Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles

Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles
Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles
Participants Governments of the island territories of the Netherlands Antilles
Government of the Netherlands Antilles
Government of the Netherlands
Location Netherlands Antilles
Date 1986 and 2010
Result Separation of Aruba in 1986, complete dissolution in 2010
Map of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherlands and the Caribbean islands are to the same scale.

The Netherlands Antilles, an autonomous Caribbean country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was dissolved on 10 October 2010.[1][2] It was created originally of communities from various islands in the Caribbean that formed a single autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

After dissolution, the islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius became special municipalities of the Netherlands proper, while Curaçao and Sint Maarten became constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along the lines of Aruba, which had separated from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986.



Netherlands Antilles

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The idea of the Netherlands Antilles as a country within the Kingdom never enjoyed the full support of all islands and political relations between islands were often strained. Geographically, the Leeward Islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire, and the Windward Islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten lie almost 1,000 kilometres apart. Culturally, the Leeward islands have deep connections with the South American mainland, especially Venezuela, and its population speaks a Spanish-Portuguese creole language called Papiamento. The Windward islands, on the other hand, are part of the English-speaking Caribbean.

When the new constitutional relationship between the Netherlands and its former West Indian colonies was enshrined in the Kingdom Charter of 1954, the colonial administrative division of the Netherlands Antilles, which was derived from the colony of Curaçao and Dependencies and grouped all six Caribbean islands together under one administration, was taken for granted. Despite the fact that Aruban calls for secession from the Netherlands Antilles originated in the 1930s,[3] the governments of the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles did everything in their power to keep the six islands together. The Netherlands did this so as to make sure that the Netherlands Antilles could become independent as soon as possible; a call which became increasingly louder in the Netherlands after the Willemstad riots of 1969 in Curaçao. The government of the Netherlands Antilles feared that the whole Netherlands Antilles would disintegrate if one of the islands seceded; Antillean Prime Minister Juancho Evertsz once famously remarked that "six minus one equals zero".

Increasing unrest on Aruba, however, especially after a consultative referendum on secession was organized by the island government in 1977, meant that the issue of Aruban secession had to be taken into consideration. After long negotiations, it was agreed that Aruba could become a separate country within Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1986, but only on the condition that it would become fully independent in 1996. The People's Electoral Movement, which led the Aruban island government in the years leading up to 1986, reluctantly agreed to this, but the Aruban People's Party, which came to power after 1986, refused all cooperation with the Netherlands on the issue of independence.[4]

The Netherlands, on the other hand, became more and more aware that the ties with the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom would probably endure for a longer period of time. Suriname, the other partner of the Kingdom which attained independence in 1975, had gone through a period of dictatorship and civil war, which weakened the pro-independence ideology of the Dutch government. Aruba and the Netherlands agreed in July 1990 to delete Article 62, which foresaw Aruban independence in 1996, from the Charter. This was finalized in 1994, on some conditions about cooperation in the field of justice, good governance, and finances.[5]

Wake of Aruban secession

Meanwhile, the permanent position of Aruba as a separate country within the Kingdom led to calls for a similar arrangement on the other islands, especially on Sint Maarten. In the early 1990s, the five remaining islands of the Netherlands Antilles entered into a period of reflection about whether or not to remain part of the Netherlands Antilles. In March 1990, Dutch Minister of Aruban and Antillean Affairs Ernst Hirsch Ballin came up with a draft for a new Kingdom Charter, in which the leeward islands Curaçao and Bonaire, and the windwards islands Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten would form two new countries within the Kingdom. This proposal met with mixed responses on the islands.[6]

After a committee was installed investigating the future of the Netherlands Antilles, a Conference on the Future—Toekomstconferentie in Dutch, the Dutch government resisted using the more loaded term "Round Table Conference"—was held in 1993. The Netherlands proposed to take over the federal tasks of the Netherlands Antilles, with each of the islands thus remaining autonomous to the extent granted by the Islands Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles. Curaçao would be exempted and would attain country status like Aruba. Bonaire and Sint Maarten would be supported to help attain country status in the future. Saba and Sint Eustatius would not have this perspective and would remain what was called "Kingdom islands".[7] The fact that the Kingdom affairs would also be broadened to include law enforcement to reduce international crime (thus reducing the autonomy of Aruba and Curaçao), and the fact that Sint Maarten would not attain country status right away, meant that the Conference on the Future could only result in a failure.[8]

It was decided to postpone the next meeting of the conference until after a status referendum was held on Curaçao. The referendum's result, however, was in favour of maintaining and restructuring the Netherlands Antilles, in spite of the island government and the Netherlands Antillean government campaigning for country status. The other islands voted for maintaining the Netherlands Antilles as well. The Party for the Restructured Antilles, composed of campaigners in favour of maintaining and restructuring the Netherlands Antilles, came to power.[9]

New referendum cycle in the wake of Sint Maarten's vote for autonomy

In the end, restructuring the Netherlands Antilles did not get very far.[10] Probably the most symbolic change was the adoption of an anthem of the Netherlands Antilles in 2000. In the same year, however, another status vote was held on Sint Maarten, this time in favour of becoming a country of its own within the Kingdom. This sparked a new referendum cycle across the Netherlands Antilles. At the same time, a commission composed of representatives from the Netherlands and all the islands of the Netherlands Antilles investigated the future of the Netherlands Antilles. In its 2004 report, the commission advised a revision of the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to dissolve the Netherlands Antilles, with Curaçao and Sint Maarten becoming countries of their own within the Kingdom, and with Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba becoming "Kingdom islands".

The referendum held on Curaçao in 2005 came out in favour of country status as well. All other islands, except for Sint Eustatius, voted for closer ties with the Netherlands. Only Sint Eustatius wanted to retain the Netherlands Antilles.

Round Table Conferences

Following the referendums on all islands, the first Round Table Conference between the islands, the Netherlands Antillean government, and the Netherlands, was organized on 26 November 2005. It was agreed that Curaçao and Sint Maarten should become countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while the three other islands should become directly part of the Netherlands. Furthermore, agreement was made on the fact that the Netherlands would take over the debts of the Netherlands Antilles, on the condition that the islands would commit themselves to producing rounded budgets, so as to prevent future buildups of debts. A Board for Financial Supervision (Dutch: College financieel toezicht (Cft)), composed of members from both the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands, would be installed to supervise the budgets of the islands and of the Netherlands Antillean government.

These agreements were worked out in the following year. At a Mini Round Table held on 11 October 2006, a closing agreement (Dutch: slotakkoord) was signed, which stated that Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius would become public bodies of the Netherlands. A closing agreement was reached with Curaçao and Sint Maarten as well on 2 November. These agreement included specifics on the workings of the Board for Financial Supervision.

The closing agreements were subsequently ratified by the Netherlands and the individual islands, except by Curaçao, which rejected it on 29 November 2006. The other parties decided to continue negotiating without Curaçao. A transitional agreement was reached on 12 February 2007, which aimed at 15 December 2008, Koninkrijksdag, as the date of dissolution.

The island council of Curaçao later in 2007 adopted the closing agreement, but in 2009 decided to put the agreement to a referendum. This referendum was narrowly in favour of the closing agreement. A similar referendum on Bonaire was annulled by the Governor of the Netherlands Antilles, because the question posed was considered too vague.

15 December 2008 turned out to be an unfeasible date for dissolution. Instead a Round Table Conference was held on that day, in which the agreements were once again put on paper. In October 2009, it was agreed that the dissolution would take place on 10 October 2010, and on 9 September 2010, a closing Round Table was organized in which the Act of Parliament amending the Charter was ceremonially signed by the parties.

Constitutional changes

Curaçao and Sint Maarten

Curaçao and Sint Maarten became two new constituent states within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along the lines of Aruba and the Netherlands. Their planned new joint currency is the Caribbean guilder, to be brought in by 2012.[citation needed]

Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius

Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius have become a direct part of the Netherlands as special municipalities (bijzondere gemeenten), a form of "public body" (openbaar lichaam) as outlined in article 134 of the Dutch Constitution.[11] The Dutch province of North Holland invited the three new municipalities to become part of the province.[12] Currently (as of March 2011), they are not part of any province.[citation needed]

These municipalities resemble ordinary Dutch municipalities in most ways (they have a mayor, aldermen and a municipal council, for example) and will have to introduce most Dutch law. Residents of these three islands will also be able to vote in Dutch national and European elections. There are, however, some derogations for these islands. Social security, for example, is not on the same level as it is in the Netherlands.[citation needed]

The three islands will also have to involve the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs before they can make agreements with countries in the region. The special municipalities would be represented in the Kingdom Government by the Netherlands, as they can vote for the Dutch parliament.

On 1 January 2011, the three islands switched to the US dollar rather than the euro that is used in the European Netherlands.

Common Court

All five of the island territories may also continue to access the Common Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, and of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.

Status in the European Union

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a member of the European Union. However the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, a separate autonomous part of the Kingdom, are not considered part of the EU, but rather have the status of overseas countries and territories (OCTs). However, only one type of citizenship exists within the Kingdom (Dutch), and all Dutch citizens are EU citizens.

Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius are to become direct parts of the Netherlands. The Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands agreed not to change the status of these islands with regard to the EU in the first five years of integrating these islands into the Netherlands. After these five years have passed, a re-evaluation of the islands' EU status is to take place. The islands thus will remain OCTs at least until 2015.[13]

The Netherlands secured a provision in the Treaty of Lisbon that says that any Caribbean part of the Netherlands can opt for a change of status to Outermost Region (OMR) if they so wish, without having to change the Treaties of the European Union.[14]

Date of transition

On 1 September 2009, Saba announced that it wished to withdraw from the Netherlands Antilles immediately, rather than wait until October 2010.[15] However, according to Dutch State Secretary Bijleveld for Kingdom Relations, it was not legally possible for Saba to become separate from the Antilles earlier.[16]

The transition took place at midnight of 10 October 2010 ("10/10/10") in the Netherlands Antilles (UTC-04:00), which was contemporaneous with 6 am on 11 October in the European part of the Netherlands (UTC+02:00).[1]

Legal documents

Kingdom charter

The Kingdom Act amending the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands was drafted on 20 January 2009. It consists of six articles, with the changes to the Charter being included in articles one to three. The Kingdom law provides for article 3 to take effect on the date of publication of the law in the official journal of the Netherlands, and articles 1 and 2 at a later date to be specified by royal decree. In this way the future countries of Sint Maarten and Curaçao will be able to draft their constitutions and fundamental legislation before the new relations within the Kingdom are to take effect.[17]

The House of Representatives adopted the bill on 15 April 2010, while the Senate did the same on 6 July 2010.[18] The Estates of the Netherlands Antilles adopted the bill on 20 August and the Estates of Aruba did the same on 4 September.[19][20]

Legislation for the integration of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius into the Netherlands

On 21 November 2008, five draft acts that are necessary for the integration of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius into the Netherlands were accepted by the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom. These acts are the Act on the public bodies of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Dutch: Wet op de openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba, abbreviated to WOLBES), the Act on financial relations of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, the Amendment to the election act with regard to Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, the Introduction act on the public bodies of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, and the Adaptation act on the public bodies of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius.

The WOLBES defines the administrative organization of the public bodies and is modeled after the Dutch municipality law. The Introduction act specifies that Netherlands Antilles law will remain in force after the transition of the three island to the Dutch polity, and defines the process in which Dutch law will slowly take over Netherlands Antilles law in the islands. The Adaptation act adapts Netherlands Antilles law and Dutch law that is to take effect immediately to the new status of the islands.[21]

The House of Representatives adopted these acts on 9 March 2010. The Senate did so on 11 May.[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b Officielebekendmakingen.nl - Besluit van 23 september 2010 tot vaststelling van het tijdstip van inwerkingtreding van de artikelen I en II van de Rijkswet wijziging Statuut in verband met de opheffing van de Nederlandse Antillen
  2. ^ "Netherlands Antilles to cease to exist as a country". Nrc.nl. 2009-10-01. http://www.nrc.nl/international/article2375096.ece/Netherlands_Antilles_to_cease_to_exist_as_a_country. Retrieved 2010-10-10. 
  3. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 175
  4. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 175-209
  5. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 213, 223-224
  6. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 213
  7. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 221
  8. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 221–224
  9. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 224
  10. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 272
  11. ^ Originally the term used for Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius to describe their expected association with the Netherlands was "Kingdom Islands" (Koninkrijkseilanden).
  12. ^ ANP. "Volkskrant" (in (Dutch)). Volkskrant.nl. http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/article380899.ece/Noord-Holland_wil_kleine_Antillen_inlijven_als_gemeente. Retrieved 2010-10-10. 
  13. ^ (Dutch) Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Affairs – Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba behouden LGO-status[dead link]
  14. ^ The provision reads:
    Article 311 shall be repealed. A new Article 311a shall be inserted, with the wording of Article 299(2), first subparagraph, and Article 299(3) to (6); the text shall be amended as follows:
    (e) the following new paragraph shall be added at the end of the Article:
    "6. The European Council may, on the initiative of the Member State concerned, adopt a decision amending the status, with regard to the Union, of a Danish, French or Netherlands country or territory referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2. The European Council shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission."
    Treaty of Lisbon Article 2, point 293
  15. ^ "Saba threatens to secede from Dutch Antilles". 1 September 2009. http://www.nrc.nl/international/article2345809.ece/Saba_threatens_to_secede_from_Dutch_Antilles. Retrieved 8 February 2010. 
  16. ^ "Bijleveld: helder signaal van Saba" (in Dutch). De Telegraaf. 1 September 2009. http://www.telegraaf.nl/binnenland/4730393/__Bijleveld__helder_signaal_van_Saba__.html. Retrieved 8 February 2010. 
  17. ^ Voorstel Rijkswet wijziging Statuut in verband met de opheffing van de Nederlandse Antillen[dead link]
  18. ^ Eerstekamer.nl – Rijkswet wijziging Statuut in verband met de opheffing van de Nederlandse Antillen
  19. ^ RNW.nl – Antilliaanse Staten stemt in met wijziging Statuut
  20. ^ RNW.nl – Aruba akkoord met Statuutwijziging
  21. ^ Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Affairs – Ministerraad stemt in met wetgeving Bonaire, Saba en Sint Eustatius voor overgang naar Nederlands staatbestel[dead link]
  22. ^ Eerstekamer.nl Stand van zaken aanhangige wetgeving Staatkundige vernieuwing van het Koninkrijk


  • Oostindie, Gert and Inge Klinkers (2001) Het Koninkrijk in de Caraïben: een korte geschiedenis van het Nederlandse dekolonisatiebeleid 1940-2000. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

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