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THE HAGUE – A think-tank, lobbying group, and even a parliamentary motion have all been put in play this year to get the Dutch Caribbean citizens to the polls in May 2019 to vote for the members of the European Parliament. But why exactly, and how will it benefit them?

“These are extremely important elections”, so say the members of the ‘Caribbean think-tank’. “Especially now that the electorate has grown in Bonaire, Statia, and Saba, and that they have a tighter bond with the European Union. They have to let their voice be heard in Brussels.”

By Natasja Gibbs

Both the Caribbean special interest group, the Dutch Caribbean Consultative Body (OCaN), and the Europe House, the representation of the European Commission, and Parliament in the Netherlands want to attract more Dutch Caribbean citizens to the polls.

According to the chairman of OCaN John Leerdam, one thing has been made abundantly clear by the research, and that is that “the Dutch Caribbean people are terrible at showing up for elections. During the last European Parliamentary elections in 2014, the turnout rate under Dutch Caribbean individuals was truly abysmal, and was below 30 percent.”

Not popular throughout Europe

It’s not only the Dutch Caribbean population that lacks an interest in the European Parliamentary elections, the turnout rate for the elections that take place every 4 years usually stays under the 50 percent for the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands. During the last elections in 2014, a new low was reached. Only 37,32 percent of the Dutch population showed up to vote, while the European turnout rate averaged 42,54 percent.

As per Leerdam “the only time the Dutch Caribbean citizens showed up for the elections in higher numbers than usual was back when two Arubans ran for office.”

‘Europe seems too distant for most people, this is especially true for our Caribbean compatriots’

According to Gohar Karapetian, lecturer and PhD candidate in constitutional law at the University of Groningen, the low turnout rate is because “Europe seems too distant for most people, this is especially true for our Caribbean compatriots.”

This is a shame according to Karapetian, because the EU influences our daily lives through the Parliament. “More involvement from the Caribbean Union citizens in the EU means that their wants and needs would receive higher recognition in Brussels.

To bring the EU closer to the citizens of the Dutch Caribbean, OCaN wants the EU to open a Europe House on Curaçao. Additionally OCaN wants a minimum of 3 Caribbean candidates slated higher up their respective lists for the upcoming elections to attract the Dutch Caribbean voters. Who those candidates would be, remains to be seen, but the lobbying effort to attract those candidates is already underway: “we are already looking for candidates.”

 ‘We have approached various political parties in the Hague, with the request that they bring forth a motion to parliament’

The other step that is underway is a parliamentary motion. OCaN had the following to say about it: “We have approached various political parties in the Hague, with the request that they bring forth a motion to parliament. The purpose of this motion would be to make it possible for the citizens living on Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao to receive their voting passes directly at home, instead of having to pick it up at the Representative of the Netherlands on their respective islands.

This already happened during the Parliamentary elections on the special Caribbean municipalities of Bonaire, Statia, and Saba in 2014. However the turnout rate was still extremely low at 2 percent for Bonaire, 7 percent for Statia, and 14 percent for Saba.

What benefits do the islands receive from being a member of the EU?

Next to being Dutch nationals, the citizens of the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands are also citizens of the European Union. This European citizenship extends, amongst other things, the following rights to its citizens:

  • Freedom of movement. The right to travel freely within the member states of the union, and settle within them.
  •  The right to universal suffrage, and the right to run for office for the European Parliament, and municipal elections.
  • The right to protect the diplomatic, and consular institutions of all States.
  • The right to appeal to the European Parliament, and the right to address the European Ombudsman.

The islands also have a right to financial help from the European Union. For the period starting in 2014, and ending in 2020, the following amounts have been reserved per island (in millions of euros):

  • Curaçao  16,9
  • Aruba   13
  • Sint-Maarten  7
  • Bonaire  3,9
  • Saba   3,5
  • Sint-Eustatius  2,4