MartiniqueA new chapter in an ongoing process of constitutional evolution and greater decentralisation within France. [photo: Martinique newsletter]

Abstract: The admission of Martinique as an associate member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States in 2015 has been seen as an event of significance in the Caribbean region for a number of reasons. Among other things, it was the first example of a non-Anglophone country being accorded that status, and it was the first French territory allowed to join one of the core regional groupings of the Commonwealth Caribbean. This article argues that the deepening of Martinique’s relationship with its neighbours within a multilateral framework may offer new practical possibilities for regional integration.

On 4 February 2015, the French Overseas Region of Martinique was formally admitted to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) as an associate member (AM). The event has been hailed by some as a ‘transcendental moment in the OECS journey to integration’ heralding a new, promising phase in the process. The accession is the product of three years of negotiations and preparation. The territory’s presence as an AM of the OECS may carry substantial significance for Martinique, for the OECS and for the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM). CARICOM is a regional integration grouping with 15 full member states and territories – Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat (non-independent), St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. There are five AMs: Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

CARICOM was established in 1973 with the Treaty of Chaguaramas, later updated with the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. CARICOM has four pillars of cooperation: economic integration, human and social development, foreign policy coordination and security coordination. Its origins are rooted in the decolonisation process of British territories in the Caribbean. Most of its members and associates share historical, socio-cultural and political/institutional legacies of their colonial relationship with Britain and are members of the Commonwealth.

The OECS members and associate members, with the current exception of Martinique, are all part of the CARICOM. It is not an entirely new departure for Caribbean regionalism, given that the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). The founding Convention of the ACS was signed in 1994 in Cartagena, Colombia. It evolved as an initiative of the then Group of Three (Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela) and the CARICOM states and was the first regional grouping to attempt to transcend the historical colonial fragmentation of the Greater Caribbean region. The ACS has 25 member states and 11 associate members, of which five are French Overseas Regions or collectivities, and six are Dutch Caribbean territories. The Secretariat is in Trinidad. The ACS aims to promote cooperation, consultation and concerted action in the Greater Caribbean and it focuses on strengthening the preservation and conservation of the Caribbean Sea, sustainable tourism, natural disaster management, air and maritime transport, trade and economic relations. CARICOM and the OECS already have a history of cooperating with both members and associate members with diverse linguistic and constitutional characteristics. However, there have been limitations, obstacles and extended periods of stagnation in some of these processes. The deepening of Martinique’s relationship with its neighbours within a multilateral framework may offer new practical possibilities for regional integration. In academic terms, it may also provide new Caribbean perspectives on comparative regionalisms and the construction of regional spaces.

The OECS already has three non-independent members, two of which are AMs. The OECS, established in June 1981, has a membership of 10 with the accession of Martinique. Seven of these territories are full members, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. These states/territories have all signed the Revised Treaty of Basseterre. Martinique proposes deeper relations with the OECS, which established the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union. Montserrat is not a sovereign state, but a British Overseas Territory. It is a full member of both the Caribbean Community and the OECS and, after constitutional reform in 2011, negotiated an Entrustment agreement with the British government which allowed it to sign on fully to the Revised Treaty of Basseterre as a member of the OECS Economic Union. The BVI became an AM under the Treaty of Basseterre in 1984 and Anguilla did likewise in 1995. Neither has opted for Entrustment proceedings to enable it to sign on the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, so their rights and duties to the grouping remain those of the 1981 Treaty. This marks the first admission of a non-Anglophone AM with different political, institutional and economic structures and the first accession of an AM under the Revised Treaty of Basseterre. While the French departments in the Americas have long been present in the ACS, this is the first time that a French territory has joined one of the core regional groupings of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Martinique and Guadeloupe, geographically embedded in the heart of the Eastern Caribbean chain of islands, already have substantial formal and informal links with their OECS neighbours. Membership in the grouping offers additional opportunities to expand and deepen their insertion to the benefit of all the actors concerned.

For Martinique and possibly for subsequent new associates, it should contribute to a higher level of visibility within and engagement with their regional environment. It coincides with a new chapter in an ongoing process of constitutional evolution and greater decentralisation within France. Arguably, Martinique’s presence in the OECS could stimulate a mutual process of learning, knowledge and technology diffusion for all the organisation’s members in a number of public policy areas, and generate new ideas and structures for constructing the regional space.

The OECS is the smallest sub-regional grouping in the Greater Caribbean, often regarded as having limited resources and institutional capacity. However, limited capacity has also been a strong imperative for collective action and the pooling of resources. The OECS manifests some of the deepest forms of integration in the Caribbean, with a currency union, integrated judicial system, a regional security cooperation system shared with Barbados, and various areas of functional cooperation, including a joint pharmaceutical procurement scheme. The OECS has on several occasions provided the templates for deeper policy coordination in various sectors at the CARICOM level. Martinique’s associate membership may be another instance of the OECS pioneering a possible eventual widening of the Caribbean Community to incorporate territories of the French and Dutch Caribbean. Innovative cooperation programmes with such partners may enable the OECS to strengthen its capacities in health-care provision, education, environmental protection and other areas.