WILLEMSTAD - The Kingdom consists of more than only a structure and formal relations, even though that is what is mostly discussed by the partners. The well-being of the people, broad prosperity for all citizens: that should be the partners’ joint mission. That is where the added value of the Kingdom lies.
Kingdom Council of State Vice-President Thom de Graaf planned to share this message in his guest lecture at University of Curaçao on Monday evening, but this speech never happened as the event was cancelled due to the general blackout in Curaçao. The Council of State decided to publish his lecture in which he assessed the upcoming 65th anniversary of the Kingdom Charter.
According to De Graaf, “Much more can be arranged within the Charter if desired politically, and sometimes also if we dared politically to give content to the Charter.” He said it was not about a revision of the formal and political responsibilities. “It is about giving content to the meaning of lasting solidarity, the real will to support each other and to progress together, not fast, but steadily.”
The Kingdom, said De Graaf, is more than a metaphor of the “somewhat rusted” relations within the Kingdom. “The Kingdom is more felt as a burden, if people have feelings at all, than as an attainment that our joint and shared history has given us. Our Kingdom is vulnerable in this and we have to learn to deal with that.”
De Graaf said the Kingdom was not “a given and passive possession,” even though he did not foresee that it would easily fall apart in the near future. “But we will have to work hard to have it be more than a formal construction that in practice often results in discomfort and discontent.”
As a former Minister in charge of Kingdom Relations, a former Member of both the Second and First Chambers of the Dutch Parliament, and currently as Vice-President of the Kingdom Council of State, De Graaf knows the islands well. He assured that he would continue the tradition of the Council of State as a trusted advisor in the Kingdom and as an honest broker if this was desired.
In his speech, De Graaf addressed the criticism levied by some politicians in The Hague. He said that the loudest voices did not comprise the general feeling or a majority in the Dutch Parliament. But, he added, naturally there were concerns in The Hague about the islands’ finances, their vulnerability and the future prospects.
Independence does not present a real solution for the Dutch Caribbean countries and it also would not be an improvement compared to the current constitutional position within the Kingdom, according to De Graaf. He said most people were convinced of this. “People want as much security as they can get and a caring government. They don’t want unclear adventures.”
To the Dutch Caribbean politicians, De Graaf said: “Unfortunately you cannot live in [the structure of – Ed.] independence. And I want to tell some politicians in the Netherlands that the historic responsibility for our trans-Atlantic Kingdom does not diminish when putting the sign ‘commonwealth’ on it.”
According to him, proposals such as granting the islands commonwealth status, suggested by Members of the Second Chamber André Bosman of the VVD party and Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party, “rather confirm political inability than creativity.”
Mentioning England versus Scotland as an example, De Graaf said there was tension in every institutional relationship that derives from a colonial or unequal history – “tension of differences of prosperity and financial dominance, tension of historic equality, tension between cultures and, unfortunately, sometimes also tension due to superiority thinking in the former mother country.” He said these tensions could only be bridged by flexibility, rationality and wisdom on both sides of the ocean.
De Graaf said he “strongly believed” in the possibilities the Kingdom can offer to all partners. He said various studies have shown that Caribbean islands that still have a constitutional relationship with their former mother country are doing socio-economically better on all fronts than the others that do not have this relationship. “Cooperation apparently brings benefits.”
If the Kingdom truly wants to live in the hearts of the people, it is absolutely necessary to keep cooperating and to improve the well-being of people by investing in education, culture, security, employment, health care and sustainability, said De Graaf.
Diversity has been on the front burner in all the changes within the Kingdom in the past decades, while unity was on the back burner. An agenda point for the Kingdom could be for the partners to see what they could do together. He mentioned education and health care as an example.
Looking back at 65 years of the Kingdom Charter, De Graaf said the equality in the Kingdom was too often seen as an equality between the countries. “Nothing keeps us from defining that equality as an equality between people who since 1954 all have the same Dutch nationality. If we talk about equality of citizens, we have to consider how much inequality is acceptable within the same constitutional structure and what social efforts can be made to reduce that inequality as much as possible.”
The amended constitutional structure that went into effect in October 2010 is far from perfect, and the island governments have to carry a heavy responsibility.
“This has not resulted in great successes in all cases and it remains a vulnerable unit. But Curaçao and St. Maarten were freed from the double and complex bureaucracy of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010,” he said. “The question remains whether sufficient constitutional checks and balances have been built into the structure of the new countries. The Kingdom will have to learn to manage the vulnerabilities of small communities.”
The fact that when one layer of government is removed, the Netherlands Antilles in this case, the remaining layers come closer together and get more intensively involved in each other’s business was insufficiently taken into account during the dismantling process, said De Graaf.
“Now that there is no more central Antillean government sort of as a cartilage between The Hague and the islands, there are more intensive contacts between the islands and the Kingdom, and faster potential conflicts. I think many still have to get used to this,” said De Graaf.