THE HAGUE–The Dutch Kingdom as a connecting factor between the four countries. That was the general message of speakers at the 20th anniversary of the Netherlands Aruba Society (“Genootschap Nederland Aruba”) in The Hague on Saturday.
The well-attended event boasted an impressive list of speakers: Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, Democratic Party D66 Senator and former Minister of Kingdom Relations Thom de Graaf, Aruba Minister Plenipotentiary Juan David Yrausquin and Director of Kingdom Relations of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK Erwin Arkenbout.
Princess Laurentien compared people’s perception of the Kingdom to the different kinds of movies. “Everyone sits in a different genre, documentary, drama, adventure, family. Only if we sit in the same movie theatre, watching the same movie, we can have a meaningful talk about the Kingdom, the connection between people and the enormous opportunities that we can build on.”
Thom de Graaf said a “more democratic wind” needed to blow in the Kingdom Charter, with a greater involvement and say of the Dutch Caribbean countries in the drafting of Kingdom Laws and a democratic check of the Kingdom Government.
De Graaf suggested instituting an annual State of the Kingdom where the four Parliaments, joined in a more formal Kingdom Parliament body, would have a debate with the Kingdom Council of Ministers regarding the course of the Kingdom. He also called for an update of the 1954 Charter.
Minister Plenipotentiary Yrausquin advocated more consistency in the Kingdom, a Kingdom that actively works on behalf of its entire people. “An active, ambitious and consistent Kingdom. We need to put more emphasis on our Kingdom as a whole, a unity with equal opportunities.” He called on the countries to focus more on the commonality of the Kingdom instead of only striving for their own interests.
Just like De Graaf, Yrausquin suggested instituting a State of the Kingdom where the Kingdom Government would report to the four Parliaments about Kingdom matters including the sustainable development goals. He said that with a thorough preparation and solid arguments, the Dutch Caribbean countries could give more content to the Kingdom through the Kingdom Council of Ministers.
“Without a steering and strong function of the Kingdom, the inequality among the countries will only grow and that is unacceptable, especially towards the people and their right of having equal opportunities. The absence of equal opportunities will put a bomb under the sovereign state, the Kingdom,” Yrausquin said.
Senator De Graaf said that there was certainly room for improvement, but not only in the constitutional sense. “For the future of the Kingdom it is absolutely necessary to keep investing in social development: education, culture, employment, health care and sustainability. And, to keep investing in each other for in the knowledge of our past also lies our shared future.”
De Graaf also mentioned St. Maarten’s country status and the doubts of some about the island’s small size to operate as a country. He said that the doubts during the transition period were not eliminated as yet.
“Is St. Maarten really not too small for a complete autonomous administration without the mechanisms of supervision and of partnership that were secured in a larger structure of the Netherlands Antilles? The smaller the island, the smaller the distance between citizen and government and as a result a larger risk of a fragile and pressured government. The Kingdom will somehow have to deal with this fragility,” said De Graaf.
Further changes to the constitutional structure will not solve anything, said De Graaf. “The smallest islands are too small for further forms of self-governance and will have to find a way of understanding with the Netherlands. Independence doesn’t offer a solution for the larger islands and will surely not present an improvement compared to the autonomous status they now enjoy. Citizens want stability and prosperity, not unsure adventures,” he said.
According to De Graaf, every institutional structure that originated in a colonial history had a certain degree of tension. “Tension of differences in prosperity and financial dominance, tension of historical justice and tension between cultures. These differences can only be bridged by flexibility, reasonableness and a bit of wisdom. Not magnification, reiteration of principles and harsh populism. It is the task of wise politicians on both sides of the ocean to take a stand against this and to prevent a hollowing-out of the Kingdom from within.”
Princess Laurentien chose less of a political message. She mentioned one of her dear projects: the establishing of Children’s Councils (“Raden van Kinderen”) throughout the Kingdom as an example to bridge differences and to build a more solid future.
Empowering children, children as change makers, as advisors of corporate businesses, that is what the Children’s Councils in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba seek. St. Maarten doesn’t have a Children’s Council as yet.
“Children can look at issues in a much more creative way. They are not stuck in permanent structures. They look at things differently. Maybe this is also an idea for the Kingdom, to look at things in a creative, different manner,” said Princess Laurentien.
She expressed the wish that the Children’s Councils would contribute to better relations and more understanding within the Kingdom. She said there were also many possibilities to connect through social initiatives. However, things will not happen without any effort being made, she said.
Director Erwin Arkenbout, who spoke on behalf of caretaker Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk, said the Dutch Government had much appreciation for Aruba’s efforts and ambitions as bridge-builder in the Kingdom. He mentioned Aruba’s many projects and investments in sustainable economic development, but noted that it was important to keep a balance in development and nature protection. He said that seeking this balance was a challenge for all islands.
Saturday’s event of the Netherlands Aruba Society GNA closed off with special recognition for Aruba businessman Eduardo de Veer of Metacorp and the developer of several tourism projects, including the current Renaissance Resort in Oranjestad. GNA Chairman Nico van Grieken thanked De Veer for his relentless support and announced the decision to make De Veer an honorary member.