Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles

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Political relations within the Kingdom of the Netherlands

  • The Political Structure of the Kingdom
  • Distribution of Competencies within the Kingdom

Current political relations between the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba stem from 1954. They are based on the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a voluntary arrangement between the Netherlands, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. At the time, the Charter represented an end to colonial relations and the acceptance of a new legal system, in which each nation would look after their own interests independently, look after their common interests on the basis of equality and provide each other with mutual assistance. In 1975, Suriname left the Kingdoms political alliance. Since 1986, Aruba has had separate status within the Kingdom and is no longer part of the Netherlands Antilles. The Kingdom of the Netherlands currently consists of three countries. In principle, these countries are autonomous in their internal affairs. Besides this, there are the so-called Affairs of the Kingdom and co-operation among the countries in certain policy areas.

The Political Structure of the Kingdom

Head of State
The king functions as head of state of the Kingdom. In the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, a governor represents the king. The governor is both a national body, head of the government of the country in question, and a royal body, in his capacity as representative of the governing body of the Kingdom.

The Governing Body of the Kingdom
The governing body of the Kingdom comprises the king and council of ministers of the Kingdom (the State Ministerial Council - SMC).  The SMC consists of the Netherlands ministerial council along with the Ministers Plenipotentiary of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. The ministers plenipotentiary are appointed by the governments of the latter countries and represent these countries in the SMC. The Dutch Prime Minister chairs the SMC. A significant difference between the Dutch ministers and the ministers plenipotentiary is that the former ministers act by virtue of their own responsibility. They are accountable for their political policies to the Dutch parliament. The ministers plenipotentiary, on the other hand, are authorised representatives of their national governments. They receive instructions from and are accountable to their governments. These ministers therefore do not have to resign in the event of a Dutch cabinet crisis.

National Legislation
Unless they are invalid in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, rules relating to the affairs of the Kingdom are established by statute law and by administrative measures, respectively, of the national governments. National laws are the result of co-operation between the governing body of the Kingdom and Dutch parliament. Draft statute laws are submitted simultaneously to the national parliaments of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. The parliaments examine the bills prior to giving them consideration in the Lower House and report their findings to the House. When they actually come up for consideration in the House, there are various procedures by means of which the ministers plenipotentiary and MPs from the West can affect the decision-making process.

The Kingdoms Council of State
The Kingdoms Council of State offers advice on statute law bills and national government administrative measures. The composition is the same as that of the Netherlands Council of State, except for the fact that, at the request of the Netherlands Antilles or the government of Aruba, one member from the Antilles and one from Aruba can be included in the Council of State. The Netherlands Antilles and Aruba made both use of this right.

The Supreme Court
Another important body that plays a role in the national overseas territories is the Supreme Court. Appeals against judgements of the Common Court of Justice of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba may be launched with the Supreme Court. This ensures legal uniformity within the Kingdom.

The Auditor General
The Kingdom does not have an Auditor General. If the Netherlands Antilles or Aruba should so desire, based on the Charter, the Netherlands Auditor General could oversee in general how financial resources are spent in those countries. However, no use has been made of this option. The countries mentioned each have their own general auditors.

Forms of Government in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba
The country constitutions of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, which are based on the Charter, regulate the forms of government. These are comparable to the Dutch constitution. Based on these constitutions, the countries in question have their own governments. These look after their autonomous affairs (a governor appointed by the Crown, along with ministers), with directly elected parliaments (Staten), advisory councils (comparable to the Council of State), general auditors and their own judicial systems, the members of which are appointed by the Kingdom. In addition, the territory of the Netherlands Antilles is subdivided into island districts, which are comparable to municipalities. They have their own democratically constituted local authorities, consisting of an island council (directly elected), a governing body (an executive committee of which at least 50 percent are appointed from members of the island council) and an authority (a president of the island council and the executive committee appointed by the Crown).

The European Union
The Netherlands Antilles and Aruba are not part of the dominion or internal market of the European Union. These countries belong to the so-called Countries and Overseas Territories (COT), listed in Appendix IV of the EC Treaty, to which the special association arrangement adopted in Section IV of the treaty applies.

Distribution of Competencies within the Kingdom
In practice, the distribution of competencies at Kingdom level normally goes to three different areas, Kingdom affairs, common and collaborative affairs and the own (autonomous) affairs of each separate country. The Charter lists the Kingdom affairs. From a formal juridical standpoint, however, the Charter assumes competencies at two executive levels.

Kingdom Affairs
The following are the most important affairs of the Kingdom:

  • Safeguarding fundamental human rights and freedoms, legal securities and good governance;
  • Maintenance of independence and the defence of the Kingdom;
  • Foreign affairs;
  • Dutch nationality;
  • Regulation of the nationality of ships and related regulations of the standards of safety and navigation of sea-going vessels that fly the flag of the Kingdom;
  • Extradition.

In consideration of changes made in the provisions of the Charter, other subjects may be designated as affairs of the Kingdom.

Further Regulation of Kingdom Affairs
The further regulation of Kingdom affairs takes place by statute law or by administrative measures of the national government. If such rules only apply to the Netherlands, one may opt to follow a normal Dutch law or a general executive order. However, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba may not regulate Kingdom affairs via their own legislation (national regulations and national resolutions).

Autonomous Affairs
Besides Kingdom affairs, there are purely autonomous affairs of the countries. These cover a wide range of policy fields. The countries can execute each task independently and create new tasks and competencies, so long as the Charter does not designate them as Kingdom affairs.

Mutual Assistance, Consultation and Co-operation
Further, the Charter also contains subjects for which mutual assistance and consultation are obligatory. This involves subjects that are part of each countries own competency, but for which a single policy line is desirable. Examples include promotion of cultural and social affairs among the countries, the promotion of targeted economic, financial and monetary relations, and aviation and maritime affairs. In addition, several affairs must be regulated as uniformly as possible, such as civil and company law, civil legal procedures, criminal law and criminal proceedings. Furthermore, the three countries may work together on a voluntary basis, for example, in the fields of Dutch financial and staff assistance to the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. For this purpose, protocols, agreements and covenants may be concluded and, where necessary, one may opt to follow the path of statute law or administrative measures of the national governments. Use has been made of the latter for co-operation in the area of the Coast Guard for the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.

Constitutional Regulations
With respect to their own constitutional regulations, the three countries are not entirely free. There is a restriction of freedom to ensure compliance with the Charter and with several minimum requirements, which can be demanded of any constitutional democracy. As mentioned in this regard, the forms of government of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba are regulated in the constitutions of these countries and that of the Netherlands in its constitution. The constitutions in question are established and can be changed by national statutes. Any changes in the country constitutions ultimately require permission of the governing body of the Kingdom. This would apply to any of the following provisions:

  • Safeguarding fundamental human rights and freedoms;
  • The competencies of the governor and the parliaments;
  • Administration of justice;
  • The distribution of seats in the parliaments of the Netherlands Antilles among the various island districts, as well as the regulation of the island districts.

The Dutch constitution also provides assurances that the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba would be involved in any changes in comparable provisions and in several other provisions.

Higher Supervision
To ensure compliance with the provisions of the Charter, an international regulation, a statute law or a general order in council of the national government, or to prevent conflicts of interest whose care or safekeeping is an affair of the Kingdom, if necessary, legislative or executive orders of the Netherlands Antilles (for both country and island districts) and of Aruba may be suspended or nullified by the Crown. In addition, the Crown has competence in cases where a body of the Netherlands Antilles or Aruba does not or does not sufficiently fulfil its duties pursuant to the aforementioned regulations. Justified by an administrative measure of the national government, the Crown may determine the means for resolving this problem. In the first instance, as representative of the Kingdom, the governor supervises the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. The national governments can issue administrative measures, for example, to safeguard good governance and to ensure strict observance of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Changes to the Charter
Changes to the Charter may only take place through co-operation of each of the three countries.

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