BRUSSEL – Members of the European Parliament are also looking into how to support the islands during the corona crisis. Member of the European Parliament Samira Rafaela (D66) wants Brussels to release funds to accommodate this.
Rafaela hopes that the islands will be included in the so called corona resolutions, the motions entered into the European Parliament to provide help. The European Parliament will meet in about two weeks.
There’s still money set aside in Brussel that can specifically be used by the islands. The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has noted that the unused funds from the European Development Fund (EUDF) can be utilized.
“But”, says Rafaela, “these funds are limited.” After hurricane Irma in 2017, 7 million euros were made available to help Sint Maarten. That’s a lot less than the 550 million that the Hague made available.
Total of 37 billion euros for corona crisis
At this point in time the European Union has made a total of 37 billion euros available for the corona crisis. That money first has to be distributed amongst the EU member states. The Netherlands as a wealthy nation will receive less of these funds compared to countries such as Poland, Spain, and Italy.
The question that remains is if, and how much money will be allocated towards the islands. The islands also have to be consulted in these decisions, Rafaela believes. “The status of the islands as overseas territories has formally been laid down, as has their rights and what they can claim. I’m going to focus my efforts on that. We all have to work together to stay healthy and to protect our economy, including those of the islands, in the short and long run.”
The CDA and the PvdA are also paying attention to the islands on a European level.
CDA-MEP Tom Berendsen works on regional policy: “In these times of crisis we have to stand together and where we can help each other, we should, with materials, knowledge, and financial help. The Caribbean islands are a full-fledged members of the Kingdom and deserve our support. That’s why we’ll pay attention to these areas in the commission that deals with Regional Policies.”
Not easy to get funds
But MEP Agnes Jongerius warns that it will not be easy to pry loose funds for the autonomous islands. “After hurricane Irma, it proved to be very difficult to get funds released for Sint Maarten, due to its legal status. But just like with the hurricane, the same holds true for the corona crisis: this is nobody’s fault and everyone’s problem, so we have to figure it out together.”
‘This is nobody’s fault and everyone’s problem’
-MEP Agnes Jongerius
Jongerius says that the Netherlands has to come together to ensure that the LGO’s, the islands, are included in the corona resolutions. The help could consist of additional personal protection equipment (PPE’s), cooperation on corona tests and medical gear, but also support to fight the growing unemployment rate.
EU criticism towards the Netherlands
The Netherlands is currently not popular within the EU. The Hague is being very cautious with providing the destitute EU countries with help. The Dutch minister of Finance Wopke Hoekstra (CDA) suggested last week that it should be looked into which countries had built up a buffer to deal with crises. After criticism from the EU, The Hague made 1 billion euros available.
But minister Knops had a similar message for the prime ministers of Curaçao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten. “The three islands are autonomous countries within the Kingdom. Autonomous in the sense that: they are responsible for their own finances.”
Jongerius calls the statements made by Hoekstra and Knops ridiculous. “Right now it shouldn’t be about who counted their pennies. This just happened and we’re in this together.
Special municipalities will receive help from the Hague
Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops (CDA) announced last week that an aid package would be made available for the special municipalities of Bonaire, Saba, and Statia. What the support from the Hague for the autonomous countries Curaçao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten will look like, is still not known. The countries are still in talks.
|Deserted downtown of Curacao. Picture: Kim Hendriksen.
Islands on lockdown, enormous levels of unemployment
The six islands are suffering a lot due to the world-wide coronavirus outbreak. Almost all of the islands are currently in a total lockdown. This means that all the airports are closed and that tourism, the most important source of income, has died down. Shops and restaurants are closed and citizens should stay home. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs due to the measures.