IS ST MAARTEN ON THE LINE – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says “If you want out, give me a call”


GREAT BAY – Telegraaf-journalist Ruud Mikkers, who toured the Antilles last week with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and a trade mission caused quite a stir in the Netherlands on Saturday with a front-page story under the ominous headline “Antilles on the line” (Antillen op de wip) that suggested that as far as Rutte is concerned the autonomous countries and the BES-islands could severe their ties with the Netherlands immediately if they wanted to.

Mikkers reported that Rutte made the remark “behind the scenes” and that island-politicians had looked at him rather surprised when they heard his opinion. “If you call me tomorrow that you want out, we will immediately take care of it,” the Dutch Prime Minister was quoted as saying.

The story triggered more than 300 reactions on the online edition of the newspaper; quite some readers pointed out that it is up to the islands to take a decision about their status within or outside the Kingdom. Others cheered the statement and demanded that the Netherlands “stops the development aid” and that if the countries want to be independent they have to stand on their own feet. In reality, Rutte said already at a press conference on Wednesday, that the book on debt relief (perceived as development aid in the Netherlands) is closed.

Tom-Jan Meeus brought Rutte’s statement with the correct nuance. “Prime Minister Rutte told the islands in Caribbean Netherlands this week behind the scenes that if they wish to do this, they are able to leave the Kingdom at any moment: “they looked at me with surprise. I said: if you want out, and a majority of your population supports that, then it is possible. Then you give me a call and we arrange it.”

On Wednesday, Rutte said at a press conference in Philipsburg that he does not want to talk about constitutional reform anymore. Meeus quoted him as saying: “I said in private: if we ever talk about policy, I’ll only do it if you want to get out of the Kingdom.”

The Dutch daily Trouw picked up the story and quoted a reaction from D66-leader Alexander Pechtold, who once told this newspaper that St. Maarten is “not on the radar” of politicians in The Hague. Pechtold told the NOS that Rutte’s statement is “for a historian improper, and for a prime minister not very diplomatic.” According to the D66-leader, Rutte’s words were meant for the home front “because he knows people like to hear this.”

The Netherlands has a history of 400 years with the islands and the prime minister has a duty to put his thoughts carefully into words ad something like this about Limburg, all hell would have broken loose.”

NRC Handelsblad reported that Rutte saved his harshest criticism for St. Maarten where he “made agreements about a thorough investigation into the government’s integrity.” The story fails to report that Rutte appreciated the fact that Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams had already taken the initiative to contact anti-corruption Watchdog Transparency International for a national integrity assessment.

Tom-Jan Meeus furthermore writes that the minister of justice had to step down “because he turned out to be the manager of several brothels.” It also appeared, Meeus wrote, that the island’s parliamentarians have a monthly salary of €9,000 ($10,800), “the highest in the Kingdom.” According to Meeus Rutte recommended that the parliament reopen the debate about this issue. However, at Wednesday’s press conference, Rutte emphasized that it was not up to him to comment on the salaries. Today already revealed the salaries shortly after the territory obtained country status in October 2010.