France and Netherlands ink deal on Caribbean ‘footrace frontier’

France and the Netherlands have signed a historic accord demarcating the border between the two countries on the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean.

This file picture from 2013 shows a harbour in the Caribbean island of Saint Martin.
This file picture from 2013 shows a harbour in the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. France and the Netherlands have signed an accord demarcating the border between the two countries on the island. Photo: AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA

Around 400 years ago, two groups of runners — one Dutch, one French — are said to have set off from the same point on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin to trace the border between their nations.

Starting from a bay on the east coast and running in opposite directions, the runners in 1648 eventually met on the west coast of the island, with a straight line between the two points forming the international border ever since.

According to the legend, the Gallic runners were faster, handing France by far the larger share of the roughly 90-square-kilometre (35-square-mile) tropical paradise, which they called Saint Martin.

The Netherlands took the southern part, which they named Sint Maarten, with the athletic feat and the peaceful coexistence of the two colonial powers leading to the territory being dubbed the “friendly island”.

The agreement was signed for France on Friday by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and for the Netherlands by Silveria E. Jacobs, prime minister of the autonomous government of Sint Maarten.

“This historic agreement will help facilitate the process of rebuilding the island, which was severely affected by Hurricane Irma in 2017,” the French interior ministry said in a statement.

The text of the agreement “preserves the principle of free movement of goods and persons established by the Concordia accords of March 23, 1648”.

READ ALSO: Tropical French territory battles green monkey invasion

The agreement also “establishes a joint monitoring commission charged with monitoring and maintaining the border” which had been disputed at its eastern end.

“It illustrates the quality of the friendly relations between France and the Netherlands, eager to reinforce their trusting cooperation on the island of Saint Martin,” it said.

It stressed “the shared desire of the territorial council of Saint Martin and the autonomous government of Sint Maarten to continue to develop their close ties and their joint projects of cross-border cooperation,” it said.

Darmanin is due to travel to Saint Barthelemy, the other island in the north of the French Caribbean.

The island of Saint Martin is divided in two, with a French community in the north and a state under the Dutch kingdom in the south, Sint Maarten.

France’s half of Saint-Martin became a French overseas territory in its own right in 2007, having previously belonged administratively to Guadeloupe, France’s biggest possession in the Caribbean.

It had a population of just over 32,000 in 2020.

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OPINION: Macron knows the political dangers of dragging France into a greener future

The French President's new plan for a green-ish future reveals the ecological conundrum France faces and that Macron is rightly worried of the danger of pushing voters towards Marine le Pen, writes John Lichfield.

OPINION: Macron knows the political dangers of dragging France into a greener future

President Emmanuel Macron’s much delayed statement on Monday on planning for an ecologically-friendly 21st century was a curious mixture of courage and evasion.

In comparison with the UK government’s recent lurch towards climate scepticism-lite, Macron boldly confronted the threats, challenges and opportunities of the next decade.

READ MORE: Heat pumps and suburban trains: What’s Macron’s climate plan for France?

In comparison to a rupture with the past demanded by green activists – and some in his own government – Macron was cautious and vague.

There would, he said, be no refuge in the climate “denialism”, increasingly promoted by the Right and Far Right. Nor would there be the “cure” (shock-treatment) of reduced economic activity, as prescribed by the Greens.

Instead, Macron said, there would be a “French-style ecology”, which would increase “sovereignty”, “control” and “prosperity”.

France would produce a million electric cars in the next three years. State subsidies to allow poorer motorists to lease electric cars for €100 a month will be announced in November. The government would give €700 million towards the €10 billion cost of building or extending new, fast, commuter train networks in 13 French conurbations.

French carbon emissions would be reduced by five percent a year to reach the target of 270m tonnes by 2030 – half what the country produced in 1990.

To achieve this goal, Macron said, there would need to be a “policy of a general change in behaviour.”  

But he said there would be no question of abandoning or punishing modest households or farmers or people in rural areas dependent on cars or banning household gas boilers. He made no mention of higher taxes on flying or a 110 kph speed limit on motorways – measures to force “changes in behaviour” proposed by moderate climate activists and some voices within government.

This was finally a very political statement – and maybe rightly so. It was a recognition that there is growing risk that the case for radical climate action is being lost on the right and far right of European politics, in the UK, in the Netherlands, in Germany and potentially in France.

Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement National sees in a cynical downplaying of climate change a big vote winner – bigger possibly than immigration – in rural and outer-suburban France. Mathilde Androuët, the Rassemblement National spokeswoman on ecology, says that Macron angers the struggling middle classes every time that he mentions the “green transition”.

“All of that stuff is seen as a fad of the elite by the people who will bear the burden of change,” she said. “Don’t forget that the Gilets Jaunes movement began with a tax on petrol and diesel prices.”

Macron has not forgotten the Gilets Jaunes. They were absent but ever-present in his speech on Monday.

The president faced a double or triple conundrum. Despite a burning hot summer (literally in some places), popular opinion is more concerned at present with inflation than with climate change – “the end of the week, rather than the end of the world”.

Macron needs to spend state money to soften the impact of inflation. He needs to spend more state money to “accompany” (as he puts it) carbon-reduction plans in household heating and transport.

He is also trying to reduce France’s budget deficit. The sums do not easily add up.

Macron chose to present the conundrum as a great opportunity – a chance for France to rebuild its industrial base by investing in electric cars and batteries and heat-pumps, to clean the air in cities and to boost the economy by reducing imports of fossil fuels.

“Our dependance on fossil energy costs us €120 billion a year—that’s the cost of our dependance”, he said. Reducing fossil fuel use to 40 percent by 2030 will create a “value-added ecology” and a country that is more “sovereign” and takes back “control”.

The repeated use of right-wing buzz-words was deliberate. It is a way of confronting the Right and Far Right with their own incoherence on climate policy.

But the speech was meant to jolt as well as reassure public opinion. That balance was lost. Cutting carbon emissions by 5 percent a year for seven years will be painful; Macron admitted as much and tried to conceal it at the same time.

The president has also been forced by bad memories of the Gilets Jaunes into incoherences of his own. He had announced the previous evening that a €100 a year state subsidy for poorer car users would be restored, weeks after his government said that such hand-outs must end.

Many of the president’s announcements on Monday were not new. The €100 a month lease for electric cars was in his campaign platform last year. The “new” urban train networks were announced in the spring and already exist in some cities.

The plan has now been extended to 13 conurbations – almost every large metropolitan area in France. But the government’s €700million is only a fraction of the €10billion needed.

Compared to the muddle on climate policy in some neighbouring countries (Germany as well as the UK), there was much to welcome in Macron’s speech. Offering a positive case for climate change action makes ecological as well as political sense.

Hard choices remain hard choices all the same. It remains to be seen whether in the remaining four years of the Macron era, the balance will be long-term ecological or short-term political.