The Kingdom Charter will have existed 60 years on Monday. A lot has happened since, but all things considered the document signed by then-Queen Juliana has stood the test of time fairly well.It was the result of a decolonisation process that started after World War II and gave both Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles a considerable degree of autonomy. The former went independent, while – after Aruba left the Antillean constellation in 1986 – the latter was dismantled effective 10-10-10, with Curaçao and St. Maarten joining Aruba and, of course, the Netherlands as “countries” within the state of the Dutch Kingdom.
While the charter speaks of “gelijkwaardigheid” (of equal value) it does not mention equality. The reason was obviously the vast difference in size, resources and thus influence between the European partner and those in the Caribbean, where the responsibility for defence, foreign policy and basic legal rights remained so-called kingdom-affairs.
The Hague also kept the reins firmly in hand with the establishment of the Kingdom Council of Ministers comprising the entire Dutch cabinet, but only one plenipotentiary minister each for the other partners, and, of course, through the crown-appointed governors and lt. governors. The fact that in practice the “kingdom government” can be held accountable only by the Parliament of the Netherlands contributes to this – some say rather lopsided – balance of power.
Still, the islands have seen considerable development and increase of prosperity over the six decades since December 15, 1954, not in the last place due to the stability and security the charter has provided. This “guarantee function” of the Netherlands has proved especially important for foreign trade and investments, and is a crucial economic selling point for the Dutch Caribbean up to today.
All in all, while the recent interpretation and application of particularly the Governor’s Regulation to ensure good governance on the islands may be unprecedented and strongly contested, any suggestion to make major changes to the charter at this point should be handled with great care. Especially in light of the current political climate in the Netherlands there’s a good chance relations could quickly deteriorate even more and end up only making things worse for islanders, so it would be prudent not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.