Everyday tales and stories from the border regions of Europe and beyond, with the aim of explaining why we border-crossers are as obsessed as we are about this subject, why it is important to all of us, and why the co-operation community needs a little bit more visibility than it normally gets.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Dutch West Indies

If the French bits of the Caribbean are a little confusing (see previous post), at least all are an integral part of France, and all are in the European Union. The Dutch situation is another story.

The Dutch bits of the Caribbean number six in total, with Aruba having a separate status and the other 5 forming part of the Netherlands Antilles - at least at present. All are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but none of them are part of the EU.

Over the last few years, there has been a fairly tortuous process of discussions and voting, with a view to breaking up the Netherlands Antilles and giving the islands a new status. The trouble has been that they all want something different. Aruba was happy as it was; Sint Maarten and Curacao wanted autonomy within the Netherlands; Saba and Bonaire voted for closer ties to the Netherlands, and Sint Eustatius voted to stay within the Netherlands Antilles - which was going to prove difficult, since no-one else did.

Anyway, there appears to be the makings of a deal, although its implementation has been postponed again from the end of this year to a, as yet, undefined date. Sint Maarten and Curacao would get autonomy, and the other 3 would get the status of special municipalities.

What particularly interests us here is that the Dutch government is keen for some or all of the islands to become part of the EU and qualify as "outermost regions" like the 5 French territories mentioned in the previous post. This opens up the possibility of Cohesion Policy funding, and especially co-operation funding. This can only be good news, as it would mean the EU's "Caraibes" co-operation programme would have 2 Member States involved, and it would be much less of a Franco-French shouting match.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Down on the Spanish (or rather the French) Main

The Border-Crosser is drifting through the Caribbean at present. There are 5 integral parts of Europe out here: Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, St Martin and St Barthelemy. All 5 are part of France: the first 3 are overseas departments, and the last two are overseas collectivities.

St Martin is the most westerly part of the European Union (good quiz tip here). Its status as a collectivity (or COM) is very new - previously it was considered a commune of Guadeloupe. The French St Martin is also unique as it shares the island of St Martin with the Dutch "island area" of Sint Maarten and therefore has a land border with the Netherlands (therein lies another good quiz question about walking from France to the Netherlands without going through Belgium).

The 5 parts of France are all part of the Caraibes co-operation programme (see www.interreg-caraibes.org). This is one of those strange co-operation programmes involving only one Member State, but with a myriad of non-Member States also taking part to some extent. Cohesion funding is only available for the Member State territory (although there is now a 10% flexibility for spending outside the Union), so there are some complicated manoeuvrings to get some degree of access to European Development Funds (EDF - not to be confused with ERDF, which is a Structural Fund for regional development) for the non-Member State islands.

It is a pity that the co-ordination issues are so challenging, as there is a real need for some basic level co-operation on transport (air and maritime), communications, disaster management and environmental issues. It would be nice to think that a fully integrated Caribbean fund could be set up to address these points - but don't hold your breath.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The difficulties of blogging

It's not that I don't have anything to say. I might not have anything interesting to say - that's for you to judge more. But I do have things to say. I just don't find the time to write. However, there is not much point of a blog if the writer doesn't blog. So, I'll try and find the time from now. Let's see how we do.