Bonaire is one of the Leeward Antilles and is located close to the coast of Venezuela. Sint Eustatius and Saba are in the main Lesser Antilles group and are located south of Sint Maarten and northwest of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
The three islands gained their current status following the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on 10 October 2010. At the same time, the islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten became autonomous countries (Dutch: landen) within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island of Aruba is also a constituent country of the Kingdom located in the Caribbean. The term "Dutch Caribbean" may refer to the three special municipalities (e.g. for stamps), but may also refer to all of the Caribbean islands within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The population of the Caribbean Netherlands is 25,019. Their total area is 328 square kilometres (127 sq mi).
The islands of the Caribbean Netherlands first voted in Dutch general elections in 2012.
The special municipalities (Dutch: bijzondere gemeenten) carry many of the functions normally performed by Dutch municipalities. The executive power rests with the Governing Council headed by an Island Governor. The main democratic body is the island council. Dutch citizens of these three islands are entitled to vote in Dutch national elections and (as all Dutch nationals) in European elections.
Officially the islands are classed in Dutch law as being openbare lichamen (literally translated as "public bodies") and not gemeenten (municipalities). Unlike normal municipalities, they do not form part of a Dutch province and the powers normally exercised by provincial councils within municipalities are divided between the island governments themselves and the central government by means of the National Office for the Caribbean Netherlands. For this reason, they are called "special" municipalities.
For many Dutch laws there is a special version for the Caribbean Netherlands. For example, social security is not on the same level as it is in the European Netherlands.
The National Office for the Caribbean Netherlands (Dutch: Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland) is responsible for taxation, policing, immigration, transport infrastructure, health, education, and social security in the islands and provides these services on behalf of the Government of the Netherlands. This agency was established as the Regional Service Center in 2008 and became the National Office for the Caribbean Netherlands on 1 September 2010. The current director is Jan Helmond. The Representative for the public bodies of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba represents the Government of the Netherlands on the islands and also performs tasks similar to a King's Commissioner. The current representative is Gilbert Isabella.
The islands do not form part of the European Union and instead constitute "overseas countries and territories" (OCT status) of the Union, to which special provisions apply. The Lisbon Treaty introduced a procedure where the European Council may change the status of an overseas territory of Denmark, France, or the Netherlands regarding the application of the EU treaties to that territory. In June 2008, the Dutch government published a survey of the legal and economic impacts by a switched status from OCT to OMR ("outermost region"). The position of the islands will be reviewed after a five-year transitional period, which began with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in October 2010. The review will be conducted as part of the planned review of the Dutch "Act for the Public bodies Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba" (Dutch: "Wet openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba (WolBES)"), where the islands have been granted the option to become an Outermost region – and thus a direct part of the European Union. In October 2015, the review concluded the present legal structures for governance and integration with European Netherlands was not working well within the framework of WolBES, but no recommendations were made in regards of whether a switch from OCT to OMR status would help improve this situation.
The Caribbean Netherlands form part of the Lesser Antilles. Within this island group,
The islands of the Caribbean Netherlands enjoy a tropical climate with warm weather all year round. The Leeward Islands are warmer and drier than the Windward islands. In summer, the Windward Islands can be subject to hurricanes.
Until 1 January 2011, the three islands used the Netherlands Antillean guilder; after that all three switched to the US dollar, rather than the euro (which is used in the European Netherlands) or the Caribbean guilder (which is being adopted by the other two former Antillean islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten).
The telephone country code remains 599, that of the former Netherlands Antilles, and is shared with Curaçao. The International Organization for Standardization has assigned the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code ISO 3166-2:BQ for these islands. The IANA has not established a root zone for the.bq Internet ccTLD and whether it will be used is unknown.