But what does the 20-page document really say? Broadly speaking, the laws and rules that are applicable are specified, but there remains a lot of room for variation in interpretation and details about the application. Which laws apply to which countries? And what about the non-autonomous islands, the BES?
For example, it is said that all citizens within the kingdom are equal. In practice, residents of the BES islands are confronted with the fact that they receive less financial support, such as child benefits, while they face higher living costs and inflation.
In practice, students from the islands who continue their studies in the Netherlands have less access to the same facilities as students from the European Netherlands. Apart from incurring high costs for migration and living independently in the Netherlands, mastering the Dutch language at an academic level is often a challenge for students who have a better command of English. Although the decree describes that it applies to such issues under the guise of equal citizenship, it is unclear how this should be considered.
A more specific example in which the lack of clarity in the agreements between the territories is highlighted is migration and asylum policy. There is debate about asylum policy on both European and Caribbean sides. But with regard to the islands in particular, there is no clear picture of who is responsible for making decisions and monitoring refugee safety. Is it a national affair or a matter of the Kingdom? The Venezuelan refugee issue is an example of this.
Since the revision of the decree in 2010, a Dispute Act has been under development that should give more direction to cooperation between the countries in the Kingdom. However, the development process is pre-eminently an example of a contested basis for that collaboration. The dispute settlement itself is a source of disagreement, but it is also unclear what exactly should be covered by the settlement. The recent bill from State Secretary Knops adds to this. It would contradict the decree and an intended dispute law, but the lack of specification in the decree leaves much room for interpretation. Perhaps the question at hand is not a question about the decree of 2010, but a question about the nature of the kingdom. One that remains pressing, but even more challenging to answer.
A version of this post was previously featured in the august 2019 issue of the newsletter of the Caribbean Studies Association.