Vice President of the Council of State Thom de Graaf (left) and Chairman of the Administrative Procedures Department of the Council of State Bas Jan van Ettekoven at Thursday’s press conference. (Suzanne Koelega photo)
THE HAGUE--Relations in the Dutch Kingdom require constant investment, the Council of State reemphasised in its 2020 annual report. The relationship of mutual respect between governments and citizens also needs investing in because this is crucial for a well-functioning state of law.
On Thursday, the Council of State released its 2020 annual report which coincided with a press conference of Vice President of the Council of State, Thom de Graaf and Chairman of the Administrative Procedures Department of the Council of State, Bas Jan van Ettekoven.
“The Council of State is not only the Council of State of the country the Netherlands, but also the Council of State of the Kingdom. The council is aware that the kingdom is not a given, but that investments in the relations between the countries must be made,” it was stated in the annual report under the heading “The Kingdom”.
The Council of State keeps in close touch with the islands, also during the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when travelling and physical meetings are not possible. “The fact that working visits had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, doesn’t mean that there was no contact,” said De Graaf, who has had virtual consultations with Curaçao and Aruba authorities in the past weeks to discuss the situation in these countries. He said he hoped to visit the islands as soon as this was possible again.
The Caribbean Members of the Council of State of the Kingdom, Paul Comenencia of Curaçao, Mildred Schwengle of Aruba and Maria van der Sluijs-Plantz of St. Maarten, have also been extensively in contact with people on the islands, and have been sharing the information they gathered with the other members of the council. “We are also the Council of State of the Kingdom, and that includes knowing what is going on,” said De Graaf.
De Graaf mentioned there has been discussion about the Kingdom Law proposal to establish the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO, on which the Council of State of the Kingdom has presented elaborate advice which contained criticism in some areas, and suggestions for adaptations.
The next step in the process is the drafting of an official response by the Dutch government in consultation with the three Dutch Caribbean countries, which De Graaf said that for obvious reasons he could not go into, as that is not the task of the Council of State.
The COHO and the conditions for liquidity support have put a further strain on the relations within the kingdom, in particular between the Dutch Caribbean countries and the Netherlands. De Graaf said he hoped things would stabilise soon. “There is political unrest – discussions in all countries resulting in pressure on the relations with the Netherlands. Hopefully, there will be some room in the coming period to create some stability.”
In the annual report it was acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the Caribbean parts of the kingdom extremely hard. “It is unthinkable that the six Caribbean islands will be able to survive this crisis on their own. Luckily, the kingdom is providing a helping hand. The economic situation was already bleak at the start of the coronavirus crisis.”
The Council of State in principle supports the setting of conditions to the sizeable liquidity support. The criticism is more geared towards the design of the Kingdom Law on COHO, whereby the autonomy of the countries was respected. De Graaf said he hoped that a revised law proposal would have the support of the countries.
Invest in relations
The vice president referred to the motion of Dutch Senator Paul Rosenmöller that the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament adopted on Tuesday, in which the incoming Dutch government was asked to give a higher priority to kingdom relations and to invest in sustainable relations.
“I think that this is especially about mutual understanding, mutual trust and mutual contacts, so we can work on a better future for the people on the islands, because that is ultimately a responsibility of the kingdom,” said De Graaf.
Van Ettekoven pointed out during the press conference that there is extensive collaboration between the Joint Court of Justice in Willemstad and the Council of State. Two times per year, members of the Administrative Procedures Department of the Council of State travel to the Dutch Caribbean for administrative law cases. Some 60 cases were handled last year during two separate sessions, one week in the early part of 2020, and one week in the later part of 2020.
The visit of members of the Administrative Procedures Department of the Council of State planned for March this year had to be cancelled due to the high number of COVID-19 infections in Curaçao, but Van Ettekoven hoped that the visit would continue late May or early June. Meetings with the Advisory Councils of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten took place in digital format.
De Graaf noted in his introductory remarks that 2020 had been a peculiar year because of the corona crisis, which continues up to this day. Governments have had to navigate under difficult circumstances, the Dutch government made very large support packages available, strict measures were implemented and the healthcare system was overloaded.
The Council of State was asked to render advice on numerous emergency laws in the Netherlands. Emergency laws should not continue for extended periods of time, said De Graaf, who called for a thorough revision of the government emergency legislation.
The mutual relationship of trust between government and citizens requires attention, it was stated in the annual report. This trust is crucial for the proper functioning of the democratic state of law. “If that trust is hurt, the constitutional state is hurt as well. This relationship of trust is not a given, but needs to be maintained, and where necessary, strengthened.”
Governments need to work in an action-oriented manner and deliver what they promised. “A responsive government remains of great importance to citizens. That means a government with an open, transparent attitude, a government that acts with expertise and that is approachable, also and especially in the mistakes it makes. Only then is confidence maintained.”
According to the Council of State, governments need to act in a predictable and consistent manner. The legislator, Parliament, has an important responsibility in this. Governments also need to sufficiently take the perspective of citizens into account.
The year 2020 was a busy year for the Advisory Department of the Council of State with 508 cases that were submitted for advice, which is much more than the average 400 of the past years. The increase was mostly due to legislation due to the corona crisis.
The Administrative Procedures Department had fewer cases in 2020: about 9,400 cases, which was considerably less than the 13,500 administrative law cases that were handled in 2019. This too had to do with the pandemic and the lockdowns that were in effect last year.