The Daily Herald writes that experts from French, British and Dutch overseas territories gathered at the conference on European Union (EU) law in the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) of Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam to discuss the relations between the OCTs and the EU. The conference was highly successful, said organiser Dr. Flora Goudappel of Erasmus School of Law and holder of the Jean Monnet Chair EU Law in the Overseas Territories, looking back at the conference, held on Thursday and Friday. According to Goudappel, the conference EU Law in the Overseas Territories: New Challenges and Citizenship Issues was especially “very useful” because it brought together a range of professionals from the OCTs, as well as scholars, policy makers and other interested parties who were able to share their knowledge on the subject of European law and the relations between the OCTs and the EU. “The conference enabled us to share our views, explain the differences between the territories and the dimension of the relations with the EU. We now know a lot more about each other,” Goudappel told The Daily Herald. Goudappel is specialised in the legal relations between the Netherlands and the Dutch Caribbean islands.
The main theme of the conference was the position of the OCTs, which has been a topic of discussion since the amendments in the Treaty of Lisbon and the negotiations for a new OCT decision. The current OCT arrangement lapses on December 31, 2013. The relation between the EU and the OCTs will be reviewed later this year through a new decree of the European Council. It is not entirely clear which changes will be agreed upon in the end, but it is important for the OCTs to discuss their status and the desires that they might have for the amended relations with Brussels.
The EU has a special relation with the (mostly) former colonies that still have constitutional ties with one of the EU member states, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Great Britain, Spain and Portugal. Some of these overseas territories have the Outermost Region (OMR) status, while others have an OCT status. A number of these former colonies with an OCT status are in the Caribbean. They include the six Dutch Caribbean islands, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, Cayman Islands, St. Barths and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Although they are part of an EU member state, they are not a full part of the EU. Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Saint Martin have an OMR status and are an integral part of the EU.
Speakers at the Erasmus School of Law conference included various representatives from the OCTs. These were President of the Conseil Territorial of St. Pierre et Miquelon and Chairman of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association Stéphane Artano, Benito Wheatley of the British Virgin Islands London Office, St Pierre et Miquelon Representative Olivier Gaston and European Law expert and former Director of the Cabinet of the St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary Cor James. Other speakers included former Dutch Minister and Professor of European Law Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Dr. Goudappel and Aubrich Bakhuis of Erasmus School of Law.
One of the things that became clear at the conference was that there are many differences between the OCTs, their relation with the former motherland and the relation that the former motherland has with the EU on their behalf, said Dr. Flora Goudappel. The Dutch Caribbean islands, for example, are quite dependent on the Netherlands where it comes to finances and government affairs, which in turn affects their relation with the EU. The Netherlands maintains the relations with the EU on behalf of the islands, which may not directly negotiate with the EU. Goudappel would like to see a more made-to-measure relation between the Dutch OCT’s and the EU, giving the islands more individual flexibility to give content to their relation with the EU. Also, the islands should be able to extend their cooperation with other Caribbean nations and with formal regional organisations like the CARICOM. St. Maarten’s situation is more complicated, because they became an OCT when the Netherlands Antilles ceased to exist on October 10, 2010. Before that time, St. Maarten resorted under the OCT status of the Land the Netherlands Antilles. “St. Maarten has to assume a position on its relation with the EU. They have to give content to their OCT status and that is a complex affair, with many practical aspects like Customs, the production of goods and the flow of development funds,” said Goudappel. Representatives at the conference of the British OCTs shed some light on their relation with the EU and their former motherland. The islands have different, more direct ties with the EU, because London doesn’t get too involved. The British OCTs see their relation with the EU more as a trade relation.
The conference was the first of its kind for Erasmus School of Law, but certainly not the last, said Goudappel, who wants to organise a subsequent conference in a year and a half. “The next time I want to hold the conference on one of the Dutch Caribbean islands,” she said. Participants at the congress also agreed to maintain regular contact to discuss new developments and other issues relating to the OCTs.