Published On: Wed, May 30th, 2018

This is why the judge does not yet decide in case of an argument between the Netherlands and the islands

The HagueTHE HAGUE - Will political quarrels between the Netherlands and the islands soon be resolved by a judge? The plan has been around for years, but the Dutch government is not cooperating, says Professor Gerhard Hoogers.

Members of parliament from Aruba, Curaçao, Sint-Maarten are meeting with their colleagues in The Hague for three days this week. The dispute settlement is also discussed: the plan for an independent judge who decides which country is right when there is an argument between, for example, the Netherlands and Aruba.

Professor Gerhard Hoogers (Constitutional Law), affiliated with the University of Groningen, follows the legal developments in the Kingdom closely. These are the five things you need to know about the plan for a dispute resolution.

Why are quarrels between The Hague and the islands now not easily resolved?

"If there is an instruction from The Hague, the autonomous islands can hardly appeal against the decision. Maybe they are right, but the Netherlands still has the last word. In the past it meant mainly that the Netherlands would leave aside a bit when the islands objected. Nowadays it means that the Netherlands often uses a kind of power play."

And why not just go to court? Do the municipalities in the Netherlands do this even if they are at odds with the Kingdom Government?

"Like all Dutch municipalities and provinces, the special municipalities of Bonaire, Saba and Sint-Eustatius can go to the Council of State for their problems with the central government. The idiotic situation is that they can all go to the highest administrative judge, but that the constitutional autonomous countries Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten cannot."

"Last year, former minister Ronald Plasterk sent a bill to the Council of State for advice. You can safely assume that there are things in that advice that the government in The Hague does not like. The advice will remain secret as long as the government does not forward it to the House of Representatives. The Dutch government also asked for advice in 2011, but that has also remained secret."

What is the interest of the Dutch government to keep the advice that has already been given on the bill secret?

"The idea of such a dispute settlement is to come up with a kind of independent judge, who can resolve things when there is a fight. The islands would then potentially have a more equal position with regard to the Netherlands."

"So the Supreme Court would get the last word. It would, I think, lead to a dispute being solved much less politically. That could mean that Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are more likely to be right. It means that the Netherlands hands over the control. And the Dutch government does not want that."

The Dutch government still has to send the plan to parliament, so that it can finally be introduced. But that does not happen: Undersecretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) says it has no priority. Is there political unwillingness?

"The quarrel over the dispute settlement has been going on for almost eight years. The Dutch government has been running since 2011 always on an arrangement in which ultimately it is not an independent judge who has the last word. While Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten strongly insist on a situation where that is the case. They really want the Supreme Court to do that. In that sense it is perhaps unwillingness from the Dutch side, yes."

When does that dispute resolution come about?

"The funny thing is that the quarrel about the dispute settlement is actually mainly a dispute between governments. The parliaments of the Kingdom are very agreeable."

"But what I also find striking is that none of the parliamentary factions apparently finds it worthwhile to come up with, for example, an initiative law. Perhaps for fear that the government will not want it. It will then end up not being signed by the government."

"The Council of State has clearly demonstrated in its annual report that the Council is very unhappy with the attitude of the Dutch government. It is very remarkable that they say: go to work. But the Dutch government does not seem to care too much about it until now."

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