THE HAGUE–The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament has started the process of the second reading to amend the Dutch Constitution to embed the constitutional basis of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba and to establish an Electoral Council for the islands, despite Statia’s objections.
The proposal to amend the Constitution has reached the Second Chamber and it was handled by Parliament’s Permanent Committee for Home Affairs last Thursday. The Committee was asked to submit its comments and questions to the legislation proposal of the Dutch Government, signed by caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte and co-signed by outgoing Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk.
The first reading of the amendment of the Constitution was published in the National Gazette on November 14, 2016, following the approval by the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on October 25, 2016. The Second Chamber had already approved the original law proposal in October 2012.
The Senate had delayed the handling because it wanted to await the outcome of the 2015 constitutional evaluation and it wanted to make sure that only persons with the Dutch nationality would have an influence on the composition of the Senate. Two readings and approval by two subsequent parliaments are needed to make an amendment to the Constitution.
The constitutional status of Bonaire, Statia and Saba was already secured in an amendment of the Kingdom Charter at the time the Netherlands Antilles (NA) was dismantled, but that change had not been formalised in the Dutch Constitution. The proposal to amend the Constitution does not define the public entity status as the final model for the three islands, Minister Plasterk confirmed in the plenary meeting with the Senate in October last year.
The amendment to the Constitution also arranges for the setting up of an Electoral Council (“Kiescollege”) which enables residents of the islands with the Dutch nationality and 18 years or older to indirectly vote for the Senate in 2019.
Several parties in Parliament’s Permanent Committee for Home Affairs (“Binnenlandse Zaken”) have posed questions in the process of the second reading. The liberal democratic VVD party, the Christian Democratic Party CDA and the Democratic Party D66 underscored the desire of the Dutch Government to give the constitutional status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba a position in the Constitution.
The D66 party noted that at the time of the handling of the first reading by the Second Chamber, the fundamental views of the Governments of Bonaire and Statia on this proposed change to the Constitution were unknown. The VVD asked whether the views of the two islands were known now and asked for information on these views.
D66 remarked that the first reading took place before the evaluation of the public entity status of the Caribbean Netherlands and that the second reading takes place after the evaluation.
D66 questioned the intention of the amendment of the Constitution to enable legislation for the islands to differ from the laws that are applicable in Netherlands due to the special circumstances of the islands. D66 asked the Dutch Government to “explicitly confirm” that this didn’t affect article 1 of the same Constitution that guarantees the basic rights of all Dutch citizens.
According to D66, it is important to have “clear criteria” to determine when and in which areas the legislation in the Caribbean Netherlands differs from that in the Netherlands. “D66 observes that some ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW, almost always applied law changes to the islands, while this is less applied by other ministries, like the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS.”
D66 asked whether there was an “assessment framework with clear criteria” to decide if Dutch legislation was implemented on the islands or not. “In what manner does the Dutch Government guarantee that there is no arbitrariness in the decision-taking which legislation is applicable to the islands and which laws are not?”
Poverty and social problems on the islands have D66 “very worried,” and in the party’s opinion the possibility of applying the law differently in the Caribbean Netherlands “should not lead to a distinction between Dutch citizens in the Netherlands and Dutch citizens in the Caribbean Netherlands where it comes to the right of an equal standard of living. The D66 members ask whether the Dutch Government subscribes to this and how the government will guarantee this in the future.” D66 wanted to know when there would be clarity on establishing a social minimum.
The VVD asked about the Electoral Council. The party made a case for an “efficient solution” to establish the Electoral Council. “Will there be one joint Electoral Council, or will there be separate Electoral Councils for each individual island?” The party also asked whether it was possible to combine the elections for the Island Councils and the Electoral Council.
The VVD remarked that it was in favour of establishing an Electoral Council to make sure that persons without the Dutch nationality who could vote for the Island Council would not have an influence on the composition of the First Chamber, the Senate. The VVD emphasized that the voting right for the Senate was only reserved for persons with the Dutch nationality.
The current Statia Government early January 2017 made a formal objection to the securing of the public entity status for the island in the Constitution. Minister Plasterk explained in a letter to the Executive Council earlier this month that the law proposal specifically arranged a constitutional basis, but that it did not secure a public entity status for Bonaire, Statia and Saba in the Constitution.