By Suzanne Koelega
THE HAGUE--Twelve hours and numerous adjournments later, the four countries in the Kingdom reached an accord on further cooperation among the partners, Wednesday night. Breakthrough decisions were not taken. The issues were merely shifted to work groups that should come up with solutions before the next Kingdom Conference in Aruba, late August.
Four work groups will be installed, with representatives of all four countries. The first work group will take an inventory of possible additional areas of cooperation in the Kingdom. This work group will also submit a proposal to establish a Kingdom Secretariat.
A second work group will look at the "practical bottlenecks and differences of interpretation" in the Kingdom and submit recommendations how to solve this. A third work group will deal with movement within the Kingdom, focusing on the movement of persons. The fourth work group will prepare a dispute arrangement for the Kingdom.
No work groups were needed to further look into foreign policy and the future adaptation of the Kingdom Charter. Aruba, Curaçao, the Netherlands and St. Maarten agreed to more freedom in foreign policy, which formally is a Kingdom (read: Dutch) affair.
It was agreed that Curaçao and St. Maarten would be added to Articles 58, 59 and 60 of the Kingdom Charter. These articles were added to the Charter in the past to enable Aruba to go independent, after consultation with the people via a referendum. Curaçao and St. Maarten also want to be able to make use of these articles.
St. Maarten Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams experienced the conference as very positive. "All partners reaffirmed that we stand for the Kingdom, that we want to cooperate and give content to meaningful relations," she said. St. Maarten presented its preliminary vision on the Kingdom paper at the conference.
Wescot-Williams praised the fact that the partners had been able to discuss the bottlenecks in an open setting. In this sense, the Kingdom Conference provided a perfect platform for St. Maarten to bring forward its issues. Building Country St. Maarten is not an easy task, as she called it, and the island needs to be able to discuss the issues and complications that it comes across in the process.
The good thing about the Kingdom Conference is that the individual partners can ask for an extra meeting in addition to the scheduled next conference to discuss pressing matters, said Wescot-Williams.
Wednesday's conference, for example, provided an opportunity to discuss four issues that are important to St. Maarten: a joint vision for the Kingdom, the adaptation of the Charter's Articles 58 to 60, the financial supervision process and a greater influence in foreign policy. "We were able to openly speak," said Wescot-Williams, at the press briefing following the conference.
The Kingdom Conference is an additional means to bring partners together, allowing mechanisms such as the Kingdom Council of Ministers to remain in place, stressed Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Piet Hein Donner at the press briefing. "The Kingdom Conference is primarily a mechanism to discuss the issues," he said.
Curaçao Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte confirmed that the Kingdom Conference hadn't replaced existing structures. The media wanted to know whether the conference had dealt with a current subject of dilemma like the integrity investigation in Curaçao.
Schotte said about that investigation: "For us it is done and over with. Maybe the media and the [Curacao-Ed.] opposition want a 10th investigation. This issue has already been dealt with amply, also in the Dutch Parliament." He said that independence for Curaçao had not been an issue at the Kingdom Conference. "We didn't come here to talk about that. We did speak about adapting Articles 58 to 60, so Curaçao can make a choice for independence if it so desires. But the mandate of the people now is not independence and that will remain so until the people decide otherwise." He referred to the Kingdom Conference as "fruitful and constructive."
Aruba Prime Minister Mike Eman said at the press briefing that the conference had been a "great step forward" for the Kingdom. "We were worried about the eroding basis of the Kingdom. There was insufficient focus on the added value of the Kingdom. The fact that we agreed to invest, to commit to the Kingdom is a great gain. We will all constructively look at the benefits of the Kingdom, a win-win situation with our autonomous status as a point of departure."
"We looked at a positive commitment of all partners. If we hadn't talked now, we would have faced a further disintegration of the Kingdom," added Donner. He said it was quite an achievement that parties could look back at a positive meeting, after 12 hours of discussion.
In his opening remarks at the start of the conference, Donner said that the Final Accord signed in November 2006 had been a package deal. "There are always positive and negative aspects about a package deal," he said, stressing that the deal would remain in place as a whole, as originally agreed on. He stressed that the Kingdom Conference was not meant as a continuation of the Round Table Conferences that were held in the past.
Schotte said in his opening address that Curaçao was disappointed in the country status and the conditions that had come with it. "It is conditioned autonomy and that doesn't feel good." He said Curaçao should be granted the opportunity to give maximum content to its autonomy and to use all available space that the Charter offers. He said the standpoint of his delegation at Wednesday's conference should be seen as Curaçao's desire to give maximum content to its own responsibilities as stated in the Charter.
Donner called for stronger, more mature relations among the partners. "Let's strengthen the ties instead of making them weaker." Strong relations are also important, because the Netherlands has become a part of the Caribbean through its public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, he said.
Donner said it was important to have a vision. "A country will be annihilated without a vision." He said the Kingdom added a dimension and served as a bridge between Europe and South America. Prerequisites are a stable political climate and a solid judicial system. "That is often not the case in the (Caribbean) region."
Trust and good governance are also an important factor in solid relations, said Donner. He said the Netherlands preferred to make something of the Kingdom. "Diversity is power, if we make good use of it."
Wednesday's conference was chaired by Dutch Vice-prime Minister Maxime Verhagen. It was agreed that the country hosting the Kingdom Conference would chair the meeting. That means that Mike Eman will chair the second Kingdom Conference in Aruba, late August. It was also agreed that the order of the countries in the Charter would be maintained for the hosting of the Kingdom Conferences. St. Maarten being the third country in the Charter will therefore host the fourth Kingdom Conference, after Curaçao
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