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The contemplated new constitutional status of Curacao

Citizens of the Islands Curacao and Sint Maarten have voted in a referendum held between June 2000 and April 2005, for a semi-autonomous status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This means that they want to be a country on their own, like Aruba, but yet remain part of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of the Netherlands at present consists of three countries: The Netherlands, The Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. While Curacao and Sint Maarten voted for a semi-autonomous status, the other Netherlands Antilles islands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, also called the K3, opted for a closer relationship with the Netherlands, and wish to become direct part of The Netherlands as a municipality.

After intense negotiations and several pre-agreements between the different countries, i.e. the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands, a General Agreement (“Hoofdlijnenakkoord”) was signed by all the islands of the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands on 22 October 2005. This agreement provides that bilateral agreements shall be made between the Netherlands and the individual islands of the Netherlands Antilles to implement the new status.

Following the General Agreement, a Final Declaration (“Slotverklaring”) was signed between the Netherlands and the K3 islands, on 11 October 2006. The Final Declaration substantiates the different aspects of the contemplated new constitutional relationship. The new constitutional status of the K3 will be the status of a special municipality of the Netherlands, which means that the K3 will become a part of this country just like any other municipality within the Netherlands, however with some exceptions, e.g. based on the specific cultures of the islands.

Another Final Declaration (“Slotverklaring”) was signed on 2 November 2006 by certain representatives of Curacao, Sint Maarten and the Netherlands. This agreement seeks to lay out the new constitutional status of the islands of Curacao and Sint Maarten. The negotiating parties agreed that these islands would become semi-autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The transition date for all of the islands of the Netherlands Antilles was first set at 7 July 2007, but due to the unwillingness and eventual rejection of the Island Counsel of Curacao (its highest authority) to adopt the latter Final Declaration in the proposed form, the transition date has now been postponed to 15 December 2008.

With regards to the contents of the second Final Declaration, it not only addresses the contemplated constitutional structures of Curacao and Sint Maarten but also lays out a framework in which the various characteristics of these two new countries, such as the court of justice system, the maintenance of law and order, the banking system and finances are set out. With respect to the finances, it is notable that The Netherlands declared itself willing to reschedule i.e “absorb” the debts of Curacao and Sint Maarten to the level of the interest expense norm.

In following editorials we will elaborate on the contents and the legal consequences of both Final Declarations.