The Malta Independent 18 November 2018, Sunday

Unity in diversity: Malta and the EU

Lino Bianco Sunday, 24 November 2013, 09:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

The speech by European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht at the 2013 Strategic Export Control Conference held in Brussels in June, entitled Unity in Diversity: finding the right balance between uniformity and fragmentation, addressed the importance of finding equilibrium in respect of trade for the common good amongst European Union nationals. His speech was inspired by the liberal political philosophy of John Stuart Mill, a philosopher who acknowledged that freedom is the guarantee of the best possible society for citizens but stressed that if everyone has total freedom, complications may arise and their actions may harm others. Actually, Commissioner De Gucht opened his speech with a quote from this 19th century British philosopher that: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over a member of a civilised community against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” The concluding statements of the speech reinforce the philosophy of the EU: “And we will need to remember Mill’s rule for limited government, because it is by finding the right balance between all of our competing objectives that we will be able to move forward”.

 

A Concept of Students and Youths

In 2000, the EU adopted the concept ‘Unity in Diversity’ as its official motto, a clear reference to the many and diverse Member States that compromisethe Union. The European Commission said that “the motto means that, via the EU, Europeans are united in working together for peace and prosperity, and that the many different cultures, traditions and languages in Europe are a positive asset for the continent”.

This philosophical concept has formed the foundation of western culture since the days of the ancient Greek civilisation and has manifested itself since then through the Middle Ages into the Romantic era. This notion shifts the emphasis from unity based on a mere toleration of variations – cultural and otherwise – to a more complex unity based on an understanding that variations enhance human interactions.

So what is the practical relevance of such a notion to the EU and Malta, one of the member states? Firstly, it motto was selected following a competition amongst students from member states, the youth of the EU, now responsible for forming the young citizens of tomorrow. This exercise can effectively be read as going beyond a mere competition. It was all about youth empowerment. Young people were given the chance to develop a logo that embodied their vision of the EU. The competition was not simply an exercise in youth engagement but a soul-searching exercise for a collective decision-making process of the EU.

The validity of the approach of empowering youth has been shown to work in democracy-building in European Malta in recent years, culminating in the result of this year’s general election. Secondly, this motto encompasses oneness despite the barriers. It refers to the idea of diversity as a unifying principle instead of uniformity. Malta is a nation, a nation with its own language, culture and dignity. Malta has its own unique identity, different from other members of the EU. Maltese citizens are not inferior to other EU nationals: we are different and that is what makes us a unique and integral part of the EU; we are as great as any other nation in the EU. The EU is a composite union based on the diversities of the different member states and Maltese and Gozitans have their own identity, culture and traditions.

 

The Citizen First

Launching the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament, Othmar Karas, the vice-president responsible for communication for the European People’s Party, stressed: “The European Parliament is the Chamber of EU citizens – we are the citizens’ voice in the EU decision-making process.” This statement is encouraging until one reads his reasoning why this round of elections is different: “This campaign will lead up to the European elections of 22-25 May 2014, but also beyond, until Parliament elects the president of the European Commission and approves the new Commission’s political agenda.”

This is precisely what we must be cautious of. The role of the citizen has to be present while the political agenda unfolds. Unity in diversity is not a commodity but a principle and the empowerment generated by this motto must be allowed freedom to concretise in all the corridors of power within the EU institutions and not be restricted to just the European Parliament.

As the American Catholic philosopher, diplomat and author on philosophy and theology of culture, Michael Novak, notes: “Unity in diversity is the highest possible attainment of a civilisation, a testimony to the most noble possibilities of the human race. This attainment is made possible through passionate concern for choice in an atmosphere of social trust.” This is what the motto of the EU is all about and applying it to justify one’s rationale in matters relating to freedom in the movement of goods is not the spirit in which the young EU nationals read the EU at the turn of the millennium.

Failing to emphasise the diversity of the Maltese nation from other member states of the EU runs contrary to the principle of unity in diversity. Malta’s uniqueness forms an integral part of the legacy of Europe. The Maltese identity – developed over centuries through inheritance from previous generations – is as worthy as any other nation in the world, as any other EU member state. Maltese and Gozitans have to ensure that they are actively engaged in the deliberations and decisions at EU level.

Through its representatives in the European Parliament, Malta can be a pioneer and a leader of various initiatives and it is imperative that our MEPs avoid from synchronisation with other European member states in matters affecting our national integrity. Malta is the nation that we are entrusted to administer for our children; we are the guardians of this distinctive heritage of our forefathers for future generations of Malta. We hold the key to our destiny. When someone knows his/her values, decisions are self-evident: trading in goods and mobility is imperative but trading Malta and the Maltese nation is just not on the agenda. Compromise is not compatible with the soul of a nation.

 

Prof. Bianco is an architect and PL candidate for the EP election in May

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