Many were not happy to read in Tuesday’s paper that Préfète Sylvie Feucher had warned of border closures should St. Maarten permit US flights again per August 1 as scheduled. Of course, St. Martin is an integral part of France and thus the European Union (EU), which has banned such due to the high COVID-19 risk.
Still, there is usually some room to deviate from the national norm as was the case with reopening schools in the French West Indies. The Ministry of Overseas Territories would obviously play a key role in any regional adjustments made.
Then again, this is a high-profile issue that involves public health and can adversely affect relations with Paris. According to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, even Collectivité President Daniel Gibbs had expressed “grave concern.”
However, it turns out St. Barths is admitting Americans, some of whom are reportedly finding their way to “The Friendly Island.” The response to that was that they had to be in St. Barths 14 days and take a PCR test before allowed to come to St. Martin.
What authorities in Marigot need to understand is that their counterparts in Philipsburg do not have much of a choice but to reopen to the main market for the destination’s one-pillar tourism economy. The dominant hospitality industry simply cannot survive without them much longer.
Continued lack of the income they can provide would be especially disastrous should no agreement be reached on Dutch liquidity support for – among other things – payroll subsidies between July and September. In that scenario the third quarter will see widespread business closures and mass layoffs, followed by progressively worse social misery with all consequences.
There are those going as far as to now suggest, for example, not giving Air France passengers entry at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) anymore. That kind of “tit for tat” attitude is childish and probably unwise in the long run
But St. Maarten may very well be forced to “call the bluff” of St. Martin in this case. Recent experience confirmed that closing the normally open border has significant negative effects for citizens on both sides of the island.
The préfète was particularly worried about the Dutch side not carrying out second PCR tests after seven days. Maybe this is something that could still be considered if needed, with assistance from the Netherlands which is – after all – also an EU member.
There is a clear common interest to seek reasonable compromise on this crucial matter, in keeping with the spirit of the Treaty of Concordia.