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Sep 17, 2003

The Overseas Collectivity of St. Barthélemy - Progress


Background:

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In its on-going struggle towards legislative recognition of the social, economic and geo-political realities of the island of Saint Barthelemy, a proposed special statute has received the unanimous approval of the island's municipal council, the legal representative body of he residents of St. Barthelemy.
On April 30, 2003, the Municipal Council unanimously voted the approval of the Proposed Statute of the Overseas Collectivity of Saint Barthelemy pursuant to Article 74 of the constitution as amended as opposed to Article 73 and granted the necessary power to the Mayor of the island, Bruno Magras, to undertake the necessary steps to have the same approved by the French Government.
It appears that Article 74 has been unanimously chosen as the framework within which the commune of Saint Barthelemy is to evolve towards a set of administrative and economic rules and regulations best suited to its unique needs.

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Procedure:

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The proposed statute, once voted upon by the Saint Barthelemy Municipal Council members, was submitted to the Council of Ministers for review and after approval by this body of the proposed project, was in turn transmitted to the President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac. Mr. Chirac has the role of setting the date for a local referendum. The voters of Saint Barthelemy will shortly be asked to vote as to whether or not they wish the enactment by law of the proposed statute whereby the Collectivity of Saint Barthelemy will enjoy greater autonomy in its economic, political and social programs.

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What Will Change:

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It must be noted that the majority of the island's infrastructure has, over time, in fact come under the responsibility of the collectivity, including the port, the airport to name just a couple. In fact, the transition pursuant to the "yes" vote for the new statute shall be an easy one, with very little change to the island on its face. Perhaps the most visible change at first will be the economic changes to be legislated upon.
We often speak of a "historical tolerance" afforded the residents of Saint Barthelemy and yet have historically been unable to put forward any legal statute if it not be the various interpretations of the Franco-Swedish Treaty of August 10, 1877 wherein Saint Barthelemy, through referendum, voted to return under French Rule. The ambiguity which itself has been as much a part of the island's history as the famous Treaty itself, shall cease. We shall unequivocally know the rules of the game.

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Who Will Vote and When?

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Every person over the age of 18 years of age who was registered to vote with City Hall as of December 31, 2002 shall be eligible to vote. At last count, that number was 3,395 persons.
Although much discussion has been made of the date of the referendum vote, the President of France, Mr. Chirac has indicated that the vote must occur before the end of autumn. At this point, it appears that the island of Saint Barthelemy will be set for a vote prior to the end of November, the second week of November having been put forward, although no date has at this time been definitely set.
The government has made it clear that the referendum must be voted upon by a substantial portion of the electorate, thereby ensuring that the proposed statute, if voted "yes", actually reflects the desire of the inhabitants of the island of saint Barthelemy. Exactly how much is enough? In that during the period of the election of the Mayor and his Municipal council, 60% of the registered voters vote. In order to satisfy the "representative vote" requirement, there will need to be at least 70% of the 60% registered voters present at the voting booths. In absolute terms, a "yes" vote will require a vote of a little less than 42% of the registered voters.

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The Issue of Residency:

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At this point, the notion of residency in the new Collectivity has been viewed largely from a fiscal perspective, and that is in fact the most important issue.
Pursuant to United States Law, an American citizen or resident, whether or not a duo-citizen, whether or not a foreign resident, is imposable in the United States on their worldwide income. Although it is true that there are tax exemptions from which one can benefit if income is earned overseas by a Unites States citizen or permanent resident residing overseas, there is absolutely nothing that will apparently change regarding the same.
Revenue is imposable in the country in which it is earned, thereafter, credits being applied in the country of residence/ citizenship, pursuant to international treaty, so as to avoid double taxation. The treaties actually in place between France and the United States regarding the imposition of income and other taxation will not change.
The requirements regarding residency on the island will undoubtedly change. The future collectivity of Saint Barthelemy is determined to do everything in its power to avoid the island becoming a tax haven. As to the social aspect of retiring in Saint Barthelemy for Americans, there is absolutely no reason to believe that anything will change. Although there will unquestionably be treaties, agreements and discussions relating to residency, there is no need to worry about Americans being prohibited from living their retirement years on the island.
The nature of access by foreign workers, as well as a number of other outstanding operational questions remains to be discussed and resolved.

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Conclusion:

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At this time, the date of the referendum vote is close at hand. During the course of the month of November, 2003, the residents of the island of Saint Barthelemy will be asked to make a decision that will affect not only the island today, but also future generations on an economic and political level. There is no question that the development and evolution of Saint Barthelemy, as an Overseas Collectivity will require much wisdom and forethought.

Chantal Decombe-Greaux


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