the Sea.”
Honorable and distinguished guests, people of St. Martin, good morning.
Today March 23, 2021, though having special significance for me, as the day I became a mother for the first time, it is the day that we celebrate Treaty of Concordia Day. As Madam VP Valerie Damaseau said, “Since 2018, we have been working to make it more than about nice speeches.” As Melissa just said as well and as the youth said on Saturday, “Time for talk has finished.” Let today be the last day we only just talk about it.
Today, standing on Concordia Hill, at the edge of Marigot Hill road, where, if you look to my left, you see the range of hills, and the right that partitions this island, but as we also know, Melissa talked about 1863 and we could go back to 1848. They could not say that one side was free while the other was still enslaved.
Recognizing 373 years of actions of two countries; two representatives who determined that in the interest of peaceful coexistence of their citizens during a colonial era plagued by the constant changing of hands by European powers, all during a time, as the youth represented to us on Saturday, far removed from the realities of today.
Over these centuries, the passage of time has brought many changes in the development throughout both communities. Changes in our customs, our nationalities and in the ways that we live. However, the treaty and that spirit of that Treaty of Concordia lives on. The treaty, though outdated in its language and even limited in its statements is the basis and root of the foundation of the cooperation still evident today.
Though you may not know and though the general-public may not know, cooperation does happen on a daily basis- cooperation that sustains us and sometimes the challenges with cooperation that bring us pain and continue to force us to seek ways to resolve them.
One outstanding young St. Martiner, Jennique Gibbs, stated these wise words during the youth dialogue. That’s what I call it- when people speak to each other, hear, listen and then decide to act, I call that dialogue, not just discussion. This dialogue on the treaty last Saturday, touched my heart which I immediately shared on my social media page, and will share with you this morning. I also took the time to speak to the young lady as with many others and she stated “Sint Maarten and St. Martin complement each other, no side can do without the other.” – none of us know this better than I, with the experience of the past year.
With the rapid changes in our constitutional statuses on both sides over the years, the need to evaluate, amend and improve this treaty is long overdue, and has never been more timely. While cooperation pertaining to law enforcement, health, culture, education, youth, sports, environment and so much more continue on a technical level, what is lacking is the concerted effort by a unified body of elected representatives to take the necessary step to really unify our actions in this regard. These challenges were evermore highlighted during this pandemic and cannot ever go ignored.
Seeing the complexities of today, the realities we face and responsibilities, if you look at these four flags that sometimes lie with the Dutch Kingdom, with the French State, or with each of our elected officials, whether they be the Parliament or the Governments – we are making strides. We are making strides in the improvement of our communication and collaboration as separate entities.
In the end, it will all boil down to the willingness of each party to hear the words, but listen, and take them to heart, understand what the other is trying to say and validate what we can agree with, find common ground based on mutual respect and make decisions that are conducive to our cooperation, collaboration and unity in the best interest of ALL OUR PEOPLE, OUR SHARED ECONOMY AND OUR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT in an ever changing world where you see by the blue flag with all those gold stars that unity across the Atlantic came way after this treaty and can exist, can work. But again, mutual respect is the basis of that.
Together with my government I have committed to monthly meetings with Prefet delegue Serge Gouteyron representing the French State and many of the responsibilities that we hold and that we must discuss. Monthly meetings – this was never done before. I also, commit together with my Council to meeting on a regular basis with the Collectivite. In fact, in our next meeting, I have asked that the Collectivite always be present as well, because it is only truly unified that we can execute the much-needed change that St. Martin needs.
As locally elected and appointed representatives, North and South, the Collectivite of Saint-Martin and the Council of Ministers have pledged to find a structural way to meet together and discuss moving forward realizing a United Governing entity for St. Martin – termed ‘The St. Martin United Congress’ by President Gibbs. I am seeing your vision and it is at a time like this that I say it is timely. The time for action is now. This congress would function like the EU on 37 square miles and would form the platform for us to amend agreements and treaties, update them and take into consideration our local context and our current situation.
As Sint Maarten and St. Martin, we can both agree that much groundwork by technical experts on both sides will be needed before this vision is realized. Steps have started in the 2014-2020 agreements made and funded by the 11th EDF, that a platform such as this can be started. And so today, we pledge to appoint a taskforce of technical experts across sectors in a platform on both sides to come with a plan of action that tackles the best legal construct to execute decisions jointly in the best interest of sustainable development of our island. 37 square miles of magic located in the Northeastern Caribbean, the tiniest geographical area to be surrounded by water, and shared amicably between two separate governments for more than 373 years. We are a unique and special nation and it is in preservation of our family bonds, friendships and shared social and economic realities, that we must move towards an updated treaty rooted in the needs of our community today but with the vision of the community we want for the future.
In the youth dialogue on Saturday, in their proposal which was handed to President Gibbs and myself called ‘Relaunching Cooperation – The way Forward,’ they highlighted some key areas which I would like to highlight here.
- Reopen negotiation with our partners on a new basis for cooperation
- Write a new draft agreement or treaty of cooperation based on friendship and cooperation
- The population and local authorities validate the project in public debates and referenda
- Signing of a new and updated treaty or an installation of the piloting authorities
- Setting up a ‘Cooperation Council”
- Decide on Cooperation Programmes of common interest annually
When I read this document presented to me from the CTJsm Council and the St. Maarten Youth Parliament, I got chills because what we conceive and think about today, if it lives by them it will survive – it has a future and there will be continuity. And so, key areas that the youth have defined in their talk were Education, History and Cultural awareness, Tourism, Health, Economic development, Environment, Waste Management, Energy, water and more. These are all the same that exist in what we have put forth as well.
With the right persons in place with the same vision we can all get in formation and ensure that the necessary updates to this treaty happens in our lifetime. Let not another day that we commemorate Treaty of Concordia or even St. Martin Day come without us seeing progress that is further than we are today.
I’d like to repeat, “Sint Maarten and St. Martin complement each other, no side can do without the other.” – Jennique Gibbs. Look out for her, I see leadership in her. And as Lino Hughes said, “We are One Island, One People, One Destiny,” and for me and the people of St. Martin and for you President Gibbs and our Councils, the Governor and Prefet, the time for talk is done. Let us take action and I promise that we will get the result.
Happy Treaty of Concordia Day! Long live the treaty and may we also live to bring the necessary amendments.