Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Ronald van Raak – Minister Stef Blok must act in the border conflict with France

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The Netherlands has a serious border conflict with France. Not in Europe, but in the Caribbean, where our countries are neighbors. On the island of Sint Maarten, one part of which belongs to France and the other half to our Kingdom. During Hurricane Irma in 2017, Maggi Shurtleff lost her Captain Oliver’s restaurant in Oyster Pond. Since then she has been trying to rebuild the restaurant. But she does not succeed, because she is afraid of being arrested by the French police of Saint Martin. Because France no longer recognizes the border between our countries. A neo-colonial power policy from Paris. Minister Blok is responsible for a solution, but fails to help Maggi. After many years, there is still no way out.

“Maggi cannot build her restaurant as long as it is unclear which country it is in”

The island of Sint Maarten was divided in 1648 into a French and a Dutch part, in the Treaty of Concordia. The story goes that a French and Dutch soldier each made a hike along the coast and where the men met the border was drawn. The border run was often the subject of discussion, but this was usually resolved practically. When Captain Oliver’s started in 1983, the French saw this area as ‘Dutch’, but that suddenly changed when France started claiming the land in 1996. The French gendarmerie carried out armed raids and questioned the owner. Maggi has not had protection. Not from the government of Sint Maarten and not from the Dutch government, which is nevertheless responsible for the defense of the Dutch borders.

After Hurricane Irma in 2017, Captain Oliver’s was destroyed, like many other buildings on Sint Maarten. Maggi cannot build her restaurant as long as it is unclear in which country it is located. from Parliamentary questions I asked last year it turned out that in 2014 the Netherlands and France had agreed to maintain the ‘status quo’ as long as no final decision was taken across the borders. However, France violated those arrangements in 2016 by arresting the owner and a number of Captain Oliver’s employees with great display of power. This French action “went against the agreements,” said the Dutch government. But our country has done little to protect Maggi. Minister Blok acknowledges that ‘it cannot be ruled out’ that the French police will carry out ‘inspections’ again if the restaurant is being built in the current situation.

“I don’t know what inspired the French to make so many problems about such a small piece of land”

Blok’s replies also showed that preparations for negotiations with the French had already started in 2016, but they have not yet led to anything. That became clear when I became the minister recently asked to the latest state of affairs. France sent a ‘technical mission’ to Oyster Pond in September 2019 (more than three years later!). We do not know what this research yielded, because France still does not want to share the results with the Netherlands. The negotiations have therefore not yet started at all and will not start for the time being. Blok previously asked the French to come up with a practical solution for Captain Oliver’s, so that Maggi could still build her restaurant. But France has so far refused to cooperate.

I don’t know what inspired the French to make so many problems about such a small piece of land. I also don’t understand why the Dutch government is so embarrassed. How would the French react if we suddenly claimed a piece of France and arrested French citizens? France is not a hostile nation, but an ally in NATO. We are together in the European Union. But on Saint Martin, Paris behaves as if we live in the seventeenth century. France has violated the 2014 rules on border enforcement and has left the Netherlands waiting for more than four years to discuss this at all. I don’t understand why Minister Blok is being pushed around like that. Let the French know that we are done with these games. Finally give Maggi the opportunity to build her restaurant.

Ronald van Raak regularly writes about Sint Maarten and the other Antillean islands.

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