Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles

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Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles
The Netherlands Antilles before its complete dissolution in 2010
Date1 January 1986 (Aruba),
10 October 2010
LocationNetherlands Antilles
OutcomeSeparation of Aruba in 1986 (Status aparte), complete dissolution in 2010

The Netherlands Antilles was an autonomous Caribbean country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It was dissolved on 10 October 2010.[1][2]

After dissolution, the "BES islands" of the Dutch CaribbeanBonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba—became the Caribbean Netherlands, "special municipalities" of the Netherlands proper—a structure that only exists in the Caribbean. Meanwhile Curaçao and Sint Maarten became constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along the lines of Aruba, which had separated from the Netherlands Antilles on 1 January 1986.


Background and Aruban secession movement[edit]

Map of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherlands and the Caribbean islands are to the same scale.

The idea of the Netherlands Antilles as a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands never enjoyed the full support of all islands, and political relations between islands were often strained. Geographically, the Leeward Antilles islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire, and the Leeward Islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten lie almost 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) apart. Culturally, the Leeward Antilles have deep connections with the South American mainland, especially Venezuela, and its population speaks a Portuguese-Dutch creole language called Papiamento; the other three islands are part of the English-speaking Caribbean.

When the new constitutional relationship between the Netherlands and its former West Indian colonies was enshrined in the Kingdom Charter of 1954, the colonial administrative division of the Netherlands Antilles, which was derived from the colony of Curaçao and Dependencies and grouped all six Caribbean islands together under one administration, was taken for granted. Despite the fact that Aruban calls for secession from the Netherlands Antilles originated in the 1930s,[3] the governments of the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles did everything in their power to keep the six islands together. The Netherlands did this so as to make sure that the Netherlands Antilles could become independent as soon as possible, a call that became increasingly louder in the Netherlands after the Willemstad riots of 1969 in Curaçao. The government of the Netherlands Antilles feared that the whole Netherlands Antilles would disintegrate if one of the islands seceded; Antillean Prime Minister Juancho Evertsz famously remarked that "six minus one equals zero".

Increasing unrest on Aruba, especially after a consultative referendum on secession was organized by the island government in 1977, meant that the issue of Aruban secession had to be taken into consideration. After long negotiations, it was agreed that Aruba could get its status aparte and become a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1986, but only on the condition that it would become fully independent in 1996. The People's Electoral Movement, which led the Aruban island government in the years to 1986, reluctantly agreed to this, but the Aruban People's Party, which came to power after 1986, refused all cooperation with the Netherlands on the issue of independence.[4]

On the other hand, the Netherlands became more and more aware that the ties with the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom would probably endure for a longer period of time. Suriname, the other partner of the Kingdom that attained independence in 1975, had gone through a period of dictatorship and civil war, which weakened the pro-independence ideology of the Dutch government. Aruba and the Netherlands agreed in July 1990 to delete Article 62, which foresaw Aruban independence in 1996, from the Charter. This was finalized in 1994, with some conditions about cooperation in the fields of justice, good governance and finance.[5]

Wake of Aruban secession[edit]

Meanwhile, the permanent position of Aruba as a separate country within the Kingdom led to calls for a similar arrangement for the other islands, especially on Sint Maarten. In the early 1990s, the five remaining islands entered into a period of reflection about whether or not to remain part of the Netherlands Antilles. In March 1990, Dutch Minister of Aruban and Antillean Affairs Ernst Hirsch Ballin came up with a draft for a new Kingdom Charter, in which the Leeward Antilles islands of Curaçao and Bonaire, and the Leeward Islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten would form two new countries within the Kingdom. This proposal met with mixed responses on the islands.[6]

After a committee was installed investigating the future of the Netherlands Antilles, a "Conference on the Future" ("Toekomstconferentie" in Dutch, litt. "Future-Conference") was held in 1993. The Netherlands proposed to take over the federal tasks of the Netherlands Antilles, with each of the islands remaining autonomous to the extent granted by the Islands Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles. Curaçao would be exempted and would attain country status like Aruba; Bonaire and Sint Maarten would be supported to help attain country status in the future; Saba and Sint Eustatius would not have this perspective and would remain what was called "Kingdom islands".[7] The fact that the Kingdom affairs would also be broadened to include law enforcement to reduce international crime (thus reducing the autonomy of Aruba and Curaçao), and that Sint Maarten would not attain country status right away, meant that the Conference could only result in a failure.[8]

It was decided to postpone the next meeting of the conference until after a status referendum was held on Curaçao. The referendum's result was in favour of maintaining and restructuring the Netherlands Antilles, in spite of the island government and the Netherlands Antillean government campaigning for country status. The other islands also voted for maintaining the Netherlands Antilles. The Party for the Restructured Antilles, composed of campaigners in favour of maintaining and restructuring the Netherlands Antilles, came to power.[9]

New referendum cycle in the wake of Sint Maarten's vote for autonomy[edit]

In the end, restructuring the Netherlands Antilles did not get very far.[10] Probably the most symbolic change was the adoption of an anthem of the Netherlands Antilles in 2000. In the same year another status vote was held on Sint Maarten, this time in favour of becoming a country of its own within the Kingdom. This sparked a new referendum cycle across the Netherlands Antilles. At the same time, a commission composed of representatives from the Netherlands and all the islands of the Netherlands Antilles investigated the future of the Netherlands Antilles. In its 2004 report, the commission advised a revision of the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to dissolve the Netherlands Antilles, so that Curaçao and Sint Maarten would become countries of their own within the Kingdom, while Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba would become "Kingdom islands."

The referendum held on Curaçao in 2005 also came out in favour of country status. Bonaire and Saba voted for closer ties with the Netherlands, whereas Sint Eustatius wanted to retain the Netherlands Antilles.

Round Table Conferences[edit]

Following the referendums on all islands, the first Round Table Conference between the islands, the Netherlands Antillean government, and the Netherlands was organized on 26 November 2005. It was agreed that Curaçao and Sint Maarten should become countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while the three other islands should become directly part of the Netherlands. Agreement was reached that the Netherlands would take over the debts of the Netherlands Antilles, on condition that the islands would commit themselves to producing balanced budgets, so as to prevent future buildups of debt. A Board for Financial Supervision (Dutch: College financieel toezicht (Cft)), composed of members from both the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands, would be installed to supervise the budgets of the islands and of the Netherlands Antillean government.

These agreements were worked out in the following year. At a Mini Round Table held on 11 October 2006, a closing agreement (Dutch: slotakkoord) was signed, which stated that Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius would become public bodies of the Netherlands. A closing agreement was reached with Curaçao and Sint Maarten on 2 November. This agreement included specifics on the workings of the Board for Financial Supervision.

The closing agreements were ratified by the Netherlands and the individual islands, except by Curaçao, which rejected them on 29 November 2006. The other parties decided to continue negotiating without Curaçao. A transitional agreement was reached on 12 February 2007, which aimed at 15 December 2008, Koninkrijksdag, as the date of dissolution.

The island council of Curaçao later in 2007 adopted the closing agreement, but in 2009 decided to put the agreement to a referendum. This referendum was narrowly in favour of the closing agreement. A similar referendum on Bonaire was annulled by the Governor of the Netherlands Antilles because the question posed was considered too vague.

15 December 2008 turned out to be an unfeasible date for dissolution. Instead a Round Table Conference was held on that day, in which the agreements were once again put on paper. In October 2009, it was agreed that the dissolution would take place on 10 October 2010, and on 9 September 2010 a closing Round Table was organized in which the Act of Parliament amending the Charter was ceremonially signed by the parties.

Constitutional changes[edit]

Curaçao and Sint Maarten[edit]

Curaçao and Sint Maarten became two new "landen" (literally: countries) within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along the lines of Aruba and the Netherlands. Their planned new joint currency is the Caribbean guilder, which was expected to be brought in by 2012 but has been delayed.[11] Aruba's right to secede from the Kingdom was not extended to Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba[edit]

The BES islands (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba) have become direct parts of the Netherlands as special municipalities (bijzondere gemeenten), a form of "public body" (openbaar lichaam) as outlined in article 134 of the Dutch Constitution.[12] The special municipalities do not constitute part of a province.[13]

These municipalities resemble ordinary Dutch municipalities in most ways (they have a mayor, aldermen and a municipal council, for example) and will have to introduce most Dutch law. Residents will be able to vote in Dutch national and European elections.

The three islands will have to involve the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs before they can make agreements with countries in the region. The special municipalities would be represented in the Kingdom Government by the Netherlands, as they can vote for the States-General (the Dutch parliament).

On 1 January 2011, the three islands switched to the US dollar rather than the euro that is used in the European Netherlands.

Joint Court[edit]

All six islands may also continue to access the Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, and of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, the court of appeal superior to the islands' own courts of first instance. The islands share the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague with the entire Kingdom, including the European Netherlands.

Status in the European Union[edit]

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a member of the European Union. However, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten have the status of overseas countries and territories (OCTs) and are not part of the EU. Nevertheless, only one type of citizenship exists within the Kingdom (Dutch), and all Dutch citizens are EU citizens (including those in the OCTs).

The Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands agreed not to change the status of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba with regard to the EU in the first five years of integration of these islands into the Netherlands, after which a re-evaluation of the islands' EU status is to take place. The islands were thus to remain OCTs at least until 2015,[14] and remained in this status as of 2022.[15]

The Netherlands secured a provision in the Treaty of Lisbon that says that any Caribbean part of the Netherlands can opt for a change of status to Outermost Region (OMR) if it so wishes, without having to change the Treaties of the European Union.[16]

Date of transition[edit]

On 1 September 2009, Saba announced that it wished to withdraw from the Netherlands Antilles immediately, rather than wait until October 2010.[17] However, according to Dutch State Secretary Bijleveld for Kingdom Relations, it was not legally possible for Saba to become separate from the Antilles earlier.[18]

The transition took place at midnight (00:00) on 10 October 2010 ("10/10/10") in the Netherlands Antilles (UTC-04:00), 06:00 in the European part of the Netherlands (UTC+02:00).[1]

Legal documents[edit]

Kingdom charter[edit]

The Kingdom Act amending the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands was drafted on 20 January 2009. It consists of six articles, with the changes to the Charter included in articles one to three. The Kingdom law provides for article 3 to take effect on the date of publication of the law in the official journal of the Netherlands, and articles 1 and 2 at a later date to be specified by royal decree. In this way the future countries of Sint Maarten and Curaçao will be able to draft their constitutions and fundamental legislation before the new relations within the Kingdom are to take effect.[19]

The House of Representatives adopted the bill on 15 April 2010, and the Senate on 6 July 2010.[20] The Estates of the Netherlands Antilles adopted the bill on 20 August and the Estates of Aruba did the same on 4 September.[21][22]

Legislation for the integration of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba into the Netherlands[edit]

On 21 November 2008, five draft acts for the integration of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba into the Netherlands were accepted by the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom. These acts are the Act on the public bodies of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Dutch: Wet op de openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba, abbreviated to WOLBES), the Act on financial relations of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, the Amendment to the election act with regard to Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, the Introduction act on the public bodies of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, and the Adaptation act on the public bodies of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius.

WOLBES defines the administrative organization of the public bodies and is modeled on Dutch municipality law. The Introduction act specifies that Netherlands Antilles law will remain in force after the transition of the three islands to the Dutch polity, and defines the process in which Dutch law will slowly take over from Netherlands Antilles law in the islands. The Adaptation act adapts Netherlands Antilles law and Dutch law and is to take effect immediately.[23]

The House of Representatives adopted these acts on 9 March 2010, the Senate on 11 May.[24]


  1. ^ a b Officielebekendmakingen.nl – Besluit van 23 September 2010 tot vaststelling van het tijdstip van inwerkingtreding van de artikelen I en II van de Rijkswet wijziging Statuut in verband met de opheffing van de Nederlandse Antillen
  2. ^ "Netherlands Antilles to cease to exist as a country". NRC. Amsterdam. 1 October 2009. Archived from the original on 2 October 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  3. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 175
  4. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 175–209
  5. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 213, 223–24
  6. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 213
  7. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 221
  8. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 221–24
  9. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 224
  10. ^ Oostindie and Klinkers 2001: 272
  11. ^ "Antilliaanse gulden wordt aangehouden in 2012". dushi-curacao.info (in Dutch). 14 September 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  12. ^ Originally the term used for Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba to describe their expected association with the Netherlands was "Kingdom Islands" (Koninkrijkseilanden).
  13. ^ "31.954, Wet openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba" (in Dutch). Eerste kamer der Staten-Generaal. Retrieved 15 October 2010. De openbare lichamen vallen rechtstreeks onder het Rijk omdat zij geen deel uitmaken van een provincie. (The public bodies (...), because they are not part of a Province).
  14. ^ (in Dutch) Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Affairs – Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba behouden LGO-status Archived 24 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Overseas Countries and Territories | EEAS Website". eeas.europa.eu. Retrieved 1 December 2022.
  16. ^ The provision reads:

    Article 311 shall be repealed. A new Article 311a shall be inserted, with the wording of Article 299(2), first subparagraph, and Article 299(3) to (6); the text shall be amended as follows:
    (e) the following new paragraph shall be added at the end of the Article:
    "6. The European Council may, on the initiative of the Member State concerned, adopt a decision amending the status, with regard to the Union, of a Danish, French or Netherlands country or territory referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2. The European Council shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission."

    — Treaty of Lisbon Article 2, point 293
  17. ^ "Saba threatens to secede from Dutch Antilles". 1 September 2009. Archived from the original on 5 October 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  18. ^ "Bijleveld: helder signaal van Saba". De Telegraaf (in Dutch). 1 September 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  19. ^ Voorstel Rijkswet wijziging Statuut in verband met de opheffing van de Nederlandse Antillen[dead link]
  20. ^ Eerstekamer.nl – Rijkswet wijziging Statuut in verband met de opheffing van de Nederlandse Antillen
  21. ^ RNW.nl – Antilliaanse Staten stemt in met wijziging Statuut
  22. ^ RNW.nl – Aruba akkoord met Statuutwijziging
  23. ^ Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Affairs – Ministerraad stemt in met wetgeving Bonaire, Saba en Sint Eustatius voor overgang naar Nederlands staatbestel Archived 24 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Eerstekamer.nl Stand van zaken aanhangige wetgeving Staatkundige vernieuwing van het Koninkrijk


  • Oostindie, Gert and Inge Klinkers (2001) Het Koninkrijk in de Caraïben: een korte geschiedenis van het Nederlandse dekolonisatiebeleid 1940–2000. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.