Focus on islands’ interests in European election debate | THE DAILY HERALD

The debate organised by the Cabinet of the St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary at the Europe House in The Hague last Friday.

THE HAGUE–The Caribbean part of the Dutch Kingdom needs to consider its relationship with Europe, in anticipation of Great Britain’s potential departure from the European Union (EU), as this could affect the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) status of the Dutch Caribbean countries.

Four candidates in the elections for a new European Parliament, which take place this Thursday, and various experts discussed this aspect during an election debate organised by the Cabinet of the St. Maarten Plenipotentiary at the Europe House – the information centre of the European Parliament in The Hague last week Friday.

St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary Jorien Wuite thanked candidates Samira Rafaela (D66), Agnes Jongerius (PvdA), Eveline Herben (CDA), Dirk-Jan Koch (GroenLinks), Roy Ho Ten Soeng (50Plus) and Jan Schippers (ChristianUnion) and experts Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Gohar Karapetian, Carol Voges and Marco de Boer for participating. “Your input helps to put the issues on the agenda of the European Union,” said Wuite.

D66 prominent, former Dutch minister and member of the European Parliament Brinkhorst pointed out that Brexit will cause the number of OTCs to decrease by more than half, and more attention will go to the Ultra Peripheral Territories (UPTs). “Are you willing to consider an alternative to the OCT?”

Dutch St. Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba currently have an OCT status and are not part of the EU. UPTs such as French St. Martin, Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guyana are part of the EU. Constitutional law expert Karapetian of the Groningen University said the relationship between the EU and OCTs was increasingly based on mutual benefits.

Voges of the Cabinet of the St. Maarten Plenipotentiary and the Association of Overseas Countries and Territories OCTA explained how the interests of the OCTs were presented in Brussels. Europe journalist De Boer of the Trouw newspaper said the elections could be interpreted as a voice for or against Europe.

Jongerius, a candidate on the Labour Party PvdA slate, said that the Dutch Caribbean was never mentioned in the discussion about the Brexit. “Let’s agree here that all parties will make sure to bring this to the table,” she said. Jongerius wants equal attention for Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin in the EU.

Rafael, on the D66 slate and of Curaçao descent, agreed with Jongerius that the countries should get more attention in the Brexit debate. “I think we should have that discussion together,” she said, pointing out the importance of an in-depth assessment into the impact of the Brexit on the islands once there is more clarity on the Brexit conditions.

Candidate Herben, on the slate of the Christian Democratic Party CDA, said that the choice between OCT and UPT status was mostly a decision that the Dutch Caribbean countries had to take, and that the countries didn’t necessarily have to make the same choice. Ho Ten Soeng of the 50Plus party, who has lived in Curaçao and Aruba, said the relations with Europe were worth considering.

GroenLinks candidate Koch said there were also other topics that were important for the islands such as climate, air pollution by the refinery in Curaçao and tackling discrimination on the labour market. Schippers of the ChristianUnion pointed out the importance of the role of churches.

The candidates lobbied for the elimination of the mandatory registration for residents of Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten in order to vote for the European Parliament. “Residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba automatically receive a voting card,” said Jongerius. “Voting right is voting right, and that means no additional obstacles,” said Rafaela.

Source: The Daily Herald