Netherlands Vs Former Antilles

UPDATED Knops Answers English, FULL Policy Debate On Kingdom Relations. Minister Raymond Knops Questions Answered: Sint Maarten, Aruba & Curaçao

QUESTIONS: Mr. Knops met with the 2nd Chamber to discuss the situation on the CAS (Curacao, Aruba and St. Maarten) islands.

Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLink):
The Statute offers an incredible number of opportunities to turn it into a thriving relationship. This is only possible if we work on the basis of trust instead of mistrust, if people think in terms of opportunities instead of threats and if government is governed in the interests of the country instead of in self-interest. Unfortunately, that is not the case enough. The four countries of our Kingdom, which have laid down their equivalence in the Statute but are of course not equal or uniform, irritate each other too often and stimulate each other too little. We certainly do not bring out the best in each other. Too often the autonomy argument is used to especially not do something, on both sides of the ocean. Can the State Secretary reflect on this?

Why did he say at the end of May last year shortly after the outbreak of the corona crisis: the countries in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom cannot bear their own autonomy?

The constitutional relationship was thus more or less declared bankrupt. A year earlier, at a lecture in September 2019, the Secretary of State said sensibly that pushing for negotiations on a new statute was to open Pandora’s box. Why the attack on that autonomy last year? And where is the State Secretary now, another year later? I hope he has come to his senses a bit.
The Secretary of State added in the first corona wave: “It’s actually a shame that we now have to send thousands of food parcels that way to make sure people get through the day.” I don’t think that’s a shame at all. A country like Curaçao has been confronted with two immense crises in the past three years: in addition to the Corona crisis, the Venezuelan crisis, with an enormous influx of refugees, who partly ended up illegally and partly were locked up in barracks under degrading conditions. We spoke to the people there. It is unworthy of the rule of law. Can the State Secretary outline the current situation?
Sint Maarten still suffers every day from the consequences of the devastating hurricane Irma three years ago. The frustration among the population is great, because the generous financial support of the Netherlands for reconstruction is not being sufficiently released. It is no shame that a country like Curaçao, with as many inhabitants as Apeldoorn, cannot manage this crisis, let alone Sint Maarten. That is why our group appreciates the fact that the Dutch government has provided loans and gifts to the Caribbean countries in times of crisis. Can the State Secretary provide an overview of what has been provided in loans and donations per country?
The amounts are substantial, but frankly, they are nothing compared to the tens of billions that we are transferring through the EU to countries like Italy and Spain to keep them going in the current crisis. We call this support solidarity. That is also well-understood self-interest. The question that Kim Putters once raised so compellingly is: how much inequality can a democratic legal order tolerate? Loosely translated: how much social disadvantage can the Kingdom bear?
As a member of this Chamber, I have again been shocked over the past two years by the confrontation with and the stories about the extent of poverty in both the three Caribbean countries and the three Caribbean Dutchthe islands, Bonaire, Statia and Saba. The State Secretary speaks in the documents about 80,000 people who have been helped with and therefore depend on food parcels made possible by the Netherlands. That is 20% to 25% of the population. Chairman. In June 2016, this House adopted the Ganzevoort motion to establish a social minimum for the BES islands. These reference amounts are available, but they take into account the expected fall in the high cost of living. That means that the gap to the minimum cost of living is large. The real minimum income of many residents is really too low. Poverty is undiminished. The story that costs will decrease over time will be true, but it simply takes too long. And here the Netherlands is responsible. The National Ombudsman wrote eighteen months ago that we should all be ashamed of poverty in the BES islands. Does the State Secretary agree with us that there is too much poverty and that of the spirit of the Ganzevoort motion, namely setting a social minimum through which people can provide the necessary necessities of life, has not been achieved enough and is he prepared to make extra efforts to take measures to help the poorest part of our population?
Chairman. Back to that assistance we have been providing countries with over the past year. That did not happen automatically. In the summer, the Netherlands imposed conditions on that support. And that is allowed. Hard conditions, in fact, to enforce the necessary reforms. And even that is allowed. But the way in which the agreements on the land parcels were reached could and should have been different. If three countries perceive desired reforms as a dictate, something is profoundly wrong. I know that the toes can be long, but also many constructive forces did not have a good word for this process. A policy of choking or swallowing does not fit into the kingdom relationship.
C’est le ton qui fait la musique, chairman. That tone was too high and too loud. It has unnecessarily disrupted relations, because the approach to achieve reforms and investments by means of land packages that contribute structurally to sustainable economic development on the islands is fine. Investments in the financial and economic field and in healthcare, education and the rule of law are desperately needed. In such a delicate process in which old sentiments and special feelings quickly emerge, you have to leave each other whole and that is really different from eating and drinking. It is a plea to achieve something together, in which giver and receiver can both be proud of both the idea and the implementation.
We have now been able to take note of the advice of the Council of State regarding the Kingdom Act establishing the Caribbean body for reform and development, the COHO. The Council of State is extremely critical. He speaks of an infringement of personal responsibility and raises the question of compatibility with provisions in the Staff Regulations. In anticipation of the legislative procedure, I would like to receive an initial response from the State Secretary to this critical advice from the Council of State.
Chairman. If we look a little soberly at the relationships between the countries in the Kingdom, we see that they are suboptimal. We greatly appreciate the efforts of the State Secretary in recent years, but we have not been able to reach or convince the population of the various islands sufficiently. The elections in Curaçao last month led to a significant loss for the government parties PAR and MAN and Prime Minister Rhuggenaath, a constructive government leader, was thus banished to the opposition. A year ago, the elections on St. Maarten led to a coalition that made it difficult for the State Secretary to do business. The petition by a majority of the States accusing the Netherlands of racism, discrimination and neo-colonialism is a sad low point. The State Secretary responds by turning off the money tap. That is a new step in an escalation model, where de-escalation is so desirable.
But I agree with the Secretary of State; it takes two to tango. Six months ago we had elections on Statia, two years after the Netherlands had to intervene in the administration there. The result of that election was identical to the composition of the board before that intervention. Then we are not doing something right. What is the State Secretary’s reflection on this analysis of the three most recent elections?
Chairman. I come to my conclusion. I am sure that there are enough people in the four countries who are committed to an undivided Kingdom. We should all talk about that. We do not have the conclusive answer either, but we do know that making use of the power of civil society gives energy. We have to link schools here, link them structurally to schools there. This also applies to healthcare and so on. Lots of connections, lots of ccontacts, lots of communication: that works. We know that investing in a sustainable, more diversified economy creates jobs and offers the population perspective. That works. We also know that knowing and understanding the specific problems of governing small islands and countries helps. Because every decision there is about your neighbor or your family. Offer customization and do justice to diversity between countries and islands; that helps. We know that taking cultural differences into account helps, and show that you know the history of our Kingdom.
But it is also true that the choice of the Kingdom by the people of the countries is a choice of a community of value. It is voluntary, but not without obligation. Good and honest management are a cornerstone in this. And it helps if not every disagreement is traced back to our colonial history. It also helps if we let go of our shyness about those accusations. The biggest task for the new cabinet is to strengthen mutual trust and to move from idea to implementation.
The Kingdom relationship must be given a higher priority in the new cabinet. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says it literally in the AIV’s advisory report on security and the rule of law in the Caribbean. Thom de Graaf means this in his lecture for the University of Curaçao. The National Ombudsman writes it in his report on poverty in the BES. Now we have to do it. A higher priority can contribute to new impetus that benefits the population, a kingdom from burden to lust.

Thank you.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
This is a great story; thank you. The core of your argument is actually: more priority, good communication, together we are strong. Do you think a forthcoming Kingdom conference could play a good part in that?

Mr. Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I think so. I think that we as four countries should enter into intensive discussions with each other. We must share an analysis, we must dare to say with each other that we are too divided and too little interconnected. I think it starts with that analysis. And in doing so, we shouldn’t bake you, but look at each other thoroughly. What can we do better together, ultimately in the interest of the population? Because we will agree: those poverty figures are unacceptably high. That is one.

Point two concerns the question of what the solution is. I have mentioned a few suggestions, but the list is far from complete. Mr Dittrich’s question may also go back to part of his contribution; I think that’s how we’ve known each other long enough and that’s what interruptions are for. I would say yes, the idea that you are talking to each other in the Kingdom about how we can do better can certainly be part of that higher priority that I would like. That says nothing about the efforts of this State Secretary during this period, because I was positive about that too. To me it is actually more about the fact that we, society and politics, have to invest much more broadly together in that relationship.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
I can only say that I share that. I also think this exchange of views is important. This is recorded and recorded in the documents, so that it can also be read on the other side of the lake.

Mr. Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
Yes.

Mrs. Gerkens (SP):
We also see that income inequality has increased on all islands and the inhabitants on the islands have declined. Poverty – Mr Rosenmöller has already said – is great, very great. The situation is therefore also dramatic on all islands today. Violence is increasing, poverty is growing enormously, corona is causing black days in Curaçao, Aruba is experiencing a political crisis, Bopec has gone bankrupt on Bonaire and Sint-Maarten has filed a complaint with the UN about the Netherlands. The figures show it: it really was better eleven years ago.
Chairman. We now know four countries within the Kingdom and special municipalities. But administrative relations are still tight. I would like to ask the State Secretary to reflect on that. In my group’s view, this is because we grant autonomy to countries that are struggling to organize their own democracy. This autonomy appears to have been granted without precisely defining what exactly is involved in that autonomy, which means that there are large differences of opinion between the Netherlands and the three other countries. Does the State Secretary agree with me?
The situation in Aruba and St. Maarten’s complaint show that political stability there is still hard to find. It’s also tricky, because they are actually small islands. It is difficult to have a balanced political system. It’s a different world than, say, in this country. The mutual relationships on such an island create a continuous threat of conflict of interest. To have to put democracy first, really requires hard work. Corruption, which exists in those countries, is also persistent and affects the political playing field again and again. Ultimately it causes disillusionment among citizens and loss of confidence in their administrators. They are used to nothing but the high lords taking care of themselves while struggling to stay afloat. An active role of those residents in those three countries, but also in the municipalities, could bring about a cultural change. But if you cannot get enough bread on the table even with three jobs, then there is very little room to take on an active political role, although the number of parties that took part in the Curaçao elections is again encouraging. . The question now is: how can we ensure that healthy democracies are created that are resistant to corruption and crime, are able to ward off self-enriching politicians and have an eye for the whole rather than part of the population?
I would like to emphasize that these politicians certainly already exist in those countries. It is certainly not the case that every politician there is corrupt, criminal or self-enriching, but it does continue to struggle with the administrative culture. Because I know that people are listening: yes, of course it is also the case that democracy does not function optimally for us. It may be clear that I fight for that in this part of the Kingdom and also beyond.
Perhaps we should also ask whether we should ensure that those healthy democracies emerge. Doesn’t that development belong to the autonomy of those islands? That is also a question I would like to ask the State Secretary; it is not a rhetorical question. I am curious about his vision on this.

Chairman. Curaçao was again faced with a designation at the end of February. The opposition had paralyzed the administration by frustrating an appointment of a Member of Parliament. It was another clear signal of the way political administration views democracy. Meanwhile, people in Curaçao are starving. Curaçao understands well that cuts and reforms must take place, but it says: “Those requirements are not okay and the pace is too fast. They hurt and poverty grows.” It points to the Netherlands as a cause for this. The cutbacks in health care were also discussed from Aruba during the IPKO. These are cuts out thereothers ensure that children’s boarding houses have to close. My group understands that these reforms are badly needed, but also wonders whether these cuts in the public sector are proportionate. On balance, the burdens end up on the wrong shoulders. Seen in that light, it is not surprising that unrest arises. However, the State Secretary now states that these cutbacks are not the result of the policy of the Netherlands, but of the choices made by the countries themselves. His commitment is to narrow the pay gap. That was also the basis of the so-called Rhuggenaath standard. But the question now is how this approach will develop now that the MFF has won the elections. That’s what Mr. Rosenmöller already said. Please get a view from the State Secretary on the current political situation in Curaçao, but also on those cuts in the public sector, and in particular on healthcare. Is he concerned about this too? And what are the solutions for this?
Chairman. With all this in mind, it is therefore not surprising that the State Secretary took matters into her own hands and linked the financial support for the corona crisis to the establishment of the reform body, the COHO. However, the Council of State says that setting up the COHO falls within the powers of the countries themselves, although the State Secretary explains the advice differently. He has therefore promised the countries financial support, but not without the condition of reforms of, among other things, the government and the economy in the countries. This has been criticized under the articles of association and has also led to anger. It has led to a political shift in Curaçao and St Maarten’s complaint to the UN.
During the IPKO I was surprised a number of times by the tone of the conversations there: many finger-pointing and few hand-in-my-bosom stitches. Here too I draw the gloomy conclusion that in 2010 we left the country with the impossible task of developing autonomous democracy under unclear agreements and while the country was not ready for it. This is evident from the fact that there have been nine different governments in St. Maarten in the past ten years. The call for real autonomy is getting louder and my group understands it. Governments of the countries and municipalities are still confronted with far-reaching and strict indications about reforming the economy, while the idea was that there would be autonomy.
Then something else. Thanks to the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Netherlands is responsible for an unclear laundry list of cases in the countries. According to our group, this leads to ambiguity, inequality and quarrels. That is why my party across the street submitted a motion in 2019 in which we asked for a joint consultation, in order to give a clearer interpretation to the tasks of the individual countries and of the Kingdom as a whole. On 2 October 2019, the State Secretary promised the Senate to implement the 2016 De Graaf motion by implementing the 2019 Van Raak motion. What about this interpretation now?
Then there was last year’s Van Raak motion, which asks all countries to provide a vision of the Kingdom and to indicate who is responsible for what. What about the implementation of those motions? Chairman. I finish. The way forward is a different approach. An approach that shows what democracy should look like. You do this together with all residents, not only from the countries but also the municipalities. The communities are not large. It is quite possible to enter into dialogue with them and to shape the administrative relations together with the population. How does the State Secretary view this? It is also important that the dispute settlement is now being implemented quickly. No, it does not deserve a constitutional beauty award. That is difficult for a senator. We prefer good laws to pragmatics here, but the situation we are in now requires more than pragmatics: it requires decisiveness and clarity. The dispute settlement procedure makes a start with defining responsibilities.

Chairman. After Miep Diekmann’s books, I read Dubbelspel and de Morgen Woos again by Tip Marugg. I still do it with their stories of limestone cliffs, chirping crickets, tamarind, rats, whiskey and dominoes, but also a lot of passion. My hope is that that passion will develop positively in the coming years.
Thank you.
Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
Thanks, chairman. The agenda includes an enormous number of relevant documents, including the ibo report Kingdom Relations, about the organization around the BES islands in The Hague. But because this report underr my presidency has appeared, I will not speak about it in my contribution and will confine myself to the countries of the Kingdom.
My group realizes that the islands have been hit unprecedentedly by COVID-19. In times of need, the added value of the Kingdom context must be evident. Fortunately, the financial and actual aid provided by the Netherlands got under way quickly and continues to this day. Soon the criticism will come, but now the appreciation for it will probably come.

Chairman. Our Kingdom is not defined by similarities, but by differences. The differences between the Netherlands and the Caribbean part, and the differences between the Caribbean parts themselves are large. They are still too often clinging together like loose sand within the structure of the Statute. Corona has further magnified those differences. The faction of the Labor Party is pleased that today, for the first time in this composition of the Senate, we can speak to the State Secretary as representative of the Dutch government and learn from him what he has done over the past four years to address these differences bridge and advance the kingdom. Because the old coalition agreement excels in vagueness on this point, I ask him what exactly the goals were and which ones have been achieved. And what should the next cabinet tackle immediately after the corona crisis, or at least the direct corona crisis, has been averted?
Chairman. If improving the relationship with the governments of the countries was a goal of the cabinet, this has failed. The relationship with St. Maarten is downright bad. That with Curaçao threatens to deteriorate rapidly and the relationship with Aruba is also under considerable pressure. The emergency aid has been experienced as blackmail. There are not only economic conditions attached to the aid. It seems that the Netherlands has comprehensively implemented its entire wish list. An additional authority has been imposed that severely limits the democratic mandate of the parliaments of the countries. They can be overruled on basic topics. These are measures that may be logical from a Dutch perspective – in view of what has happened in the recent past – but could it not be otherwise? The fact that the Curaçao political party MFK – previously responsible for financial mismanagement, firm financial mismanagement – is back at the center of power may be a confirmation that tight financial frameworks are more necessary than ever. But it could also mean that we have electorally knocked down the Rhuggenaath cabinet with the heavy demands on support.
Chairman. Despite all justified and substantial material support, in my group’s opinion, cooperation within the Kingdom and with the reasonable forces is above all made more difficult. We are looking at the upcoming elections in Aruba with great concern. If the signs do not deceive, we will soon have three countries that are almost hostile to the Netherlands. Add to this the increasing difference in prosperity between the Netherlands, including the BES islands, and the three other countries. Add to this the increasing dependence on the Netherlands. How does this advance the Kingdom? And where exactly?

Mr. Nicolaï (PvdD):
I hear Mr Recourt speak of a dreaded hostility. Did I understand well from his words that your group is actually saying: we have this on our conscience here in the Netherlands?

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
In part, we have been blamed for this because we are able to push our friends off the stage and leave it to people who are far less our friends.

Chairman. Now, eleven years after 10-10-10, we see that the relationships within the Kingdom are in need of change, because they are not working properly. There is a great economic, geographic and / or geopolitical vulnerability of the countries. There is therefore an increasing dependence on the Netherlands. There is also a constant threat that fundamental values of the democratic constitutional state will be violated. The Netherlands also bears a responsibility for this, or the Netherlands feels that responsibility. But the Netherlands has little or no powers to do something about it. On the other hand, we see the countries that feel they are being treated unfairly, because the Netherlands then uses other, improper means. This is essentially a structural problem. It is a structural problem that we have been running around with a big circle for many years, because we do not see a solution in front of us. So we muddle through. That has to stop. This is not a structure that my group wants to pass on to our children. Let’s sit down with four countries within the Kingdom, or perhaps even better: all the Caribbean islands and the Netherlands, to explore which tasks, responsibilities and powers are needed to make cooperation future-oriented. Let’s do one firstdrawing a roadmap to a kingdom that works because it can bridge differences. Is the State Secretary prepared to make initial preparations for this?

In order to be able to take steps within the Kingdom, not only the structure must be adjusted. Investing in a common goal, developing policy together – far too little has happened. Mutual distrust predominates. The current is against that and no matter how fast we row, we hardly make any progress. My advice to the next cabinet would therefore be: invest not only in a different structure, but also in a better relationship, especially with those who pull the same end of the rope.
Chairman. My group also has a concrete proposal on this point. That proposal pertains to the most sensitive part of our relationship: the fact that our Kingdom is built on the racism and oppression that are typical of a colonial system. This fraught past plays a role implicitly and explicitly to this day. This is explicit when we receive the non-subtle reproach of the administrators of Sint Maarten in particular that we behave like colonial and racist oppressors. But also implicit in relationships, in thinking and in self-consciousness, in not taking responsibility for mistakes made, not even for mistakes made in a much more distant past. Chairman. Let us examine which obstacles exist in the cooperation that arise from the colonial past, in the Netherlands and in the three other countries of our Kingdom, each in their own way. This investigation is best carried out by a researcher not involved with the Kingdom. An outsider’s perspective can point us to any blind spots. You don’t know what you don’t see. I was inspired by the book Revolusi by the Belgian Van Reybrouck, about the independence of Indonesia.
Mrs. Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
I hear Mr Recourt say that the government or the Secretary of State should start negotiating with those who are sympathetic to us. However, they are not in power. They have not been chosen. How am I supposed to do that?

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
The tenor of my text was different, as to why they are not in power. There are of course many, because in a democracy there are always many causes. One of the reasons also seems to be that the Rhuggenaath government in Curaçao, for example, was given such a difficult package of measures that he saw his electoral chances diminished.

Mrs. Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
Isn’t that just one part of the coin? Has not a great deal also been given to the islands in the Kingdom, and perhaps too little has been passed on?

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
Yes of course. I have also said that about three or four times in my contribution so far, and quite rightly so. However, the conditions under which have been too much of a dictation instead of a dialogue.

Mrs. Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
Should that mean, according to Mr Recourt, that different conditions are imposed on the parts of the Kingdom than we also set on the Netherlands within normal relations in the Kingdom?

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
I don’t quite understand that question. The Netherlands has, of course, provided help to itself in the form of large loans, but I do not really understand what other conditions are meant.

Mrs. Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
Mr. Recourt criticizes the conditions that the Kingdom has set for those parts of the Kingdom in the Caribbean. He criticizes this and says that those conditions are too strict. In Mr Recourt’s view, should these be conditions that are different from the conditions that we set for the Netherlands itself?

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
If I understand correctly, the Netherlands sets its own conditions. It borrows money on the market and then sets its own conditions for what we do with that money. The countries cannot borrow that, which is why it goes through the Netherlands, and so the Netherlands is setting conditions that are too strict in my group’s view.

Mrs. Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
In a democracy you can make your own choices. And those parts of the Kingdom are also responsible for those choices. I now have the impression that Mr Recourt does not see it that way.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
I am thinking along with Mr Recourt for a moment. Interesting proposal. Your analysis is that colonialism, racism, at least always play a role in the accusations, and you come up with a proposal: let’s examine that – to summarize it briefly. I myself think – and I am asking you, in my first question – that with the person who is investigating that – that could be a committee, that could be one person, anyone – at least cultural sensitivism must play an important role in thisand, also in the look at the problems. My question is whether you recognize that.

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
Yes. In my text I will come to the details of this research a little further. But certainly, culture is an important carrier of how you stand in life, so also in administrative life. So yes, that’s right.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
To be honest, I thought you completed that part. As a final interruption, let me say, except that of course I listen with interest to the sequel, that for D66 the core of the problems also lies in all kinds of different perspectives, which could come to a solution with a lot of communication. But then there really has to be invested in communication. And communication is not only telling you how to do it from the European Netherlands, but also actually collecting information. Do you agree with that?

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
Yes. See, we are not equal within the Kingdom, but we are equal. That is the first notion. But the second notion is also that you have to face things. And within the Kingdom we have not yet seen enough of the effects that colonialism has. Again, I myself have been deeply influenced by that book by Van Reybrouck because I realized how blind I myself was, but also our ancestors – shall we say – in a system based on exploitation and racism. We did not see that at all at the time. And I thought: How are we actually still blind at this moment to what is emerging from the system of colonialism, as it once was within the present Kingdom? And that was the thought: we have to investigate this, because then we also have a reply to all those accusations we receive from “you are a colonialist”. Let’s just take an open look at where it comes from, where it ended up and where it didn’t go. And that indeed has to do with culture, communication, but also with structures.

Mr. Van der Burg (VVD):
Sometimes you ask your questions because you implicitly want to criticize what the speaker has said. That is by no means my intention now; I’m trying to understand you. Because I get an inconsistency in my head that I cannot imagine in you. So please clarify, via the chairman. Because on the one hand you say “we are four equal countries”, and on the other hand – Mrs Oomen just referred to that – you say that we should talk to people who are not the administrators. That means that another country in the Netherlands can say: yes, there is now a government here – and we are not assuming the caretaker status – but we still have the idea that if that government talks to us, it does not have the represents real opinion of the population; let’s talk to others than that real government. I think that we would not tolerate that in the Netherlands if another country would do that to us. Why then should we be allowed to do it with our three sister countries? So I think I misunderstood you.
Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
That’s right, on a number of points. First of all I said: in the Kingdom there is no equality between countries; countries are different, but we are equal as partners. That, I think, is the fact of the matter. But it is obvious that one country has more power than another, and more inhabitants, and more money and you name it. You have also not heard me advocate that we negotiate the terms through alternative channels. That seems a very undesirable structure to me. It is also a non-democratic structure.

Mr. Van der Burg (VVD):
Yet Mr Recourt just said: you have to keep talking to people to know what’s going on there. But that is exactly the bottleneck. We, you and I, are not about what happens there. That is what Mr Recourt and Mr Van der Burg are about, but in the version there. With the government it is even more nuanced, because you can still say: you have a Kingdom government and a cabinet that only deals with the Netherlands. I am emphatically not talking about BES. BES is just… The fourth country, the Netherlands, that’s us. That’s what you and I are about. We should not actually do that in this committee, but in the Internal Affairs committee. They are ours, let me say for a moment. But you and I are not about those three countries, because they have their own cabinet. I still feel some tension in your speech there. At least, of course, in the speech of Mr Recourt, chairman.

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
I don’t feel that tension, because you are absolutely right. That’s the structure. That does not mean that we, as representatives of the people, cannot hold the Dutch government to account for things that we think could be improved. That is also what is happening. But you really haven’t heard me argue that we should bypass governments or do undemocratic things in any other way. Inwhat part have you tried that with me? I look for that a bit, because I have not advocated that. I just said: let’s be very careful not to push our friends off the stage, in order to get an increasingly difficult conversation partner for us. In the end, we do not have to choose that interlocutor. On the other hand, they have to choose them in the countries of the Kingdom.

Mr. Van der Burg (VVD):
Again, I do not see Mr Recourt as an advocate for debate. I try to bring out his thoughts so that I may or may not incorporate them into my thoughts. You do say that we have to move towards a different structure than we have now. Now we have four countries that are not equal but are of equal value. If the cabinet in the Netherlands provides aid to the other three countries, you do not think it should impose the condition it has set, which those three countries have actually agreed to. But then you want more … Sorry, that’s a suggestion I shouldn’t make. Then I think: then it seems as if we want to control more in a different structure, in a different way than we do now. But that does not compare with the fact that they are four equal countries.

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
Now I understand better what my colleague Van der Burg is asking about, namely the Statute. We have arranged that at the moment, as you say it has been arranged. That is not so much based on the Antilles, but on the independence of Indonesia. I recently reread that. That Statute is a nuisance. That is indeed the part of my contribution. I thought about it for a long time. I thought: if we only make the implementation better now, then we can arrange that within that imperfect
Statute. Ultimately, however, my group’s conclusion is that that Statute will not last 20 or 30 years. We really need to start thinking about how to better shape responsibilities. Now the Netherlands stands for more than the responsibility for this. That is the core of the wringing. You say: we are equal countries. Yes, in theory, but in practice you see that there is tension on the line. The moment, for example, the Netherlands is responsible under treaty law for the situation in prisons, but actually does not have much to say about it, you have a problem.

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
By the way, but that is a different discussion, I am really a big opponent of the transfer of BES to the Ministry of the Interior. But it may be going a bit far to have that discussion now.
I will continue on the proposal to investigate the exact impact of colonialism on the current bad relationship and what the obstacles are. We all have many ancestors in our blood, each with a different relationship to colonialism. How you relate personally to colonialism is an individual process. As politicians, we are not about that. But this is different for the countries in the Kingdom and their administrators. Research into how colonialism such as this existed in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom has an effect on the administrative culture and in this difficult cooperation has never been done before.

The impressive report Crushing Kingdom bonds from 2001 provides a tremendous amount of relevant information and is therefore a good preliminary study, but had a much more limited research assignment. The follow-up investigation envisaged by the Labor Party is important for several reasons. First of all from ethics. You have to give an account of your past, also or perhaps especially if that is not nice. Only then will there be room for a new start. We have to keep going. The dependence of the six islands on the Netherlands is great – the corona crisis has also shown this – and it is topical. The relationship between the Caribbean countries and the Netherlands is bad. Research can help reverse that negative undercurrent in the relationship and speed up collaboration. It can also provide a rebuttal for Dutch administrators to the now often unfounded criticism that the Netherlands continues to position itself as a colonial power. In short, it makes the pink elephant of the Kingdom visible and open to discussion in the Chamber. This is necessary to improve relations between the countries. This in turn means that more results can be achieved for all inhabitants, especially those of the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. That is why I ask the State Secretary if he is willing to prepare and finance such an investigation.
Chairman. Today I have limited myself to a number of major themes to which the State Secretary, also in his caretaker state, can still give attention in the short term, namely the structure and the relationship within the Kingdom. We are the kingdom of differences. Some differences will be altremain vain, but others must be reduced. I look forward to his answer, in the hope and expectation that the State Secretary will respond positively to the questions from my group.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
I will return to the investigation for a moment: you ask the State Secretary to initiate and prepare it. May I say through you that it is very important that the other countries are involved in this? Because soon we will have an investigation into this past, which other countries do not recognize themselves in. Then I know what the end of the song is: then they continue to have a difference of opinion and we don’t get any further. You ask the State Secretary to initiate it; I hope that will be done with due regard for the interests of the other countries in the Kingdom. Don’t you agree?

Mr. Recourt (PvdA):
Hell yes. I even had that in my text at first, but I took that out again, because it must be
workable. Besides, this is a debate with this government and not with the government of the other countries, so I can only ask this Secretary of State to do something. But that must of course be done in consultation. You should avoid ending up in an endless debate about periods and commas; it just has to happen now, but of course as much as possible in consultation. That is also in line with the rest of my argument.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
Thank you, chairman. I start with a quote. “The biggest crisis for us is the combination of socioeconomic inequality and chronic diseases that mainly affect poorer people and which are also underlying diseases for covid. Obesity, and with it high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease: a huge problem here. If we don’t do it anymore. getting equality in society, people in the lower classes will really not live healthier lives. They simply cannot. That requires a structural social transformation. And are we working on that? The answer is no. ” This was a quote from Izzy Gerstenbluth, the government epidemiologist of Curaçao in his Volkskrant interview two days ago. In Curaçao it is really all hands on deck. The number of coronavirus infections is increasing rapidly, the hospital beds are full and there is a shortage of IC staff. Fortunately, the Netherlands is helping. But since 10-10-10 – it has been said before – Curaçao has been autonomous and is itself about matters such as healthcare. But when it asks for help, we as the Netherlands must be there for our fellow Kingdom members. Of course this also applies to the other islands in the Caribbean. They also help each other. There was also a very nice editorial commentary about this in the Antilliaans Dagblad. We help each other in the Kingdom or as Queen Wilhelmina put it in her radio address in 1942, speaking about the Kingdom: “Leaning on our own strength but with the will to assist each other”. Actually, that is also the core of Paul Comenencia’s book, which Paul Rosenmöller already talked about in his introduction.

Chairman. In that quote from Gerstenbluth, a number of things come to the fore that I want to discuss in my contribution, such as administrative strength, public health, economic prospects, poverty and the like. First of all, about the administrative strength. Leading up to the 10-10-10 autonomy, there was hope and optimism. The debt burden of Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten was cleared away and from that date onwards, people would start with a clean slate. But yes, if we now look back after more than ten years on how the situation developed, even before corona arrived, then we cannot ignore the fact that certain matters were not dealt with adequately. This has been said before. Mrs. Gerkens talked about it. They are small communities that have a lot of work to do. So it is not really just a reproach, but it is an observation that, for example, the growing gap between rich and poor, the unhealthy life and the necessary strengthening of the rule of law are all kinds of topics that stand out and that really need to be properly regulated. And they are also topics that the countries themselves are about. But as the Netherlands you naturally want these problems to be tackled thoroughly. And by the way, many people in those countries want that too. They long for good, solid administration. So the question is of course also: how far can you as the Netherlands go in your encouragement while respecting the autonomy of the other countries?

When financial help is requested, D66 thinks it is logical that Dutch tax money is well spent and that structural changes take place that actually help the societies in Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten further and that are also future-proof. Of course, each country differs, each country chooses its own approach, but onemust meet quality standards. And agreements made must be fulfilled, also by the Netherlands incidentally.

The proposed Caribbean Body for Reform and Development (COHO) will have to become a major driver to contribute to the resolution of the emerging problems. But those plans for the COHO were received emotionally. It was perceived as an attack on autonomy. That has been bad for the support base. I would like to ask the State Secretary how he himself looks back on this. What could have been better? How could we have prevented these reactions?
In addition, the Council of State has issued critical advice on the legal basis. On behalf of D66, I say that we think it is important that the Netherlands tries to get out together with the three countries. Real objections must be taken into account, taking into account everyone’s interests, including those of the Netherlands. It is important to note that the three countries did eventually agree to the COHO proposals and the accompanying country packages.

Mr. Nicolaï (PvdD):
I actually have two questions. The one question is how Mr Dittrich’s group views the question whether that bill is indeed contrary to the Statute. The second question is the following. I heard Mr Dittrich say that the three countries have agreed that this bill will be introduced. But how did that agreement come about? You know coercion, error and deception in civil law. It does look a lot like coercion. I would also like to reflect on that from Mr Dittrich.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
Thanks for your questions. We have yet to discuss the bill here. So I would like to go into that in detail in due course. But my next question to the Secretary of State, before your interruption, was how he views this entire COHO process. Can the objections of the Council of State be met, with the consent of the three countries? That actually touches on your question.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
Thank you. But there is a lot to be said about that. When I listen to the comments on the other side of the lake, I have the impression that this was really experienced as a dictation and an attack on autonomy and that they were not really involved in all those conditions in the country packages. But I also note that the three governments ultimately said to the State Secretary: in the end we agree. That is also something we should not just throw in the trash. Again, I ask the State Secretary to reflect on how the Dutch government has operated in person in this field of tension.
Mr. Nicolaï (PvdD):
I asked Mr Dittrich for a reflection. I am very curious. You have also seen how it went. All those documents are included in the agenda. Also consider the agreement. You can see what is arranged in the agreement. You also know that there was little choice for the islands to say no. My question is: how does the D66 fraction see that? Is it an agreement or is it an enforced thing?
Mr. Dittrich (D66):
Ultimately it is an agreement, but sometimes you can enforce an agreement. That is why it is also about how the State Secretary himself views the process. But if I look, for example, at the country packages that are enclosed, I see that they contain a lot of topics that have been put forward by the countries themselves and that have been discussed at the official level. That’s not something we should just ignore. I am not here to argue that all work should be redone. That, I think, would do the people of the countries a disservice. We have to keep going. If I have listened carefully to Mr Recourt, I say: we must continue, but in a more equal way. We must listen carefully to each other, to the objections, and we must take them to heart. In such a way we must try to move on, for we are all united in the Kingdom.

Mr. Nicolaï (PvdD):
You say yourself: it should actually be done in a more equal way. But the nice thing about an agreement is that you negotiate and that something then comes about between the parties. Do you really have the idea that has been discussed here… So I am asking your opinion on the basis of the facts that you know. I am not asking what the State Secretary is going to say about this, but what the D66 faction says about it. Has it been an equal situation, where two parties were able to negotiate and come to an agreement?

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
I understand that you are asking me that question, but I am going to refer you to the State Secretary anyway. My analysis is that there is a lot of emotion on the other side about what is considered a speciesdictates and experiences an attack on their own autonomy. You ask me: do you agree? Of course I don’t have all the data on that. I did not attend those meetings. I do see that agreement was eventually reached. That may have happened with long teeth and with a lot of reluctance; I believe that immediately. First I want from the Secretary of State… We check this Secretary of State for the way he has dealt with it. That is also my job as a member of the Senate. That is why I am asking these questions. In any case, I hope – I say that out loud here – that we can learn from that process. I hope that in the future, in future negotiations and discussions, we will listen to each other much better and that we take to heart what things are said, objections are raised. A factor in this may be that, if people disagree with something, they quickly resort to words such as “colonialism” or “racism”. That is why I find the proposal by Mr Recourt of the Labor Party to take a look at that as well. I don’t want that to put all other necessary discussions on hold and that we all focus on them. But that could play a role in being able to achieve results in a more equal way in the future that are in the interest of the population there, because that is ultimately what it is all about.

Chairman. Then I come to the government dispute settlement. I agree with those who have asked the State Secretary when we will receive an answer. In the discussions with colleagues across the ocean, it really appears that this dispute settlement is very important.

Chairman. COVID-19 – as has already been mentioned by others – has caused tourism to collapse completely and this has painfully exposed the need to strive for diversification of economic activities. Unemployment has increased enormously. About 80,000 families have become dependent on food aid. There is dire poverty behind the front door. As far as D66 is concerned, there is praise for the Red Cross, the churches, social organizations and volunteers who work for others, offer help to those who need it and make the most of it. The question, of course, is how we will continue after the pandemic. Because in addition to tourism, useful alternatives to economic activities must also be sought. Of course, all kinds of plans have been made for this from the countries. I ask the State Secretary how he sees the economic future of the countries and the Caribbean Netherlands.

Of course we have the administrative agreement for Bonaire. The question is what has been achieved in concrete terms so far. We see opportunities for new economic activities for the concept of blue economy and blue destination of the world. In terms of natural beauty, Bonaire has a lot to offer. The question to the State Secretary is how things are going with the elaboration of those plans. We find that there is a lot of poverty on the BES islands, also among families and especially children. That is what the BES (t) 4 kids program is aimed at with the help of the Dutch government. For the sake of brevity, the question is how the roll-out of that program is progressing.

Chairman. With regard to St. Maarten, the damage caused by Hurricane Irma and the slow recovery is striking. The money is there, but the actual smooth approach to reconstruction has lagged behind. Why is it that only now, in 2021, the first restoration of damaged schools has started? What about the resources spent? Wouldn’t it be better to transfer the remainder to the COHO in formation? Is the State Secretary satisfied with the efforts of the World Bank and what critical reflections on this choice can he share with us?
After Irma, of course, the pandemic rolled over St. Maarten. We have established that eleven members of the Island Legislative Council have filed a complaint about the Netherlands through a law firm in Washington at the United Nations, because racism is alleged to be involved in setting conditions for the assistance. They believe that too much autonomy should be given up. It is interesting to see that the population was taken by surprise by this action and that no one on St. Maarten was heard about it before the issue was raised in the Island Council, while countless people on St. Maarten need help. After the complaint, the State Secretary suspended aid, and this raises questions among the D66 faction, because it punishes the population. My question is whether there is actually sufficient dialogue between Sint Maarten and the government. What must be done to smooth out the relationship?
Can the State Secretary give us an update on the situation of the Venezuelan refugees in Aruba and Curaçao? What about respect for human rights, in terms of fair asylum procedures and detention facilities?

About Curaçoa, finally, I would like to ask: how can we breathe new life into the relationship with Curaçao now that a new government is coming? That government will most likely take a more distant view of the Netherlands and probably want to renegotiate the bill regarding the COHO. But however you turn or turn it, Curaçao will remain dependent on the Netherlands.

Chairman. At the IPKO in January, we concluded that the parliaments of the four countries must communicate well with each other. This benefits mutual contact and understanding. My question is therefore whether the government can support that vision.

In conclusion, I would like to say the following. I have read in the documents that a large conference with the four countries within the Kingdom is coming. I think it is very important that elements like colonialism, racism, are topics that are being looked at there. I also think that cultural sensitivity is an element that must be taken into account very carefully. Ultimately, however, we should not allow ourselves to just continue to speak about constitutional renewals and changes. After all, what matters is what we can do to help people. What can we do for the people who are now so affected by the corona pandemic?

Thank you.

Mr. Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
We have both complimented our contribution, and of course also made some critical comments here and there. Now let’s take a look at the near future. You asked me about such a Kingdom conference. We look at the challenges for issues in the financial, economic and social fields, in the field of security, etc., in other words for issues that you have also drawn attention to. Do we also agree when I say that you should actually say to a new cabinet that more priority should be placed on that Kingdom relationship? There really is an agenda that expresses more urgency to try to bridge that division and move more towards that undivided Kingdom. How do you view this?

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
I can answer that very briefly by saying “yes”. I think that’s very important. It may also be something that should be established in a new coalition agreement. It should perhaps receive a little more attention than in the previous coalition agreement, and I don’t even use the word “maybe” rightly here. But we have to do it in consultation with the countries there. That should then be reflected in the coalition agreement here. Because we have to be careful again that we write something down here in The Hague, and then say: yes, it is our coalition agreement and now we are going to do that. So there must be an interaction with the countries within the Kingdom.

Mr. Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
We agree, and perhaps a large majority is emerging here. That could mean that we start this conversation in our mutual relations, in parliamentary conferences, etc. But ultimately the priority is of course determined by the government, read: by the governments. They are in the lead. We have that supervisory task, as Mr Dittrich very rightly said. So we can make our contribution. We can make a statement. But it would in itself be a good start if the new Dutch government takes up this task. I think that’s what unites us.

Mr. Dittrich (D66):
Yes, that is very warm to me; I totally agree.

Mrs. Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
Chairman. Dear Colleagues. I am not going to talk about KOREL, because there is an advice from the Council of State. The government will respond to that. I’ve seen the advice too. Then I thought to myself: gosh, the Council of State must have a lot of knowledge about the islands, right? We’ll see what comes out, but I’m not going to talk about it right now. I’m not going to talk about the dispute settlement either, because it’s forthcoming, I understand from the government a few weeks ago. So we will have that on our plate in a minute. I think we can start treating that very quickly.

What am I going to talk about? The corona crisis comes on top of the silent crisis that has unfolded in the Caribbean, in the region over the past decade. When we see that in Curaçao in particular, people are more than busy with a new outbreak – by the way, I thank everyone who went there in the last weekend and will offer help; appreciation for that – then we see that,mdespite everything, that part of the kingdom of the Netherlands still does a lot.
Chairman. There are structural vulnerabilities in the Caribbean. Low economic growth, high government debt – they did not start with that in 2010, by the way – vulnerable economies andlow competitiveness. The economic impact that comes on top of that from the covid crisis is great, extra great. Without outside help, things get much worse.

One third of the 160,000 inhabitants of Curaçao was already below the poverty line before the corona pandemic. What makes it extra vulnerable in the Caribbean is that the economies on Sint Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba are particularly dependent on tourism. Let tourism be one of the biggest victims of this pandemic. I also see with sorrow that so many people, say more than 20% of the families on the islands, are dependent on food aid. Food aid that is provided, which is paid by the Netherlands, and which is coordinated by the Red Cross with many volunteers. I want to say an incredible thank you to them for everything they do. Giving food aid is one thing, but you also have to know that when there is poverty, there are also other problems. You can also see that in those countries. There are increasing relational problems. There is violence, including violence against children. There is insufficient care for children. There is also – we see this with sorrow – an increasing crime among young people.
The vaccine is in sight. I just heard that an attempt is being made on Curaçao to vaccinate as soon as possible. Nevertheless, additional support measures will be needed to restore the economy. I would like to hear from the State Secretary how he deals with this.
The municipalities, the BES, are also in a difficult situation. Here too, corona breaks the local economy. That is why a support and recovery package until 2030 – because it has been extended – has been put in place. I wonder how this will continue, even after 1 July.
As with Dutch municipalities, it is up to the local democracy to formulate its own ambitions and make choices. Is people always sufficiently aware of this, I wonder.

Chairman. It has been said several times here. There is discontentment on the islands. The election winner in Curaçao wants new negotiations. There is discontent and unrest in Aruba. The government in St. Maarten has expressed its displeasure in a petition to the United Nations accusing us of colonialism. I wonder: how do we get out of this? Can the State Secretary take us along in this? I say again: it is important now and also for the future that we know how to find each other in the Kingdom. After all, we are closely linked in history with the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom, the autonomous countries of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, which have the status of a municipality.
Chairman. When the virus started to disrupt the islands, we stepped in. That’s the way it is supposed to be. In this context, the Council of Ministers also discussed the question of how things should continue after 2021. Would also like a response.

Chairman. I have seen that the government has requested advice from the AIV. It is an absolutely excellent written report released in September last year. What I see there – contrary to what a number of colleagues here claim – is that the AIV, together with many experts, says that it makes no sense to amend the Statute again. That makes no sense. They do recommend effective use of Article 43 (2) of that Statute if internal order has to be put in place because of civil liberties at stake or governance at stake. That this administrative culture, that governance, is under pressure in those parts of the Kingdom, you actually hear them say too little here. I think it is appropriate to justify this point with the democratic bodies that are there.

Chairman. The AIV’s report turned out to be so comprehensive that the Council of Ministers responded to it. He also said that you should enable the application of Article 43 (2). The government has responded to this. I wonder: what are you doing with all the other recommendations in that report? Can the State Secretary inform us about this?

Chairman. Within the Kingdom we show solidarity and we must show solidarity. We have seen that in recent years… So I admire the Secretary of State. That is not because he is a fellow from the province or because he is a member of my party, but I admire the way he has tried to get through it. This persistence promotes clarity. He is also steering – I admire that too and I think that should be done – for more responsibility on the part of the democracies there. I think that’s necessary.

Mr. Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I was pleased that Ms Oomen paid more attention to the AIV report, because I share with her the breadth but also the appreciation for what was manufactured under the leadership of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. She also shares the recommendation that, among other things, security and geopoliticsbut also, as the AIV says, “the elaboration of a long-term socio-economic plan for the Caribbean countries”, lead to the recommendation that Kingdom relations should be given higher priority in government policy? Does it agree with the AIV on this? That is what I have advocated
myself. I am looking for a form of consensus in this House, in order to record this – with all appreciation for the State Secretary – in a subsequent cabinet term, comparable to the way in which Mr Dittrich has also interpreted this.

Mrs. Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
I said the following: how will the State Secretary or this government or a future government take up those other recommendations that have also been made in this report? I think there are about eight of them. I thought that was good too. We should not single out one thing. I hear colleagues say that amendments to the Statute are needed, but the AIV says clearly: they are not necessary. However?

Mr. Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
Yes, I agree with you on that. So that creates a bond, but I want to go back for a moment. Of course, you always look at the consistency of the recommendations. But if in such a general recommendation – I will mention it for the last time – there is talk of “a higher priority” et cetera, and if you quote it with such approval, then it is not too much to ask of your group to also to pass this element on to the next government? It could just be that you are a part of it.

Mrs. Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
What I could say is that we should all include and consider all of the recommendations made by the AIV. That would be my answer. I am not in favor of taking any specific recommendation from it.

Mr. Nicolaï (PvdD):
It is interesting that Ms Moonen points to Article 43 …

Mr. Nicolaï (PvdD):
Excuse me, Mrs. Oomen. That M was in the wrong direction for a while. I do know that Mrs. Oomen is from the CDA. She referred to Article 43, which states that “each country shall ensure the realization of fundamental human rights and freedoms, legal certainty and good governance”. The second paragraph states: “Safeguarding these rights, freedoms, legal certainty and good governance is a matter for the Kingdom”.

ANSWERS:

State Secretary Knops:
Thank you, Mr President. The Members of the Chamber, who I thank once again for their input in the first term, still have a number of answers to questions to answer. First of all, Mrs Gerkens; It’s coming. I’ll put that back so she can go through it.
Ms Oomen-Ruijten asked what is the state of the countries’ ability to deviate from the budgetary standards laid down in the Aruba National Regulation and the Curaçao and Sint Maarten Financial Supervision Act respectively in the financial year 2021. On 18 December, I also informed your Chamber of the decision-making process in the State Council of Ministers, in which it was decided at the request of the countries that Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten may also deviate from these budgetary standards in 2021. The reasoning behind this is that, in accordance with that CFT opinion, it has been decided to equate the degree of deviation with the Dutch liquidity support expected to be granted in 2021 plus any domestic and foreign liquidity raised to cover budget deficits.
There is Mrs Gerkens; So now I’m going to answer her question. She asked what vision I have of the cuts in the public sector, in particular on health care and how the Netherlands can do it, also a bit in line with the discussion we had about autonomy and how far you can go in it. As part of that liquidity support, we initially asked for a 12.5% reduction in the total employment conditions package of public employees and political office holders. Aruba had already proposed this itself at the time, because it saw that it was no longer going. That is what we have done for the other two countries. This had to do with the fact that income and expenditure were completely out of balance and that everyone is being asked to make sacrifices, including those who still have jobs, because a lot of people have lost their jobs. The IMF has also found that curaçao, Aruba and Sint Maarten have too large a gap between the costs of the public sector compared to the total public finances. But it is also about solidarity with private companies and people who have lost their jobs. We have said that these are temporary measures, because when the crisis is over and everything can be done again, there may be an adjustment to it, but for the time being it cannot.
Specifically with regard to health care, you mentioned Curaçao, but I think you meant Aruba in your question, because there was a discussion about the cuts that should take place there. The Cft has already indicated in the direction of Aruba that the care costs there are completely out of control. This has only been exacerbated by the crisis, especially as the revenues of hospitals and things like that are being reduced as a result of covid because fewer regular operations can take place; this now also plays on Curaçao. But this is also not sustainable. This is really a system that is in danger of falling through its hooves. The weaknesses have now been exposed. Hence the request that Aruba itself come up with a proposal to fill this in. I have spoken to the Prime Minister of Aruba about this, but I am awaiting her response with how they intend to fill this out.
A number of Members — at least Mr Dittrich, Mrs Oomen and Mr Van der Burg — have asked how I see the economic future of the countries, particularly in the area of earning capacity. We have found — and of course we have seen this for a long time — that economies are too dependent on tourism. No one could have imagined this pandemic, but it exposed it very painfully. It is therefore important that investment is made in more than just the tourism sector. A number of examples have already been mentioned. Agriculture was mentioned. You can also make successes in sustainability – for example around Isla in Curaçao, but you can also see this in Aruba. You may have to use this crisis to take different paths. However, it is not only about the economic priorities that are being set, but also about reforms. The labour market, the capital market, the whole business environment, the tax system and the public sector will have to be adapted. That is not something that will be realized tomorrow, but only then will you be more resilient in the event of an upcoming crisis. At the end of the day, that’s the goal we have.
Then the heading Saint Martin. A number of questions have been asked about this, first of all by Mr Dittrich. He, too, had the demand for reflection. That is also beautiful in the chambre de réflexion. They don’t often ask that in the House of Representatives: would you like to reflect? I like that, because that gives us the opportunity to look back on how we sailed with the World Bank around Sint Maarten. To be fair, the World Bank was, in a sense, a choice of necessity, because we thought that if we arranged that one-on-one with Saint Martin, there would be a very heavy political charge on every decision you would make. We are actually seeing this around COHO with the other countries, although this was based on consensus legislation and Sint Maarten was of course really an emergency situation in which to act.
We have currently deposited £352m into the trust fund. Nine projects are in progress and two are in preparation, worth $419 million. We have successfully completed an income support and training project with 2,000 participants, who are therefore more employable in the labour market. More than 1,300 roofs have been repaired. More than 100 shipwrecks in the Simpson Bay Lagoon have been cleared. The new building of the hospital has started. The tender for the reconstruction of the airport is currently underway. The tenders have just been received and are currently being assessed. Many local NGOs and international organisations carry out these projects together with the World Bank. That’s what we did to create local ownership. Qredits, for example, is also very active for companies that saw their incomes fall away and that can be helped with a microcredit. So it is as much local ownership as possible and the dollars flow back into the Sint-Maarten economy.
As far as we are concerned, it is not an option now to take that part of reconstruction away from the World Bank, because there is also an entire organisation set up for it. The funny thing is, the run-up was complicated. This had to do with all kinds of arrangements that had to be concluded, for example an establishment agreement that the government of Sint Maarten had to conclude, so that the World Bank can legally work well on Sint Maarten. That’s taken way too long. Covid got over it, so people weren’t allowed to fly in and out. That made it complicated, too. But now those projects are finally gaining steam. It would not make sense to remove it from the World Bank now. The measures taken under the Consensus RichNess Act are also more structural measures, not just reconstruction, but much more sustainable public finances and the balance between revenue and expenditure. So I understand the question, but at the moment, while the trust fund is largely invested in concrete projects and expectations have also been raised, it would not make sense to take it away from there.

Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I get the latter. I welcome the list of projects that are now coming loose. In the last contacts with parliamentarians on the other side, we heard great concern about this. Then, in the context of that reflection: is this a recipe for repetition? Would you do it again in a different situation? Because it’s hurricane season again and God bless. Or would you go to another structure when a similar damage or perhaps less damage occurs?
State Secretary Knops:
The special thing is that if this were to happen again, everyone would know what needs to be regulated and what is ready with regard to legislation. That’s the advantage. What we may have underestimated is that it is again here: it takes two to tango. In this case, of course, these are three parties: the Netherlands, the World Bank and Sint Maarten. If you want to get projects off the ground on the island itself with the principles we have chosen, namely as many local companies and local employment as possible, then you have to accept that sometimes it takes a little longer. But we saw, for example, at the airport that there was a lack of political will; Let me put it this way. With the dump, it is also an issue that the knowledge and expertise are hardly available and that there was no follow-up. The ministries responsible, the Ministry of VROMI in this case, did not have sufficient execution power to be able to do so themselves. So you can have a very capable World Bank with all the technical expertise, but if on the other side of the partnership one is insufficiently receptive or does not have enough knowledge to be able to respond to it, then it does not work. That balance has to be sought. We may have thought too easily at first that the country of Saint Martin should be able to do so. I think that’s what people thought. We found out that it can’t work without adding expertise. We have done the same thing by now.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
Finally. That World Bank construction is a bit of a plan B, I’ll just say. Can you name a few criteria that should be met if something like this is to happen from government to government and can be implemented?
The Chairman:
Mr. Rosenmöller, it is not the custom that we are tutoying the rulers in this room.
State Secretary Knops:
I think Mr Rosenmöller meant otherwise, but he did say so.
The Chairman:
Then I misunderstood. I thought I heard it repeatedly.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I meant it in a general sense, Mr President. I would not dare to challenge this Secretary of State with this quality of reply — and I have some experience.
The Chairman:
I understand.
State Secretary Knops:
I do not think it helps in such a process as in the relationship between two countries plays the charge that we have just mentioned, namely elements such as doubting the intentions and placing things in the perspective of postcolonial et cetera. That makes it all complicated. Sometimes you have to maneuver around something to get to the target. In a relationship in which there are only two countries in the Kingdom, one of which has a problem as a result of a natural disaster, you might be able to organize it differently. There’s some deposits in here. In fact, it also has a lot to do with the discussion we just had about autonomy. Of course, that disaster was huge. No country with the size of Saint Martin can bear it. But in reconstruction and the things you can do, you need a certain execution force. Let me give you an example, namely Saba. That’s of a completely different order. That’s a public body. They were able to do so very quickly, also with the help of the Netherlands, but still, to pick it up themselves. It is a smaller island with fewer inhabitants, but it had the knowledge and skill to do so. With Sint Maarten, that was just much more complicated.
With the knowledge of that time, we had made the same decision, perhaps even with today’s knowledge. Only in the preliminary phase, i.e. before the start, you might have to more firmly instigator what the conditions are that a country must meet in order to make it a success, for example that establishment agreement and ensure that you have sufficient knowledge and skills. We may have had too much confidence there, as in a larger sense with the autonomy of the countries, that if you make an appointment, they will fill it out as well. Then it’s not always a matter of unwillingness. Sometimes it’s also a matter of powerlessness. They sign, but they can’t deliver in the end. Then in the end you have no roof and no waste mountain cleaned up.
I would like to build on Mr Dittrich’s question about what we have done with regard to reconstruction. In particular, he asked about the schools. It doesn’t really work out, he says, if I say it in my own words. At the moment, repairs have started at three priority schools. The tender for the next three schools is in preparation. The remaining 13 schools will follow the restructuring of the agreement between the World Bank and Sint Maarten. Additional funding is also required for this. This is an example of a project that has taken far too long. There was a long run-up and a long preparation. It was in the Ministry of Vromi. We said that they should make that inventory, because that is not something the World Bank is doing. They had to make their own inventory of what was damaged and needed to be repaired. That alone took a long time to get loose. That was also because the Ministry of VROMI is ultimately quite a small department, not comparable to a ministry in the Netherlands, which had to do all kinds of things. This just didn’t come up as a priority. A lot of time has been lost. In the end, we also flew in an external expert who is currently doing so. So now it’s working out. It’s taken way too long. We started with the shelters, of course. We started with the highest priorities. Schools were not quite at the top, but are of course extremely important, especially in view of any new hurricanes, which you can of course never rule out.
Then I come to the third block of the four: a number of questions regarding the BES. Mr Dittrich wondered about the plans for Bonaire as Blue Destination. Blue Destination is a beautiful concept, I think. That’s really from the island. That’s what they came up with there; We didn’t come up with that for them. But then you also have to take a number of measures with regard to wastewater management and coral protection in order to be able to live up to that asset of diving and beautiful nature in the future. You’re going to have to invest in that. As part of the Envelope region, we have made 7.2 million available for the implementation of the coral restoration plan. Another part that is currently running, also with tourism organizations, is certifying destinations and tourist locations as Blue Destination destination. These are tested against a number of quality marks to see if they meet sustainability and environmental aspects and whether they handle raw materials in a good way. I feel like it’s still in its infancy, but I think it’s a very strong concept or idea. But honestly, it’s still too much of a concept and too little charge. In conversations with the public body, I have insisted on making it more concrete. Bonaire is now also working on a master plan in which they want to put sustainability first. That goes hand in hand with wanting to overgrow, how much want to overgrow, what is needed for this. These are choices that the public body itself must make in the first instance, but it does not hurt to use the knowledge and skills from the Netherlands in this area as well. That has now been asked for. Once again, this is a very important element in the context of the administrative agreement.
Then there are the questions from Mr Recourt, Mr Dittrich and Mr Van der Burg and Mrs Oomen about what is being done for the Caribbean Netherlands when it comes to the aid packages, the recovery and what that looks like. What will that look like after July 1st was also the question. How can we further boost the economy there? Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to the Caribbean Netherlands as to the countries, namely that they are largely dependent on tourism. Only, they fall under the umbrella of the Netherlands. That’s what we’ve been working for. I am very proud that there was broad support in the cabinet for the same schemes as in the European Netherlands to apply to the Caribbean Netherlands. Not quite the same because sometimes the regulations are a little different, but at its core they are. Then you have to think of the wage subsidy scheme and the subsidies for fixed costs. They’re all translated.
This also counts as the end date July 2021. That is the same end date as applies to the Netherlands. The Caribbean Netherlands is also taken into account in every decision by the Dutch cabinet on the European Netherlands. I cannot generally anticipate how this will be done after July, but the same principles will be used for the Caribbean and for the European Netherlands. That is an important starting point, I think, because it also fully recognises their position within our country.
Mr Dittrich asked what the Bonaire governance agreement has achieved so far. That was also an agreement that was not entirely achieved without fireworks. Although there was broad support, the explanation of some people was that the Netherlands came to take over. That was not the case at all. That played out in the period after the intervention on St Eustatius.
I am very happy that we have reached a number of agreements together with the public body. There’s a program manager on that. I have already mentioned a few examples of this. First of all, we looked at how you can strengthen the official organization, so more administrative power. That is important, quite simply, to translate the political ambitions into implementation. That sounds very simple and self-evident, but it hasn’t always been on Bonaire.
Together with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Affairs, a job centre has been set up. That was before corona. There, people looking for a job can get advice on their job and career opportunities. Then affordable housing; 500 social rented homes, that is really a breakthrough with the local housing corporation FCB. There are now 76 ready. I’ve been visiting, too. Beautiful houses. Work is currently underway on the realization of the next phases. A bill has now been passed, also by this Chamber, on the rental committee on Bonaire. A pilot mortgage guarantee has been launched. All kinds of things that we think have added value for Bonaire, in this case, we roll out. Everything you prefer to keep in the European Netherlands, I always say, we keep that here, because we do not have to export all laws to the Caribbean Netherlands. There is no need for that. Only if it helps, if it adds something.
Many improvements have been made around agriculture and the slaughterhouse. I went there on my last visit. There they really try to create local entrepreneurship with new forms of leasehold, often on small pieces of land. If you grow up, are successful, you can feed agriculture in other places. I think it is very good to reduce dependence.
The infrastructure is a big problem on Bonaire. You don’t have to set thresholds there because the roads themselves already inhibit the speed. But that also has disadvantages and sometimes causes traffic hazards. That is why there has been considerable investment in infrastructure, particularly around schools, and much more is going to happen. That is really starting to work out, also with knowledge from the Netherlands.
Around the board, the operation of the island council, a registrar has flown in from Maassluis. He supports the clerk there. Through coaching on the ground, we really try to take people with us and train step by step, to get the board to a higher level.
Finally, and not unimportantly with regard to the governance agreement, and I am very pleased that we have continued to do so, we are also looking at how you can keep talent on the islands, or even sometimes allow it to return. So these are young Bonairians who have studied in the Netherlands or another country, for example, and who want to come back after a few years to work for, for example, the electricity company or for the local government. And those people do a program with each other, a talent development program. BZK supports this. We have been doing this for five years now and that just results in very good results, so that people also have support for each other to give a boost to the board with a modern education and background. Every time I am there — I would also like to invite you to do so — I talk to those young people, to those people, to those people, because it is always very inspiring to see what moves people to commit themselves to their own island.
Mr Dittrich (D66):
At this point I also had a question about the program BES(t) 4 kids, but maybe that fits in with the answer you still want to give, so let me ask another question. When we talk about Bonaire, I missed the position of the library. The library says that not only do you have to borrow books, but you also have to make it a centre where people can follow training courses so that they do not have to come to the Netherlands but that they can follow those courses, and also a centre for innovative developments. Can you reflect on that?
State Secretary Knops:
Yes. I propose that I return to this in the second term; Then you will get a more precise answer than what I would give now. BES(t) 4 kids, I can give you an answer to that, because that is indeed a program that the ministries of SZW, OCW and VWS, and BZK, have picked up, together with UNICEF. That’s just a really nice program, I guess. Very concretely on the ground ensure demonstrable results. But one part of that is childcare. Very important, of course, to facilitate this well, in order to give children a flying start and equal opportunities, at a very young age. For this purpose, 8 million were also made available under the Caribbean Netherlands Envelope region. And a temporary subsidy scheme is in place from 1 July last year, with the aim of reducing the cost of childcare for parents and enabling childcare organisations to bear the costs of quality improvements. I think those are very important things, because you see big differences on Bonaire. It is a beautiful island, but you also see poverty, you see children with educational disadvantages at a young age, and of course we want to prevent that. We just want to give them all the same opportunities, and that starts with a well-designed childcare. So that program’s running.
Mr Schalk and Mr Raven have also raised questions about the Small Scale report, which requires support. The question was: when will the report be followed up? That is what Mr Schalk asked. The results of that Ter Haar report, because that is the person who chaired that committee, formed part of that broad programme of cabinet response, ibo, Raad van State. So that is Mr Recourt’s report, for the sake of bredness, and the opinion of the Council of State, and this is specifically about utilities. In the coming months, the various analyses and findings will be brought together so that the outstanding points of discussion can be dealt with in full with the public bodies, because we are really going to do this together with the public bodies. These recommendations are, of course, input for these discussions, and as a final piece of this decision-making, implementing agendas will be drawn up for each island, which may also vary from island to island, answering the various fundamental questions raised in that report. And it is up to the next cabinet to draw definitive conclusions in all these areas, together with the public bodies.
Mr Raven also asked if I would see anything in one government utility, which is also mentioned in that report. In the recommendations, Ter Haar does not conclude that this would be the solution; It could be a solution. Above all, he recommends that the various utilities and seaports operate without political interference. We had a whole discussion about government nv’s on Bonaire. And in itself, I would almost like to say, you cannot be in principle for or against that, but that also depends a little on how close the administration and politics are to those nv’s and whether or not it meets the task and the social goals it aims to achieve. I think it is good to include all these points and modalities in the discussion that is now going to run together with the public bodies and also choose what is the best way to organise this. But you are right that the issue of seaports and airports for small public bodies, such as Saba or St Eustatius but also Bonaire with its international airport, is often quite large and that it is good that the departments here in the Netherlands are also involved. We have recently done the same with all kinds of steering groups around the fuel supply on Bonaire, for example, and which is also an issue that really cannot be solved by the island itself. But that’s where we’re at the table with IenW and EZK.
Mr Raven (OSF):
Moreover, you have divided it into several islands. There you could also make control a little more distant. That’s probably going to give you more clout. Now you can see that it is actually organized by island. I think a canopy could offer advantages.
State Secretary Knops:
In itself, from an organizational perspective, I can follow that. I do not know if you have been to the islands, but when you get there, you will see that all three are completely different, are also very far apart, and that the perception on the islands themselves is often different. They’re all BES. They are all public bodies, but it is still a difference whether you are downwind on Bonaire or 1,000 kilometers away on Saba or Sint-Eustatius, not from an organizational point of view but from ownership. We all have to take that with us.
Mr Raven (OSF):
That shareholding could be expressed by more bonding. What I also noticed in the report — I did not really ask a question about this — is that there is overdue maintenance. I thought that was strange, because we’re only 10 years away. I assume you delivered it to zero at the time, so how can you have major overdue maintenance again?
State Secretary Knops:
This is partly to do with the way in which funding takes place. In part, this goes through the ministries and is occasionally added. That has happened in recent years. Moreover, on the basis of this coalition agreement in the field of infrastructure, 5 million has been structurally added to the provision for the BES. Of course, the hurricanes have also been solved occasionally, because you can’t insure yourself against that. But for Bonaire, for example, there was money, but those resources were not used. So the public body had set aside money for infrastructure projects, but they never came to a conclusion, or the maintenance was never done. Then you have a problem, too. So it’s not always just a matter of money. It is often a bit more complicated, but I have just said in the first part of the answer that I see that it is very difficult financially when it comes to the question: can the BES Islands do what they have to do on the basis of the task? Often the Envelop region or other incidental facilities need to be added. This is not entirely in line with rational management and maintenance.
The Chairman:
Mr. Raven, third.
Mr Raven (OSF):
With regard to that baseline measurement: was a baseline measurement done at the time? That was not in the report, but I assume that it has been transferred one-on-one, with finances arranged for overdue maintenance.
The Chairman:
Finally, the Secretary of State.
State Secretary Knops:
Normally that would be the case, but I have to come back in the second term to the question of whether and how that was calculated in 2010, in the case of state reforms. Perhaps a calculation has been made — and I honestly do not know this — and this has subsequently proved too little. That’s possible. I’ll come back to that in the second term.
Then a few questions were asked about St Eustatius, by Mr Van der Burg, Mr Schalk and Mr Raven. Mr Schalk said that I mentioned the three strikes at the time. I need to get him: stabilize, normalize and democratize. He asked me if I could look back on that: how did that work? We intervened at the time, of course, because there really was a reason to do so, such as years of ignoring legislation that applied to public bodies and arbitrariness. Think also of the public finances. Not that there were shortages, but the state of the infrastructure of the roads was lousy. There were problems with waste disposal. There were problems everywhere, including in the official organization. Of course, this is partly to do with small scale, but on the other hand Saba shows how it can be done. So it’s not just small-scale. But there was reason to intervene.
Then we said: we must return to a normal situation after we have intervened. This cannot continue indefinitely. We want to show that perspective on democracy again. This led to the Restoration of Provisions Act, which was adopted on 8 July 2020. Based on this, elections were organized in October 2020, during corona time. In hindsight, you might say, that was a test of how to organize elections in corona time. Those elections have led to the installation of a new island council. And indeed, Mr Rosenmöller is right, the same members who were on the council at the time are now back in it, but that is democracy. That was really the will of the people on St Eustatius, but I tasted a slightly different undertone with Mr Rosenmöller. On the basis of the Özütok motion, a table is currently being created to look at what intermediate results we can move towards next phases, the following milestones. In the progress report that will be sent to your Chamber in May, we will discuss this in more detail and reflect the latest state of affairs.
Then there is mr van Rij’s departure. Mr Van Rij has asked me to dismiss him because of the appeal that has been made against him from a different direction. At the time, we chose the figure of a government commissioner and a deputy government commissioner. This means that someone can be replaced in case of illness or “being off island”. That’s what’s going on now, of course. Ms. Alida Fancis, the deputy government commissioner, will take over the duties of Van Rij. We’re going to see how we can fill the vacancy. We’re trying to do that in the short term, but this is all fresh from the press, so I don’t have a new candidate for that yet.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
This was almost the secretary of state’s provocation. I did ask that question. There’s a certain board. That board doesn’t deliver and even performs so poorly that you have to intervene. That has been unanimously supported here and across the street. Then there is an interim situation for two years, in which the Netherlands does everything and everything. Then there are elections and then the same administration comes back. Can you suffice to say that that is democracy? Is that all? That is certainly democracy, of course, but should you not also think about what we have actually achieved? Because it’s also about doing it with the people, isn’t it? Those are your words, too, and they’ve been taken from my heart.
State Secretary Knops:
That’s definitely democracy. You can try to explain that, to give a political indication of that. You can, but that’s only half the story. You could indeed say: we have made a leap in time, but everything is still exactly the same. The opposite is true, because we have done an enormous amount over the last two and a half years to put public finances in order. We invested an awful lot there. It’s really about very large numbers, in terms of the airport, the cliff, erosion approach. We have done this not only with money, but also with capacities that were not available or not enough available on the island itself. We also solved some of the problems experienced by the people there. But our goal has never been to take over permanently. We want to get back to the situation where people can make their own choice.
There was quite a bit of tension, because from the House of Representatives and also from this Chamber the question was: let us not exist too long now, should we not now give people the choice to elect their own representatives of the people? Coincidentally or not — there really were more people on the list — these people will be there again. The question that is important to me now is: are the Government Commissioner and his deputy, together with the Island Council, able to move on to the next stage? Are they able to do not only all the things that are needed in a public body, around finance, ICT management, roads, housebuilding, etc., but also to get into a culture in which you get that interplay of dualism, of an island council with deputies, in the next phase, and a commander? Because that’s the end goal. That remains to be seen.
I have to say that I … In recent weeks, I have occasionally heard members of the Island Council criticise us for doing so. They say it’s not as good now as it once was. That’s not really the case. We can just prove that. We have before and after photos. The island is better and more resilient. But it is also about the question: are you willing, also there, to reflect on your own position or are you going to send the same message again as before 2018? I don’t think that’s wise. For the time being, I am assuming that we can take steps forward every time. As long as we can, we can move on to the next phase. If we can’t, we can’t. So it is also up to the island itself to show that it is their mean.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I’d like to invite you to take a closer look. I am well aware that this is a very delicate issue, because this is about democracy on an island belonging to the country of the Netherlands. The people have spoken. That’s for sure. But we intervened for a reason. Things have happened. And then you get the same board back. That should not really lead to a conversation about the democratic process. In the end, it is about the question: have we been able to reach the population sufficiently and convince them of the progress we have wanted to make in their interests? In a way — and you have to say this very carefully — that should have its reflection on such a result of the elections. Without you being allowed to say that.
State Secretary Knops:
I fully understand what Mr Rosenmöller is saying. This presupposes a certain ratio that I did not always see during the last election campaign in the Netherlands: that if you explain it correctly, that will lead to more seats.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
This is delicate enough. Let’s not talk about this part of the Netherlands. Let’s talk about that little island. That’s complicated enough. So try to limit yourself to that.
State Secretary Knops:
I understand that. But by making this comparison, I would like to immediately indicate how complicated such an analysis is. If the question is whether we have not been able to explain to people why we have done this and whether we want to go back as soon as possible, you could question that. I am currently missing the deeper analysis for this. Based on the outcome of the election, you could say: it didn’t work. That’s a little short of me. But I can’t look into people’s heads. Nor have we done any research — a kind of after-election analysis of Maurice the Dog or anything — why people have made certain choices. I don’t know, I don’t know. I think it is important and I think there is also a task — you have also had the handicap of not being able to go there — to judge on the basis of the facts whether or not what we did there was right or not and whether the situation afterwards also justified the intervention. It is an intervention that was unanimously supported by both parliaments, also with the aim of returning to normal as soon as possible. But I don’t know exactly how that path will continue from now on and how quickly that normalized situation will arrive again. So that remains something to be extremely alert in the near future, not only for me or for the government commissioner, but also for the Dutch Parliament.
Mr Dittrich (D66):
I would like to continue on Mr Rosenmöller’s question. I am not questioning the intervention — because that made sense; that had to be done — but the way in which it was done on St Eustatius. How did the government commissioner and the others who appointed the Netherlands try to get the population involved? You can take a picture of what it was like and what it’s like now, and say, look, there are improvements. Then people leave. Van Rij’s leaving. So what has descended on the population on the basis of which they say: hey, we should do things differently? What has been the approach of the population?
State Secretary Knops:
In any case, a great deal has been done by the board, in this case the government commissioner and the deputy commissioner of government, in recent times, through townhall meetings and over the radio, to tell what the intentions are and what has happened. Radio is, of course, very important there. There are no newspapers. It’s mostly Facebook and radio stations. Politics is also very active there with all kinds of own radio stations. Every night there are programs to listen to. I sometimes get the transcripts of those programs. There are a lot of things in there, including about vaccination, for example, that just don’t add up. What are you going to do about it? How do you try to get to the level of facts and fiction? That’s very complicated. People are allowed to choose freely in the end, they can have a free opinion about how they feel it went. And perhaps emotions also play a role, something we talked about earlier in the direction of Sint Maarten in relation to the Netherlands. They’ve been around for a long time.
I don’t know. I find it complicated to let go of the analysis here and now. What I can say in the direction of Mr Dittrich is that we will, in particular, take a closer look at this. I think that is also good for the debate that may still come with the May report. I am happy to discuss this with your Chamber and, in the meantime, of course, ask the Commissioner for Government to give a further explanation. This concerns the question of what exactly that is and, above all, how we can prevent a kind of image from emerging that it is now worse than it was. So that’s really not the case. In fact, you can just very well demonstrate what has happened in recent years.
But I’m also not entirely deaf to the rhetoric I hear from time to time. That’s talking to people. That’s what I’m doing. I spoke to all the members of the Island Council the last time I was there. I have, of course, spoken to the Government Commissioner. I have also spoken to people who just work there, not only with ordinary citizens but also with people who work at companies and organisations. I always talk to him. You’ll hear other noises there, too. So it is really not the case that the sound you hear in the island council is always the sound that lives among the population.
Mr Dittrich (D66):
I would like to inform you that the island is saying: why has there never been some kind of townhall meeting? This is about a meeting where a lot of residents could come together, explaining the plans and asking: what do you think of that?
State Secretary Knops:
They’re organized.
Mr Dittrich (D66):
Well, it is said on the island that this has happened to a very limited extent and in a small circle, but not for those who are normally already difficult to reach. So it would be an opportunity in the future to see how you can turn directly to the population to prevent all kinds of falsehoods or falsehoods from circulating.
State Secretary Knops:
I think that is a valid point. I suggest that I return to that in that report in May. In the meantime, we’re trying to go deeper and see what it’s in. But as far as I’ve been informed, there have been townhall meetings. That’s the advantage of a small bowl. I’ve done them myself a number of times. Not everyone could be there, but it will be broadcast, so you can reach quite a lot of people very directly. We are completely transparent about what we do. We have nothing to hide. In fact, it would be very strange if we were not transparent about that. Everything we do and what we have in input and output can be shared. It is also very visible. I will take that element — how is it experienced there, how is it perceived? — want to include in detail in the following report. I’d like to promise.
The Chairman:
Thank you for this commitment.
Mrs Gerkens (SP):
I would like to go into a little more detail, if you will allow me. I would ask the Secretary of State not to blame it. I believe that the Secretary of State has acted very decisively. Only, if we look back on the whole process, we’ll see that maybe we dropped some stitches. I’m not just referring to this. Also look at the results of the election in Curaçao. Of course, we do not yet know what is going on in Aruba or what is to come. My question is: if you are going to make that report later, would you also like to try to see in some way what did not happen and what, if we look back, maybe we should have done? Then I think it’s in the contact with the resident. Townhall meetings are one way. From my political experience, I know that when I went to a night of politics, for example about paid parking, it was always a one-way street. You could have yelled that you were against it. People just didn’t go anymore at some point. So has there been a real conversation? Would the Secretary of State like to look into that?
State Secretary Knops:
Sure. I had hoped that the efforts we have made among the people there would have led to a more positive picture. I cannot say that it is not now, but I do notice that those elected to the Island Council are very critical of what is going on. I sometimes hear the same texts about this as I did three years ago, when things have really changed. So I also see this as an assignment to ourselves to see where we can do even better. The townhall meeting is a very accessible meeting, but when people experience that they can hardly ask a question there … I have been to the town hall a number of times myself and answered questions there. That took hours. That wasn’t a problem, but it doesn’t mean you agree on everything in the end. For example, there is quite a lot of discussion about how to deal with the goats. There are a lot of goats on St Eustatius, but they also eat everything bare, causing the rock face to collapse. You have to name problems like that. But at the same time you also have something cultural about the island, where people say: that has always been the case; Those goats run everywhere, they’re certain people’s, and they should be able to walk anywhere. That can’t go together. That’s the kind of discussion you get sometimes. But I, the government commissioner and his deputy are completely open and want to see how we can do this better. So I see this primarily as a broad call from your side, which I like to pick up, to see what is missing and how we can make people feel that they are being heard.
That island council is formal. That’s right, that’s right. That is also part of the return law, so to speak. It does not yet have all the powers that an island council would normally have. It is therefore true that it has been democratically elected at the moment, but that it does not yet have all the powers of an island council. That has to do with the fact that we have said in that law: we are going to build in a number of stages, not so much time-related, but more outcome-related. Once you’ve reached that level, move to the next stage. That is to eventually get some kind of gradual return, because the risk of immediate return, namely that you fall back to the old situation, would have been much greater.
Mrs Gerkens (SP):
The story of the goats reminds me of the time china was discovered. I believe it was the English who thought: this is a fantastic market, we are going to bring knife, fork and spoon here. You can understand that it never worked. That’s because they had figured out what needed to be done and asked what was needed. My question is therefore: see if we have been asked what is needed instead of us thinking about what should be done.
State Secretary Knops:
You hadn’t been to St Eustatius, had you? There’s a lot of goats out there. In itself, that’s not a problem, you’d say. But if it really leads to the cliff on which Fort Oranje stands is almost on the verge of collapse and that we have now had to invest between 5 and 10 million, I say by heart …
Mrs Gerkens (SP):
I wasn’t specifically talking about the goats.
State Secretary Knops:
But that’s the point, you know. It’s not so much about the goats. Those goats are a problem. Not on their own, but in what they do. So you can put them in a separate area. Nor do we say that all goats must go. In any case, we must prevent them from continuing to contribute to erosion, because that is of course a major problem. I never thought I’d talk about goats in the Senate.
The Chairman:
This was enough, too.
Mr Schalk (SGP):
I was also surprised that we had ended up on the goat path. Let me return to the question I had asked about stabilising, normalising and democratising. That happened in that very fraught debate at the time. It was a very far-reaching decision, which I think was supported by the whole Chamber here. I remember very much that we heard from the Secretary of State at the time that if you are democratising at some point you have elections and then you are back to the situation you want to go to. I now have a little feeling that we have had these elections, but we are far from getting to the real democratisation. In other words, what is the state of play for the future?
State Secretary Knops:
It is true what Mr Schalk says. We agreed by that St Eustatius Restoration Act, which was passed in July last year, also in this Chamber, that, according to a certain phasing, work will be done again towards that full democracy, if you could put it that way. The election of the Island Council was the first step and per phase is defined what the public body and also politics must meet in order to move to the next phase. We have deliberately done this step by step. It describes exactly what needs to be met. That’s very transparent at the front. The moment you comply, you can move on to the next phase.
In the debate at the time, the question was: how long will that take? I can’t answer that. I hope as soon as possible, but I will, also on the basis of that law, go with what is actually achieved. So if you get into the next phase faster, you’ll also be faster with full democracy.
The tendency in The Hague is often very strong to add certain time provisions, but then the risk is also that something will happen on the basis of that planning when you are not really ready for it. The parallel with the discussion about the autonomous countries — which is a bit limp, but also not — is that in 2010 those countries became autonomous at once, while a country like St. Martin simply had a lot of things in order. That was a political decision, but in fact we are still dealing with it today. In Curaçao this is a bit different, because that’s where the government center of the Antilles was located. So I am very much in favour of due diligence. I understand the call for full democracy, but I would also like to propose that we stick to what we ourselves have agreed by law and, again, which is also very transparent and transparent.
Mr Schalk (SGP):
I totally agree. Those steps are agreed, but you can temporalize. You can speed them up if that’s possible. I shall return to Mr Rosenmöller’s question. He asked: “It’s the same board as before. Does that delay the matter as far as you are concerned or is that not the case?”
State Secretary Knops:
No. I wouldn’t say that. What we did have to deal with is that due to covid St Eustatius, like Saba, it was not accessible to people from outside for a long time. This has delayed a number of infrastructure projects, but that is not a matter of more than six months. I certainly would not say that the Island Council is a stand-in at the moment. I only occasionally hear noises about how certain things are appreciated and that is not something to be very happy about, because I think the real results are better than what is said about them. Anyway, we just talked about that. I think we need to communicate even more about that and make it clear what is going on. But it’s not the island council. It is the official apparatus where certain positions were also simply vacant, which could not be filled due to the travel restrictions. And yes, you want to put in order a public body that was in very neglected condition, with, for example, all regulations, all ICT and all finances. That’s kind of complicated, even if it’s just a small island.
And remember: it’s not just about money, it’s not about the will. On an island like St Eustatius, a lot of expertise about public administration is simply not available. Then you are dependent on people from outside. We have had a lot of discussion about externals, and about people who want to work there for a long time. And we’ve noticed: it’s not that simple. So maybe we have been a little too optimistic about that, but I am still confident that we could be in the phase of full democracy in the foreseeable future. That is also the end goal.
Finally, I come to the block with other questions, Mr President. I shall first come to Mr Recourt’s question on the Statute. He actually called it a structural problem. The Statute is here. It’s been around a long time. Mr Recourt is actually calling for this to be discussed within the Kingdom. And he’s pleading to see how you can fix that. I certainly agree with Mr Recourt when he says that this Statute is there and that it is certainly not perfect. Nor is it always fully equipped for the situation we are in now, for today’s political dynamics and for the geopolitical relations in the world. That is also why the House of Representatives has adopted a Van Raak motion with which the Chamber says to look at it again, and to take a closer look at the responsibilities within the Kingdom and the Statute.
For that, of course, I need the cooperation of the other three countries. So I asked the other countries to cooperate. This has led to positive reactions. I did not immediately get a response, but the political dynamics in the countries sometimes cause it to take a little longer. In any case, I hope that we can start that process soon. You can imagine that at the moment we are mainly putting out the fire. We’re working on that COHO now. We’re working on the country packages. We are still in the process of financial supervision with Aruba. We try to prevent a disaster from occurring in Curaçao because people cannot be treated. All effort is focused on that. So I hope we can get off to a start at this point around the summer. But I repeat, we are also dependent on whether the countries will think about this. And I also say again: an amendment to the Statute is always possible, but it therefore requires the agreement of all countries within the Kingdom.
Mr Recourt also asked whether I am prepared to look at the extent to which there are currently obstacles in relations with the countries that arise from the colonial past. He also asked me to prepare and fund that research. As you know, last year the Advisory College dialogue group slavery history was set up. This has the task of shaping the dialogue about the history of slavery and its implementation, aimed at Dutch society and the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. I would like to await the results of that dialogue group first. That Advisory Board is, of course, going to come up with something that could perhaps be the basis for Mr Recourt’s request. But at the moment I cannot see the extent and scope of it. I therefore see no added value at the moment in initiating a separate investigation, as Mr Recourt asks. Nor does it seem to me that I should give a positive opinion on this now, given the status of the cabinet now and given that background of the dialogue group.
Mr Recourt (PvdA):
I don’t know the mission of the dialogue group. I can imagine that my group’s question does not belong to that. Anyway, I get the secretary of state’s position, too. That could be a stepping stone. Background to my question is mainly to start that conversation, because this is really a pink elephant in the room. Let me put it to myself: I started to think differently about the colonial past and how we stand in it. I checked with myself: what do I take from that? I think that’s a process of our time. I don’t think I’m alone in this, because I’m a child of my time. So at least I’m asking the Secretary of State not to avoid that and encourage that conversation where he comes across it.
State Secretary Knops:
You can expect the latter from me. I said at the beginning of my introduction that I entered the Kingdom file blankly, or neutrally, without any prejudice or bias or anything else. In hindsight, I consider it a gift that I was allowed to do this. When I got it, I had no idea what it would mean. I dived in and I mainly spoke to a lot of people and got to know people, 8,000 kilometers away, who reason from a completely different history sometimes. What strikes me, when you enter into the conversation, if you talk about it out of respect with each other, that is a lot to discuss. So the question — but anyway, perhaps I am already ahead of your research question and the answers that should come from it — is whether the real problem is that we do not understand each other or whether this issue is sometimes used for political reasons.
In the contacts I have with my counterparts — that sounds so negative, because I don’t consider them counterparts; there are people I now consider to be friends — and who I have seen in recent years from their responsibility to develop the islands further, I have had very open conversations about this. They are enriching, because I too have found out things that I did not know before. I have never experienced it as an obstacle or a stand-in-the-way or a hindrance, as you said, in the contacts. I have seen that people I didn’t know raised this point, for example, but with the people with whom you have the conversations, who you also get to know personally and with whom you see at some point what your common motivation is, that plays much less. So unknown makes unloved, also in this, but that is only my personal experience.
Mr Recourt (PvdA):
But it is precisely in order to be able to assess whether the accusations that sometimes end up or are unjustified — sometimes I also think: that is completely unjustified — that you have to delve deeper into them. Anyway, I said, we’re just waiting. Or the follow-up question: do you know when that … What was the name of that group again? I forgot about that right now.
State Secretary Knops:
Advisory Board dialogue group slavery past.
Mr Recourt (PvdA):
View! When do they come up with a report?
State Secretary Knops:
I’ll check that out for you. You will receive an answer to this in the second term. It was set up under the responsibility of the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. I’m going to check that out.
Then there are a number of questions about the rule of law, refugees, asylum procedures and detention facilities of Mr Rosenmöller, Mr Dittrich and Mr Van der Burg. In essence, it is true — and I have also answered many Parliamentary questions — that these are national matters. I have just said in the first part of my speech that this very often also goes back to the Kingdom, a kind of resend. If the countries themselves are not able to do so, then the Netherlands, also as part of the Kingdom, will be called upon to do so. This has also resulted in us saying, in the context of the situation that was quite eminent in 2019, when all sorts of things were happening in Venezuela and the pressure was enormous: we, as the Netherlands, must help here. At that time, the Spring Note 2019 freed up an amount of almost 24 million euros to bet on a number of elements. First of all, strengthening maritime borders. There were still quite a few holes in this, so you see that people are wrongly reaching the coast and not being spotted early or coming ashore illegally, with all the problems that entails.
Two. Investments have been made in the immigration chain and in immigration detention, in Curaçao very much in particular, but also in Aruba. What we have done with this is both on the hardware side, say funding facilities, and on the knowledge side, vetting with the experts from the Netherlands whether the procedures are well put together, being ECHR-proof and whether we can rightly say that the procedures are designed in such a way that people, if they come forward, receive proper treatment. Then, for example, it is also very simple about things like the interrogation techniques that you apply, the decision techniques, how people are trained that have to do with it. That is very important, because we found out — and so did the countries themselves — that there was actually very little knowledge in this area. Good procedures had not been put in place in advance, partly because they were not really involved or, as I have just said, because in the years before, when the situation in Venezuela was not so dire, there were all family relationships. People just traveled back and forth and just came to work on the islands. That is also one of the points that we have now mentioned in the national packages. If you are seriously striving for a labour market with social security, with a package and some kind of safety net, then you should also mention this. On the one hand, you cannot use cheap migrants when the sun is shining and when it rains say: we do not know them; They don’t get any help. As a government, you have to think about how you regulate that. So we support them where possible, in good consultation with the countries. We made good agreements about that at the time and they were very happy with it as well. However, it is true that the countries are primarily approachable and also responsible for the procedures and for their proper application. The Netherlands can assist in the second instance, if necessary.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I think a number of colleagues can still remember the conversations we had at Coral Woodpecker Prison, where the barracks were located and where people had been for a long time. Those are images that don’t go off your retina. I’m sure you’ve been there yourself. One of these elements is that Curaçao is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. Does the Netherlands now think that the country of Curaçao would do well to reconsider this and to join that treaty?
State Secretary Knops:
The most important thing is …
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
It’s just allowed with yes or no.
State Secretary Knops:
Yes, no that … I would like to say a step back, in the direction of Mr Rosenmöller. It is up to the countries themselves to arrange this in an orderly way. What is important to me is that you adhere to the guidelines that also apply to the Netherlands, whether or not you sign that treaty. That’s what we’re trying to do now. I understand that this signature is very important, but it is a question of whether you have arranged the correct procedures. It is really up to the country of Curaçao to do that. Moreover, the AIV opinion mentions a number of things, including the way in which international conventions are implemented in the various countries. Quite a few comments are made about this. So it could be better. However, I do not think it is appropriate to ask Curaçao at this stage in which we are now in. I think it is much more important that its practical implementation is ECHR-proof, existing deficits are identified, acted upon and acted upon. In all the questions I have answered about this — the Members of parliament also have contacts and encounter people, and human rights organisations report — I have no choice but to say that we have no power and perseverance on the ground to say: you are not doing well. It must be voluntary from the countries. We think it is a very important subject. I have raised this on a regular basis in the discussions with the Prime Ministers. But we said: it is up to the countries themselves. We want to help the countries and make resources available, but they must then be compliant or act in line with these treaties.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
That’s quite a long answer. I can well imagine that you are taking a slightly less formal approach than yours. I believe that the Netherlands believes that it is good if as many countries as possible are members of the UN Refugee Convention. So why not simply answer the question of whether Curaçao should be affiliated, as a country in our Kingdom?
State Secretary Knops:
Because we just had a whole discussion about autonomy and what could and could not be said for or on behalf of the countries. I believe that, on the points where it is up to them, on the basis of the Statute to which they relate, the countries should also simply take that responsibility. I do not disagree with Mr Rosenmöller when he says that it would be ‘good if’. But it’s not up to me, in my position, to judge that now. It is not for me to tell Curaçao what to do or not to do. What is important for the Netherlands is that these procedures are well regulated. We will be discussing the AIV advice. We have already agreed on this, because there are other treaties that are still in the drawer somewhere. So I think it would be a good thing to take this up further with the countries anyway, but I said that in the current situation, in fact in the midst of a crisis, it does not seem to me to be the most priority issue. I think it is important that within the Kingdom we deal in an orderly and humane manner with people seeking asylum or saying that they are seeking asylum and that we make a separation between people who come to the Kingdom for migration purposes and people who are really entitled to protection. I think that’s what it should be about right now. I would like to add this to contacts with the countries, but we must do so in the process of that AIV report, because there are more things that this could apply to.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I think we will find out in the third round of this interruption debate. Because if you’d like to promise us that, I’d like to say: please. That does not detract from the autonomy of the countries. This is really just the movement between countries in the Kingdom as it does in the European Union, where you ask things from each other without immediately interpreting that question as an intervention in the autonomy of a country in the EU or in this case a country in our own Kingdom. The final question would then be whether you can guarantee — I think you will — that the way in which we deal with refugees is ECHR-proof. Because that is what, of course, matters in the end.
State Secretary Knops:
If you ask me now whether I can guarantee that, then that assumes that I too would or could bear the responsibility for this. I can’t, because this is the country’s responsibility. But I can say that we are doing everything we can, including with our people, to ensure that these procedures are properly designed there. But we have to be very precise about where those responsibilities lie. So the moment Mr Rosenmöller asks me to give guarantees, it presupposes that I would have a power to do so. I don’t have one. However, in the context of the guarantee function, it is of course always possible to address the Kingdom at the end of the year in the event that no reasonableness is possible.
The Chairman:
Finally, Mr Rosenmöller.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
You are absolutely right about that, Mr President. The Secretary of State is also right about the division of responsibility. But then we’ll finish it. Then we say that you are committed to addressing the autonomous country of Curaçao as much as possible, so that it is indeed ECHR-proof.
State Secretary Knops:
That seems to me to be a nice summary of what we are already doing in contacts with the countries. I would therefore like to broaden it a little, because on the basis of the AIV report there are a number of treaties that should be discussed precisely because it affects the whole Kingdom. It is also in the Dutch interest to address these kinds of issues and, where necessary, to encourage and address the countries to the fact that one is part of a kingdom with all the rights and obligations that come with it.
Mr Raven’s question, but it has actually already been answered a little. It was about the interparliamentary contacts. They are very important in a kingdom. I think it is good, especially in difficult times, that these contacts are there on multiple levels. They’re intense sometimes. Now with digital meetings they are arranged in a different way, but therefore no less intensive, I understand. We do this at the level of governments, but it is very important that parliaments have these contacts among themselves. If I am in the countries, I am in regular contact with parliamentarians.
Mr Van der Burg’s question was about what will happen next in Curaçao. That’s equally unclear at the moment. The biggest victor, the MFK, and its political leader are absent for a moment. We are therefore in contact with the negotiating delegation of MFK and PNP. They are currently working on a coalition agreement. It not only unfolds the plans for the coming years, but also creates a cabinet. I don’t know when that’s going to play. But I am currently in contact with both the Rhuggenaath government and the incoming Prime Minister and Ministers. The first contact took place in detail last week. I have to say, that was a good conversation. Let me just stick to that. It was also positive on both sides in the sense that the intention was expressed to maintain the relationship between the two countries. That, especially with the statements made in the campaign, will be quite a challenge. But I am an optimistic person, so I assume that we can also come to good business with the new government of Curaçao. Again, this is also in the interests of the people of Curaçao itself.
Members Gerkens and Oomen asked about the role of the Netherlands in strengthening the democratic rule of law, also in relation to the national package. How can we ensure that the rule of law is properly implemented in these autonomous countries too? I believe that even a well-functioning rule of law is preconditions for being an autonomous country. The national packages include an amount of eur 45 million structurally for the three countries, for strengthening the rule of law. Among other things, a major boost is being given to the joint approach to subversion and cross-border crime within the Kingdom, because of course an awful lot is happening in that area. An example of this is the new protocol to strengthen border control, signed by the four countries within the Kingdom on 4 February, which forms the basis for better and enhanced cooperation throughout the chain.
Mr Dittrich asked a question about the dispute settlement. I would have discussed this with the chairman of the KOREL committee, but I do not think this has quite reached you yet. I can still do that here. The intention is that you can receive the reply by next Friday at the latest. There is one small but, and that is that I am currently in talks with the countries. They also have to look at that and respond to it. If there’s a hitch somewhere, it’ll be later. But I think it’s going to work to send it to you on Friday.
Mr Beukering was talking about 5D. I only know the 3D approach, but the 5D has two extra dimensions. They all appealed to me, I have to say: dream, think, dare, do and persevere. In doing so, Mr Beukering says that realism and viability are important. That is a very pragmatic approach. I think it always works when you talk about the problems we’re talking about right now. Ultimately, it’s about results for people: how do you get as much effect as possible within a limited time with limited resources? Mr Beukering called for the deployment of a joint venture agreement fund targeting the kingdom’s islands. He asked for my point of view.
The reforms that need to take place are not just reforms that the countries themselves have to implement. They are also accompanied by a package of investments. This varies from country to country. This applies to the size, although there is still a common denominator to be made of it. But in any case, the destination per country is different. This also has to do with the greatest needs in the various countries. So the countries are primarily committed to getting public finances in order, in order to enable investment in public services. And by making cuts in places where you can, you can free up funds for new investments. The Netherlands has done this itself, and the countries will have to do the same.
In addition, it is possible — and I think it is necessary — to also enable investment and access to private capital and private investment for the countries. That is also one of the objectives of the COHO that we are still discussing. However, the resources added from the Dutch budget are limited. Then we still talk about an average of zoꞋn 40 million per country as a starting point. Compared to the size, that is a lot of money, but of course these are not very large amounts of money. The newly established Invest-NL, the Dutch Invest-NL, is only aimed at investments in the Netherlands, also in the Caribbean Netherlands, but it does not have the possibility to make investments on the countries. However, this could be done with the joint venture agreements, such as Invest International. There are good opportunities there. Invest International can support Dutch companies to invest, for example in emerging markets abroad. This is possible in the Caribbean countries. We’re talking about that right now. There are exploratory conversations about it taking place.
What matters here again is that you can appeal to the kingdom entity. This can be a great advantage for the countries. You can now see this also because of the way in which the countries can get cheap loans via the Netherlands. Then you see here again an added value of a kingdom, because the Netherlands is a partner that safely offers a kind of portal for this fund to do business in the countries as well. That will also depend on whether there is stable governance in the countries, whether it is interesting to invest there at all, what the prospects are and whether one is willing to go through transitions around sustainability. I can’t say anything about that right now. But I can say that we are talking about this with this fund. I can just imagine that Mr Beukering would like to know how these conversations are going and that he wants to be informed about them. If that is the case, then I am happy to do so.
This brings me to the end of my answer to the questions I have been asked.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Secretary of State. We are now entering the second term on the part of the Chamber. I give the floor to Mr Rosenmöller, on behalf of the GreenLeft group.

Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
Mr President, thank you very much. Also for a good debate: it takes two to tango. In fact, I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State indirectly but also explicitly. I think that the answer was clear, pleasant and clear and also gave rise here and there to a few clarifying questions and interruptions and also commitments on his part. In any case, this is appreciated by our group.
I have two types of remarks: first reflection — in part, of course, it was also about looking back on the Secretary of State’s term of office — and a second comment on looking ahead. We’ll all do that very briefly. In a reflective sense, the Secretary of State said you should do it together. That’s our heartbreaking. You do have to do it together. I think that has been achieved many times and that this has not always been clear or has come across as clear; Let me put it diplomatically in the evening. This included the Secretary of State’s statements on autonomy. He explained those statements and I understand them better now. It was also about what he said about sending those food parcels et cetera. You don’t want it to be necessary, but yes … Then you get into the atmosphere of “watch out”, because words weigh of course. You’ve been doing this for three and a half years, but with a lot of passion, I see. Anyway, how you make your statements, especially as a government official of the Netherlands, all listens extremely closely. This also applies to the negotiations on these national packages. Those country packages are really good. We will still be discussing this within the framework of the COHO, but there is also something there that can perhaps be improved. That’s all looking back.
I have noted everything we have recently exchanged on the issue of refugees, the treaty and the ECHR. So that’s fine. There is actually one more element in this area in the reflection. Maybe you should almost discuss that in an informal atmosphere; I don’t know. That’s about the three elections we just had. With the best intentions of the Secretary of State — again, no doubt about this — and of course with no discussion of democratic law, etc., there is ultimately a government in St. Martin with which you have a difficult, difficult, difficult time. We talked about Statia and we actually talked about Curaçao. If you want to be able to unite all the constructive forces in the Kingdom to eventually achieve what the people of those countries need, it requires better reflection on how you do it. I’m also saying this because we let this go once. The Secretary of State knows that about me. In the 1990s, we let Miguel Pourier, then Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles, burst.
Mrs Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
Mr Rosenmöller reflects here on democracy in the countries of the Kingdom and, in fact, on the choices made there. I would like to keep myself absolutely far from that.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I think you do the same thing in the living room, and that’s why I’m doing it here. I am not questioning the outcome of these elections at all, but I am putting it in contact as it is between the countries of the Kingdom. I have discussed this with the Secretary of State on statia’s point. I have tried to describe the delicate nature of this process. I very much respect the people’s statement; That is what you will expect from me, and you should expect the same from me. Nevertheless, I also believe that we should be able to identify these kinds of dilemmas or issues, which I find complex and which I am not aware of, in a certain way here in all transparency and openness.
Mrs Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
As an MP and also as a senator, you have a certain responsibility. In that responsibility, you may be able to talk in the living room, but not in the Senate about the way in which the states have been elected. Denouncing that … Well, “denouncing” may have been said too much. I do not think we should react or reflect on that.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
But there is a great misunderstanding between Mrs Oomen and me, because I am not questioning that democracy at all. In such a large motherland, the relationship to many smaller countries influences how people think, do, act and also vote. If we are fighting with Italy or spain, it does not affect the elections in Italy or Spain. But here we are talking about countries of 120,000, 160,000 and 30,000 people; also in one Kingdom. This means that the nature of the contact is different and has a greater influence on people’s thinking, doing, acting and perhaps also voting. They must be free in what they vote for. It’s not voting advice. Nor is it a plea to unite us all behind one party. People need to know for themselves.
The Chairman:
Mrs. Oomen, third.
Mrs Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
One comment. It is an assessment of the way in which the votes were taken in the countries. I would not dare to presume that judgment. Maybe in the living room or if we catch the train home together, but if not.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
Finally, Mr President. I am trying to do everything in my power to call into question, while being transparent but with caution, while acknowledging all the democratic rules of the game, whatever my fellow Members do, which ultimately affects the people of the countries of our Kingdom. That is all I am saying about it, unless Mr Schalk still has a very hot question.
The Chairman:
On this point, Mr Schalk.
Mr Schalk (SGP):
However, another hot question to Mr Rosenmöller. I can taste the caution and care in his words, but in his first term he did indicate that he found it astonishing that the same people had been elected to that board as before. Surely it smacks of you actually saying to the Secretary of State: shouldn’t you have done something that would have made those people have a job elsewhere or something? In other words, you’re actually talking about those people, those people. That may not be your intention, but if I had been elected there and listened to this debate, I would think: yes, but surely they should not interfere?
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
The joke is, I know these people. If I ran into Clyde van Putten, one of those people, here on the street tomorrow, I’d sit on a terrace when the terraces were open, and we’d talk for hours, because there’s a band. I know these people. I know who they are. I know how they think. They know how I think. That may mean a clash in part, but I dare to talk about those people, also because I say it to those people, because I know those people, because there is a relationship with those people in Statia. That is why I dare to call it into question here too, precisely in the way you say that I am doing it, with the necessary caution.
Finally. I went much further on something that took place 25 years ago, namely: the Netherlands still let the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles burst. That’s a very tough qualification. I also said it when I was allowed to speak at 65 years of the Statute — and the Secretary of State was there — more than a year ago, at the request of the Vice-President of the Council of State, at a conference there. There was widespread recognition that this is the analysis 25 years later. yes, that’s an experience I’m taking with me after all these years. That might color my input in this area a little bit. I believe that we must try to avoid this together in a situation where— once again: thick line under it — we continue to unequivocally recognise democracy in the four countries of our Kingdom and release people in which party they vote.
Mr Schalk (SGP):
Of course, I have a huge backlog, because I do not know these people personally, but I understand very well that you would speak to them there on a terrace. But here we are in the Senate and we actually have a question for the Secretary of State, at least, Mr Rosenmöller has a question for the Secretary of State that comes across to me as: how can you prevent these people from being elected? I find that complicated. Perhaps Mr Rosenmöller can reflect on that, just to use that beautiful word.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I’m honestly used to having to discuss what I’m discussing on the street here in the Senate. Perhaps it should be in slightly different words, because it will be slightly more careless outside than here; thank you for the care you have attributed to me in this debate. I’ve also seen it and qualified it as something I’m not out of. I don’t know exactly how to deal with that. I do know that it would also please you — perhaps I may say so — if it is perhaps a bit of a dilemma for all of us to deal with it. Of course, you want to do justice to these democratic processes in the countries, but at the same time you all have a kind of second thoughts on such a result. Then you think: yes, that will be difficult for the Netherlands. And it doesn’t just get tricky for the Netherlands, because our hearts eventually go out to those peoples. Of course, I also … No, let me not say that. I know more people about whom I would like to say something in relation to a party’s victory in one of the countries, which I think might not be wise to do so now.
Mr Schalk (SGP):
While you could say anything, you just said.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
But you don’t have to say everything.
Mr Schalk (SGP):
You don’t have to say everything. I’m going to take one more shot. Imagine if, on the basis of what Mr Rosenmöller said, the Secretary of State were to say: actually I should have taken that action and that action so that some other people were elected. I imagine that we would all say that he should not interfere. If you mean creating an atmosphere in a country and among the population that makes people grow into a different process than they did a few years ago, then we agree. A few years ago it was ruined, if I may say so very loudly. I think that’s what we’re looking for together. Maybe we’ll be closer.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I think we’re very close. I think we agree on all the formalities in this. I think the Secretary of State has less room than an MP because he operates from government to government. We must also be able to discuss this with parliamentarians. I believe that all the criticism we have of parliamentarians, our colleagues, about what they say or do or perhaps fail to do should be able to be discussed in full transparency. My lesson in, among other things, kingdom relations, but also in other areas, is that as you discuss difficult issues transparently, there is appreciation for the fact that you do that and you can say more.
Mr Raven (OSF):
I understand Mr Rosenmöller in such a way that he says that he has confidence in the people who are going to vote, but that he demands particular attention for the people who have been elected, because we have had experience with that. Is he really saying that there could be some kind of enhanced surveillance?
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
No, I didn’t mean to say that.
Mr Raven (OSF):
On what basis don’t you want to say that? A few years ago, that was the reason for intervening.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
No, that was no reason to intervene. The main reason for administrative intervention was Statia, apart from the small things on Curaçao of the last period. Statia had a real impact. That was big on the merits. It had unanimous support, across the street and here. So we all supported that. That was just before I and others from the 2019 group arrived here.
The Chairman:
No, I’m not.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
No.
Mr Raven (OSF):
But there are the same people who were elected.
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
I’ve said all about it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m making a point here. The reason was — and then I will go further and, of course, I will conclude, Mr President — that the Secretary of State also used the words ‘together’ and ‘constructive forces’. How you can ultimately use it for an improved relationship is a tension and a challenge for all of us, I think.
We’ll look ahead. It is very good that the Secretary of State, with all the efforts and pride he expresses himself, for example in the field of poverty, on which steps have been taken, does not shy away from saying that we still have a lot of work to do. It is nice that he says that there are also people in the cabinet who support him, such as Mrs Van Ark and others. But he also said that the integral involvement might be a little stronger. I’ve listed things like “a slap on the ass” and “step up a not set.” That’s extraordinarily pleasing. That leads us to table the next motion, which does not say anything about the policy. I have spoken complimentaryly about the Secretary of State on several occasions, but this is about the coming period.
The Chairman:
The following motion is proposed by Mr Rosenmöller:
The Room,
heard the deliberations,
whereas relations within the Kingdom can be improved;
noting that in his report “Eye for the elderly in the Caribbean Netherlands” in November 2019, the National Ombudsman states: “The Caribbean Netherlands cannot and must not remain the far-from-my-bed-show for The Hague”;
noting that, in a planned lecture in November 2019, the Vice-President of the Council of State called for ‘concrete and sustainable improvement of kingdom ties’ through a multitude of ways;
noting that the Advisory Council on International Issues states in its September 2020 opinion on security and legal order in the Caribbean that kingdom relations should be given a higher priority in cabinet policy;
considers that, both in the broad field of security and in the socio-economic and financial spheres, the population in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom benefits from the intensification of relations between them;
declares that the new cabinet should give a higher priority to the Kingdom Relations by intensifying the Dutch commitment in the above areas in order to strengthen the ties concretely and sustainably,
and proceeds to the order of the day.
In my opinion, its submission is sufficiently supported.
It is given letter L (35570-IV).
Mr Rosenmöller (GroenLinks):
In the second observation of the motion, I said ‘intended’, because that reading was not delivered because of a power failure. The secretary of state knows that.
President. One final comment. We would, of course, like to see the Secretary of State again very quickly and quickly when it comes to the dispute settlement. I do not know if you can say anything about this, but we hope that we can also deal with the COHO National Law with this State Secretary. We would look forward to it, because this debate strengthens us to this and actually calls for more. I liked it. Thank you very much.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Mr. Rosenmöller. Then Mrs Gerkens has the floor on behalf of the SP group.

Mrs Gerkens (SP):
Thank you, Mr President. I have to say: I have heard fine words from the Secretary of State. I would like to mention the commitment to raising the minimum wage, better distributing housing and better distributing prosperity. It’s good to hear we’re in the same place. It is also difficult that we now have this conversation with a outgoing Secretary of State, because I would have liked to have asked the question: what next? Steps have been taken in your cabinet period, but to speak with the words of the Secretary of State: it is now going ahead. How could we secure that?
A cool head and a warm heart, that is indeed something I see again and that does me good. I hope your successor will do so with the same commitment. I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State himself has asked Aruba itself to come forward with proposals for the cuts to health care, but my question was whether the Secretary of State believes that the burden is evenly distributed and whether these reforms will keep the public sector afloat. I would like a response to that.
“Together” remains the key word here. Although I see that the Secretary of State also has this as a starting point, we do see that the relations are occasionally on edge. Of course that is also part of the game, but a complaint to the UN is not very nice. Angry and then wanting to shut down the money, that might not be the most relationship-enhancing decision, I’d say.
I also miss in the answer how the Secretary of State looks at the idea of working with the residents to implement the division of tasks and roles in the Kingdom. I referred to the motions tabled by Mr De Graaf and Mr Van Raak. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think I had a reaction to that. I am well aware that the Secretary of State is resigning, but of course he can include a directive in a transfer file, if that happens, because of course we do not know what the future looks like. I therefore supported Mr Rosenmöller’s motion.
I also welcome the efforts made towards refugees from Venezuela and also with sustainability. I forgot to mention it in my term, but fortunately Mr Dittrich mentioned this.
President. I have many international contacts and I always start with the sentence: “excuse me, I’m Dutch, so I’m very direct”. Not only does that create a relaxing moment, but it also creates an understanding of the conversation that follows. At the same time, this warning does not relieve me of the obligation to keep an eye on the process that goes on. The Secretary of State did not shy away from acting directly and firmly when necessary, and it was also necessary and good. And indeed, that has also aroused appreciation. But at the point of whether there has always been an eye for the environment, I think there is still a profit to be made. That is why I welcome the commitment to look at what is at the root of the outcome of the elections in the municipalities and the countries and, in particular, whether the cooperation with the people concerned, the inhabitants, is sufficient.
It is still a pity that we could not have had this debate a year ago, because then we could have given more direction to the current situation. On the other hand, I see a lot of unity in this Chamber. I am hopeful that we will continue to follow this process closely together.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Mrs. Gerkens. Then Mr Beukering has the floor on behalf of the Nanninga Group.

Mr Beukering (Nanninga Group):
Thank you, Mr President. Many thanks to the Secretary of State. Clear answers, a lot of enthusiasm. That’s right: the cool head and the warm heart. That appealed, very well.
It is also good to hear that we are so real that we recognise Caribbean solutions to Caribbean problems. That’s important. Each his own. Each his own God. We also understand in my group that there is occasional dissatisfaction. We have seen that ourselves; I experienced this myself in Sint Maarten, especially at the start of reconstruction and recovery after Irma. This was very slow and sometimes very slow, with many unnecessary bureaucratic requirements, particularly from the World Bank. Glad to hear that the Secretary of State sent in and sent additional experts to get the projects and programs started in particular and to get the airport fully operational again. That is good.
I have a brief question to the Secretary of State. What about the integrity room? We have not discussed this at all today, but that is a very important instrument. I would like to hear an answer to that in the second term.
Glad that the model of the five D’s: dreaming, thinking, daring, doing and persevering — especially that perseverance — has landed. Also glad that there is no thought in restrictions and that funds are now also looking at the islands. And pleased with the commitment that we will be informed.
Thank you very much.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Mr. Beech. Mr Recourt will then speak on behalf of the Labour Party group.

Mr Recourt (PvdA):
Thank you to the Secretary of State for this debate. On behalf of my group, I have zoomed in on two points, which are underlying many real problems in the islands and countries: the structure and cooperation. Both points cannot be resolved today or tomorrow, but they are fundamental to making bigger steps than we are doing now. I have therefore not received any commitments on either of them that will make things better tomorrow, but at least I have gained the insight that steps are being taken. That goes for the structure. The Secretary of State explained what he is doing with regard to the Van Raak motion, including to Mr Gerkens. That step has been taken. Well, okay. We will not be done with that in the coming years, but the first step will then be taken.
The second applies to the relationship. I have drawn particular attention to this ugly past called ‘colonialism’; and colonialism, that is exploitation and racism. And that is a debate that must be conducted not only individually, but also structurally. So I will come back to that a few more times, because I really think that within our Kingdom as it is now too little has been discussed in a way that … Well, we’re talking here, we talked about it, we’re here in the Senate, we’re not here in a café or at home or I know what, but it’s an official house. The same applies to relations between countries: this must also be the case there. But the first step … Wait and see what that report does. I will soon hear when that report will come and how the Kingdom will be involved. And I understand that it is only about racism; colonialism, of course, is a little more than that. Anyway, that first step has been taken and we are just going to continue and push that forward in the coming years. So thank you for that, too.
I welcome this debate, and indeed — I agree with the previous speakers — with the open way in which we can discuss with the Secretary of State. I would like to say to my colleagues: let us not be too anxious with what we are discussing. Of course, we should not call for a coup d’état in the countries, democracy must, of course, take its course there. But the moment democracy is put aside for a while and you see exactly the same people coming back, I think it is a perfectly legitimate question to say: how are we going to avoid having to repeat what happened at the time? And that may be because the people who come back now think differently, but it may also be that the procedure has not been good and that something else has to be done. These seem to me to be questions that really need to be addressed here in this house and have been raised in a prudent way. The same goes for Curaçao, by the way.
That brings me to the end of my second term, and I thank the President.
The Chairman:
Thank you to Mr Recourt. Then Mr Dittrich has the floor on behalf of the D66 group.

Mr Dittrich (D66):
Thank you, Mr President. I too would like to start my second term with a compliment to the Secretary of State. He said that three and a half years ago, when he started, the islands were a kind of terra incognita. And three and a half years later he shows himself to be very involved and in some parts he has actually spoken with authority here about the Kingdom relations. So that’s nice. And what this former soldier has also learned is tightrope walking in those three and a half years. And that’s a real gift. Because it is about autonomy, but also about the extent to which we can shape our interference in such a way that it does not come across as an infringement of autonomy, while we do help the people there. That’s pretty hard, that tension field, that tightrope walking. And I think the Secretary of State has mastered that on a regular basis. Sometimes it is of course difficult, and if you fall off the cord, then you also fall hard and there is also a lot of commotion. Of course, we’ve seen that before.
Mr Rosenmöller has tabled a motion that this matter should be dealt with seriously in the formation of the cabinet. I agree. And let me express here the hope and perhaps also the expectation that — you never know how cabinet formations will go, but suppose GroenLinks is involved — Mr Rosenmöller will use his influence so that this will also become part of the coalition agreement.
President. In my term I also talked about a multi-year perspective, which I have affiliated with the State Council of Ministers. I also asked the Secretary of State how he sees it. Does he agree that the three countries in the Kingdom will be offered that multi-year perspective? In the documents I have seen that a conference will be organized. I thought in the summer of 2021. Who knows, it may be postponed due to corona. But that seems to me to be an important time to discuss poverty, public health and the rule of law, all these elements, with the countries together. Perhaps that is where the element of slavery and colonialism that Mr Recourt has put forward can be brought to the fore, of course with cultural sensitivity.
Finally, Mr President, one thing I have not been able to discuss. On 1 April we celebrated the opening of marriage here — in the Netherlands, I mean. There all kinds of people were interviewed, including from the islands. They said to us: “It is really a pity that we, same-sex couples, cannot marry in Curaçao or Aruba. We then have to go to Bonaire, when we want equal rights and are also entitled to them according to the ruling of the Supreme Court.” So my question to the Secretary of State is: what influence can the Netherlands exert, so that equal rights will actually be equal rights throughout the Kingdom?
Thank you very much.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Mr. Dittrich. Then Mrs Oomen-Ruijten has the floor on behalf of the CDA group.

Mrs Oomen-Ruijten (CDA):
President. I particularly appreciate the fact that the Secretary of State began his answer in the first term with the connection with the Caribbean, in particular the connection with people. In doing so, he immediately addressed the vulnerability of the current situation. That has done me a great job. I think it’s good for relations in the Caribbean, too.
President. Like Mrs Gerkens, I have noted the following: the social minimum for the BES, the benchmark, housing, electricity, the Internet and the adjustments that need to be made there. What has already been achieved is not yet sufficient. We have to get on with it. That’s a.
I have also heard that he has said that the free benefit, which makes it possible in these municipalities to make better choices of their own, also has to go up. I have also noted concerns about new opportunities to strengthen earning capacity. I have made comments on agriculture and sustainability in agriculture, and the reform of the labour market. That’s all in the package, but I think it needs to be rushed.
AJV has not made eight recommendations, but ten. I have noted that this will be returned to me.
President. We as Parliamentarians have also heard criticism about the speed of the recovery operation and the action taken to respond to the hurricane. I think it is good that the Secretary of State said in all honesty: “We should probably have filled in the expertise sooner, including with us. We were probably a little positive. It’s not that we don’t want the World Bank anymore, but at least we know that when something happens again, we will provide a little more expertise.”
President. All my colleagues have congratulated the Secretary of State for the honest answers he has given and for the energy and commitment he has shown to the Caribbean, in that part of our Kingdom with which we are so connected. I would also like to thank you very much on behalf of the CDA Group for this.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Mrs Oomen-Ruijten. Then Mr Van der Burg of the VVD group will have the floor.

Mr Van der Burg (VVD):
President. I am not going to start with a compliment to the Secretary of State, but with a compliment to Mr Rosenmöller, because the fact that we have this debate is because he has continued to focus on this debate against the main movement in — I would almost say so. It has been extremely good that he has done so and that we have therefore had this debate, not only because it makes me feel enormously enriched, but also because we have sent a signal over the air to the six islands, namely the three countries and the three BES municipalities, namely that it is important that we are talking to each other.
One of the arguments I had to say to Mr Rosenmöller ‘should you do this?’ was: we will talk to a outgoing Secretary of State. But yes, the mistake I made in doing so is that we did not talk to “a” outgoing Secretary of State, but to this outgoing Secretary of State. He has enriched us with his knowledge and skills in an extraordinarily pleasant, deep, committed way. That too is worth a compliment.
What I found most interesting in the debate were the moments, both in the first and second term, when Mr Rosenmöller stood here and the people at the interruption microphone stood there. Because then our dilemma came up very well. Nothing negative about the inhabitants of Italy, Greece or Spain, but we still feel a different commitment to the inhabitants of our three sister countries. That brings out exactly the dilemma that was raised nicely in the debate between the people at the interruption microphone and Mr Rosenmöller. Because we want so much: we want things different, better, more beautiful. We just want to get involved. But we are limited by the autonomy of the three countries, in other words, by the autonomy of the four countries. Because what we like with them, they like with us.
We’re not there yet. We are going to talk about the content in many debates, whether it is the fight against poverty, the support of refugees or all those other issues. In any case, this debate has laid a good foundation and shown unity. Because there were several contributions, but there was emphatic unity. In my opinion, this has laid a good foundation for the content debates together. As soon as the weather is possible, I would like to expand this with our colleagues on the other side of the water, so that we can have the conversation with them, preferably physically.
Thank you very much.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Mr. Van der Burg. Then Mr Schalk of the SGP group will have the floor.

Mr Schalk (SGP):
Thank you, Mr President. First of all, of course, thank you to the Secretary of State for the answer and the way in which this has been done. I think I’ve said twice today that I’ve never been to the Caribbean. I understand it’s warmer there than in this room. There was a fresh breeze through this room today.
President. The Secretary of State has made it clear that the countries of the Caribbean must be able to have autonomy. I then spoke to him about whether they want to do the same and whether they dare. He noted that the political will is there. I have just not heard whether he has also met the political mood that is sometimes needed there, also to choose your own autonomy. In all honesty, as far as I am concerned, the Secretary of State does not have to try to change marriage in the countries there, for example, as Mr Dittrich has just indicated. I don’t really need that.
The Secretary of State replied to the questions surrounding the idea that small scale requires support and he has indicated that there will be an implementation agenda per island. May I ask him if we in this Chamber will also be informed of this? I think that can help us to get even more picture — especially since we have not been there — of the current state of affairs and of the differences between the implementation agendas per island, so that we can perhaps better interpret this.
I have one more question about the financial support. I believe that the Secretary of State has distinguished between unconditional support and conditional aid. He mentioned the amounts just before the break. I am not quite clear, but I understand that conditional aid amounted to EUR 750 million and unconditional aid eur 71 million. That would be about a tenth. That’s a very biblical thought, that of course you’re giving something away. Then the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing. But now that it’s in the open, the question is: is that roughly right and has it been raced on that biblical line?
President. I have one last question about the churches. The Secretary of State has pointed out that he was surprised by the relationship that the church-affiliated organizations have offered within society there. Extremely positive. What does this mean in the future for the way in which the Secretary of State or his successor is in appropriate contact with and using it?
President. That was my input. Thank you very much.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Mr. Schalk. Then Mr Nicolaï has the floor on behalf of the Group of the Party for animals.

Mr Nicolaï (PvdD):
Thank you, Mr President. I would like to thank the Secretary of State for his clear speech. I got to know him as a very passionate man. I have also been struck by honesty, because I understand that the Secretary of State admits that when they were given the choice of whether or not to sign at the cross, the countries did not really have a choice.
The heart in the right place is also important. I understand we all have a little heart in the right place. My heart started beating when I read in the paper how the islands reacted to what happened in the summer. The same applies to Mr Recourt. But we all have a good heart for the people of those islands. And such a good heart that Mr van der Burg even says: we want to get involved so badly, because it has to go well for that population. And then you come to the question: we would like to get involved, but how does that relate to the Statute for the Kingdom of the Netherlands? Article 41 states that the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten independently represent their own affairs. That is a basic principle, which we cannot ignore unless we are going to amend the Statute. Mr Recourt has already said that perhaps the Statute is not entirely contemporary.
In the letter from the State Secretary to the State Council of Ministers, I read about the interventions involved. For example, I read: “Labour markets need to be reformed to give opportunities to the large and growing group of outsiders in the labour market.” That is what we think, according to the Secretary of State, and that is what the Government thinks, but what if a plebiscite on one of those islands does not think so? Then who’s in charge? According to the Statute, the people’s representation on the islands is in charge, but as we see here, it is actually a dictation of the Netherlands.
I also read: ‘The reforms and measures relating to taxation are aimed at re-establishing a robust tax system’. But what is a robust tax system? Who cares what a robust tax system is? Is a robust tax system including dividend tax? Or does it not include a dividend tax? I’ll just mention something. You can think very differently about that, as long as your memory is good. The text goes on to: that amounts to a fair distribution of income. If the people’s assembly on the islands now says ‘well, with the tax system as it is, we think there is a fair distribution of income’, do we, as the Netherlands, have to conform to this or should we say: no, we do not think it is fair enough? It says that contributes to a fair distribution of income. We are therefore interfering with the question of what we believe is the right and fair distribution of income for these islands. Does that tolerate Article 41, with that autonomy? That’s a political question. I would like to refer it once again to the Secretary of State in all the ferocity and ferocity, because it has caused a great deal of pain, because it has been perceived as an infringement of that autonomy and therefore as a dictation. That’s the political question.
Then there is a legal question. I had asked the Secretary of State to reflect on the opinion of the Council of State on the COHO bill. You said: that will come later. But I would also like to ask whether the Secretary of State would like to reflect on the question of the legal limits of interference within the statutory principles. The Council of State says: “The principle of autonomy of the countries and in particular the reluctance that the kingdom government, and the Netherlands as the largest country, must exercise in limiting the countries’ own responsibility is an important factor.” In the note, the Council of State then refers not without reason to a ruling it made on an appeal by Curaçao, which had received an indication regarding the adjustment of the 2019 budget. That action was well founded because the Council of State considered that there had been not sufficient restraint. Surely that is the legal question I would like to put to the Secretary of State: what does the Government think of the degree of restraint that should actually be observed? And then we’re back to that question of autonomy.
Thank you, Mr President.
The Chairman:
Thank you, Mr. Nicolaï. Finally, Mr Raven will speak on behalf of the Independent Senate Group.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.