The Kingdom of the Netherlands: new constitutional structure
New constitutional structure
The Kingdom of the Netherlands has recently undergone a process of constitutional reform, which has now reached fruition. The changes concern the Netherlands Antilles, a country that until recently was made up of the islands of Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba. The reforms are based on the results of referenda and on decisions taken by representative assemblies about the islands’ future constitutional status. The results, with one exception, were unequivocal: the islands no longer wanted to be parts of the Netherlands Antilles, yet they also did not want to sever their ties with the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The exception, Sint Eustatius, voted to remain a part of the Netherlands Antilles.
On the basis of an outline agreement concluded in 2005, which set out agreements on constitutional reforms, financial and economic issues, law enforcement and good governance, a series of conferences was launched with the aim of taking a coordinated and parallel approach to dealing with the complexities of this process. This led, in October and November 2006, to final declarations on the constitutional position of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, and of Curaçao and Sint Maarten. At the Round Table Conference in Curaçao on 15 December 2008, the Netherlands and the other Kingdom partners reached agreement on the new constitutional structure of the Kingdom.
The conclusions of the final Round Table Conference were signed on 9 September 2010. These stated that the amended Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands would enter into force as planned on 10 October 2010. As of 10-10-‘10 the Netherlands Antilles has ceased to exist.
In the new constitutional structure, Curaçao and Sint Maarten have acquired the status of countries within the Kingdom (like the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba before the changes). Aruba retains the separate country status it has had since 1986. Thus, as from 10 October 2010, the Kingdom consists of four, rather than three, equal countries: Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are not Dutch overseas dependencies, but full, autonomous partners within the Kingdom, alongside the Netherlands, and each enjoys a high degree of internal autonomy.
The three other islands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba have voted for direct ties with the Netherlands and are now part of the Netherlands, thus constituting ‘the Caribbean part of the Netherlands’. The relationship’s legal form will be that each island has the status of public body within the meaning of article 134 of the Dutch Constitution. In broad terms, their position is now like that of Dutch municipalities, with adjustments for their small size, their distance from the Netherlands and their geographic situation in the Caribbean region. For the time being, Netherlands Antillean legislation will still be applicable in large part to the public bodies. Every resident of the three islands who has Dutch nationality now has the right to vote in elections to the Dutch House of Representatives alongside the existing right to vote in European Parliament elections. They are not, however, allowed to vote in Provincial Council elections because the public bodies are not part of any Dutch province.
Responsibility for foreign relations
The constitutional changes do not affect the way in which the Kingdom conducts its foreign relations.
• The Kingdom’s external borders have not changed.
• Foreign relations and defence remain ‘Kingdom affairs’. These are dealt with in the Council of Ministers for the Kingdom, which meets in The Hague. The governments of the Caribbean countries are represented in the Council by a minister plenipotentiary. The Aruban government has its seat in Oranjestad, the government of Curaçao is based in Willemstad and the government of Sint Maarten in Philipsburg.
• There is one Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has ultimate responsibility for foreign relations for the Kingdom as a whole.
• The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassies, consulates and permanent missions/representations abroad continue to work for the Kingdom as a whole and all its constituent parts.
• As of 10 October 2010, the Caribbean countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) each have their own Foreign Relations Department.
• While treaties and conventions may be concluded only by the Kingdom and not by its constituent parts, their applicability may be confined to one or more countries. In other words, such agreements may be concluded by the Kingdom for one or more individual parts of the Kingdom.