Susanne Caarls, candidate number 9 on the slate of the Democratic Party D66 in the May 23 elections for the European Parliament, is no stranger to the Caribbean Netherlands. She understands the issues of the islands and wants to encourage residents to vote.
From September 2012 to May 2015, Caarls worked as a representative of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. “‘Together with many others, I have assisted with social housing on Saba, after school care on St. Eustatius and deprived youngsters on Bonaire. I also worked on subjects like integrity and good governance,” she stated in an interview to introduce her candidacy.
Candidate number 9 on the D66 slate Susanne Caarls is well-acquainted with the Caribbean Netherlands.
Caarls said she loved her job on the islands. “I have fond memories of the warm people, the hospitality and people’s dedication. However, I also realise that the relations between the islands and the Netherlands are delicate, and sometimes it takes a while to find the right way of working together.”
Looking back at the close to three years that she worked on the islands, Caarls said she found it a pity that not all issues, including the eradication of poverty, were solved. She said that willingness from the part of the Dutch government wasn’t always the reason why things didn’t go the way the islands wanted. “It is also because of complex processes which unfortunately sometimes prevent instant solutions.”
She said that at that time she seriously started to consider going into politics. “We didn’t manage to address the poverty issues adequately. I then realised that there are limitations to what you can do as a civil servant. I therefore decided to join D66 and became a candidate for the European Parliament.”
Caarls, currently Senior Project Leader at the Structural Reform Support Service of the European Committee, explained why it is so important for the people on the islands to vote. “The European Parliament, just like any other parliament, represents the voice of the people, including the voice of the people in the Dutch Caribbean. There are two important subjects that the European Parliament deals with: investments and opportunities.”
The European Parliament determines together with the governments of the European Union (EU) member countries how the budget is spent. A small part of this budget goes to the islands. For example, towards social housing on Saba and the developing of the harbour on Statia. Recently, D66 ensured that European funds were freed for the new harbour on Saba.
“It is important that this financing remains in place, and that it is expanded. So that for example, after a hurricane we can quicker deploy European funding to get the islands’ economy going again. We have noticed in the past years that The Hague cannot finance all. Therefore, it is crucial that we keep on top of this. D66 insists that the islands get assistance for investments, and a part of this comes from the EU.
Education is one area where the EU provides opportunities for the islands, Caarls explained. Students come to the Netherlands to further their studies. Students can also opt to do a part of their studies in for example Spain or France. This means that the Netherlands can serve as a gateway for Europe. “I strive to expand these opportunities and investments, and the best way I can do this is from within the European Parliament.”
Aside from the European citizens on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, European citizens of Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten also have voting rights in the European Parliament elections. However, these citizens first have to register as a “voter abroad.” Caarls noted that D66 wants to make it much easier for people in the Kingdom to cast their vote. That is why the party will keep insisting on a simpler procedure in order to vote.