Senate approves seven BES laws

THE HAGUE--The Dutch First Chamber on Tuesday unanimously approved seven legislation proposals to incorporate the BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba into the Dutch Constellation per October 10, 2010.

The Senate gave the BES islands a warm welcome, or a "bon bini" as Chairwoman of the Senate's Permanent Committee of Antillean and Aruban Affairs Marijke Linthorst of the Labour Party PvdA put it.

The Senate didn't even need a voting round to approve the WOLBES law regulating the status of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius as so-called public entities of the Netherlands and six other related law proposals.

Parties also didn't make use of the right to "remark" (aantekening), except in the case of one law, the Adaptation Law BES, where the Christian Union (CU) and the reformed SGP party asked for this because this law proposal includes the three Second Chamber amendments regarding abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriages.

Discussions on the three sensitive ethical issues, abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriages, dominated Tuesday's meeting. PvdA, liberal democratic VVD party, Socialist Party (SP) Democrats D66 and the green left party GroenLinks supported the three amendments approved by the Second Chamber early March. Christian Democratic Party CDA questioned the decision of the Second Chamber, while Christian Union (CU), the reformed SGP party and the two independent factions in the Senate opposed the amendments. (See related article)

However, the objections by CDA, CU, SGP, Independent Senate's Faction OSF and faction Yildrim, didn't keep the Senate from unanimously approving the legislation package for the BES islands.

VVD Senator Frank van Kappen said his party wasn't "undivided enthusiastic" about the BES law package, but that had to do with the vision that the new constitutional statuses would not automatically lead to better relations in the Kingdom. Frictions in the Dutch Kingdom won't be solved solely through legislation, said Van Kappen who added that a "heavy task" awaited to realise "true harmony" in the Kingdom.

According to Van Kappen, the constitutional process didn't lead to moving towards each other in the Kingdom, but rather emphasized the cultural differences. "More missionary work is needed, or are we going to just let it happen?" He mentioned that he had been receiving many emails from BES citizens which made clear that there was an "enormous distrust" against the Netherlands.

Scraping anchor

The VVD Senator further objected to the decision of Dutch Government to first amend the Kingdom Charter to facilitate the new constitutional relations and amend the Dutch Constitution at a later stage to incorporate the BES islands as public entities. He called that decision a "scraping anchor" which would lead to a ship breaking loose.

Van Kappen also touched on the right of self-determination of the BES islands and asked whether it would be an option for Saba and St. Eustatius to join St. Maarten and for Bonaire to merge with Curaçao or Aruba at a later stage. He inquired what other constitutional possibilities there were for the BES islands, besides the public entity status after the five-year evaluation period.

Dutch caretaker State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten said that the BES islands would keep their right of self-determination after becoming part of the Netherlands and that they had the option of joining other countries in the Kingdom.

The State Secretary didn't deem it realistic that the BES islands would opt to join the other three Caribbean islands. She said that the definite status of the BES islands would be determined after the evaluation period. She said the only other option within the Dutch Constellation was that of becoming a municipality. Becoming a province wasn't an option because of the small size of the islands, she said.

About Van Kappen's relating to the distrust between the partners in the Kingdom, Bijleveld-Schouten said that this was not necessarily always the case. "Often it is a lack of knowledge, understanding of each other's culture," she said. She said that much effort was being put into communication on the islands. "We have to invest in each other. When we say 'bon bini,' we should also give content to that, but the islands also have to be open for that," she said.

For bitter and worse

Senator Linthorst (PvdA) said the relation between the Netherlands and the BES islands should be "for better and for worse" and not "for bitter and for worse." "Together we have to form the Kingdom," she said.

Senator Sineke ten Horn (SP) said the constitutional changes should first and foremost benefit the people of the islands. In that sense she was glad to note that the social facilities such as increased social welfare, better educational and health care facilities would be realised. She too agreed that partners in the Kingdom needed to invest in better relations.

Investing in solid relations in the Kingdom has always been important for CDA, said Senator Huub Doek. "CDA is convinced that the new relations will lead to better living conditions of citizens of the BES islands," he said.

Henk ten Hoeve (OSF) said that "finally" the Kingdom partners had decided to dedicate more attention to each other and to "strive for a joint future." He did warn against too much paternalism by the Dutch. Ten Hoeve hoped that The Hague would wisely deal with the new fellow countrymen and grant the islands enough space to keep their own identity.

12 May 2010

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