Parliament backs Statia referendum

THE HAGUE--St. Eustatius is free to hold a referendum and the Dutch Government should take the wish of the people seriously, but a French overseas constitutional model is not an option.

That is the general consensus in the Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber about the wish of Statia's politicians to take the island's cause to the United Nations (UN) and to organise a referendum with the goal to re-open negotiations with The Netherlands about its constitutional status. St. Eustatius has been a Dutch public entity since October 10, 2010, a status that the people never voted for.
 
The Daily Herald spoke with Members of Parliament (MPs) Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP), André Bosman of the conservative VVD party, Bas Jan van Bochove of the Christian Democratic Party CDA and Cynthia Ortega-Martijn of the Christian Union (CU) and asked their opinion about Saturday's front-page article in this newspaper announcing that St. Eustatius planned to seek advice from the UN about its right to self-determination.
 
Parliamentarians support a referendum in St. Eustatius. "It is their right. A referendum should most certainly take place if there is an important reason to do so and the UN supports it. It is good to have the people express themselves," said Bosman (VVD).
 
Van Raak (SP) lauds Statia's initiative. "They have every right to it. St. Eustatius is the only island that cooperated with a new status that they never wanted in the first place," said Van Raak (SP), who has asked about a referendum in past debates. "We should grant the people a say in the final decision."
 
"The right to self-determination is an undeniable right and if St. Eustatius wants to take that step, they are absolutely free to do so. A referendum, going to the UN, negotiating with The Netherlands, it is all possible," said Van Bochove (CDA), who acknowledged that the public entity status had been Statia's "next best solution" as their wish – remaining part of the Netherlands Antilles – had not been possible, because that country would be dissolved.
 
Ortega-Martijn (CU) pointed out that according to international decolonisation rights, integration has to be based on a free and conscious choice of the people. "The crucial question is whether this was the case with St. Eustatius. I have always questioned this."
 
The adopted motion of Ortega-Martijn to make a referendum possible before the Charter was amended to accommodate the new constitutional statuses for the Antillean islands was never put to use. "That is unfortunate," she said.
 
Before a referendum is organised, St. Eustatius should make up its mind what it exactly wants to achieve and what the possibilities are, said Van Raak. "Is it a financial, a political or a social referendum? It should not be a referendum against The Netherlands, but one with clear options for the people."
 
The process to amend the Dutch Constitution to secure the public entity status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba is not an obstacle, said Bosman and Van Bochove. "The Constitution is a piece of paper that can be adapted whenever necessary," said Van Bochove.
 
Bosman and Van Bochove pointed out that technically it is necessary to adapt the Constitution at this time, because the rights of the people of the islands have to be secured. "It is the next step after the Charter was amended," said Bosman. The SP is willing to put the process to amend the Constitution on hold if the St. Eustatius Government would indicate such desire in writing.
 
According to Ortega-Martijn, amending the Constitution now is against the agreement with the islands to have a general evaluation of the public entity status in 2015. The islands find so too. Ortega-Martijn said the evaluation "creates a moment" for the Statia people to express themselves via a referendum. The information campaign could start in 2014.
 
Once the referendum has taken place and the people have made their final choice, the Dutch Government has to talk with St. Eustatius. "We have to take a referendum very seriously. I am willing to make a deal," said Van Raak. But, warned Van Bochove, "The Netherlands will assume a strict position. And with the increasingly harsh political climate, that position will only become stricter."
 
Some Statia politicians may favour an overseas territory status similar to that of the French islands, but the "French model" is out of the question for The Hague and it will never have the support of the Second Chamber. "It was never an option and will never be," said Van Bochove. "People have to be very conscious of what the French model entails. Because with the social and other benefits will come the European regulations and taxes," said Bosman.
 
The Netherlands has always maintained that there would not be a one-on-one relationship whereby St. Eustatius and also Bonaire and Saba would enjoy the same rights as the European part of The Netherlands.
 
The choices seem limited for St. Eustatius. Independence or becoming a country within the Kingdom is not realistic because of its size. "They are small and will always need help," said Van Bochove. Three things are important, said Van Raak. "First, what do the Statia people want? Secondly, what is the role of The Netherlands? And thirdly, what agreement do we come to?"
 
The SP favours a commonwealth status for the islands – "relations based on an agreement whereby The Netherlands remains willing to assist, but doesn't carry responsibility. The time of just giving money is over. We really like the islands, but we can no longer justify that to our constituents," said Van Raak.
 
Bosman would like to see the current public entity status maintained. Otherwise, the island will have to opt for independence, he added. Bosman stressed that it was up to the Statia people and not The Hague to make a choice.
 
A delegation of Statia's Island Council informed the Second Chamber of the desire to go to the UN to seek advice on the right to self-determination during a meeting last Wednesday. The functioning of Statia's government is on the agenda of a meeting of the Second Chamber's Permanent Committee for Interior Affairs on June 26.

(The Daily Herald)

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