The State Secretary for European Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister of Italy, Sandro Gozi, said that if the United Kingdom were to leave the EU it would be a disaster for the EU and for the UK itself.
He was referring to the fact that the UK is set to have a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether or not to remain a member of the European Union.
Mr Gozi was addressing a well-attended conference entitled 'From Rome, to Lisbon and Beyond: The Old Continent, Young People and the Future of the European Project' held at the Auberge d'Aragon in Valletta on January 12. The conference, moderated by MEUSAC Head Dr Vanni Xuereb, was organised by MEUSAC in conjunction with the office of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Affairs and the European Commission Representation in Malta. The initiative was a joint one between Malta and Italy to re-launch the debate on the future of the EU.
Mr Gozi referred to the fact that the conference was well-timed since we are nearing the 60th anniversary of signing of the Treaty of Rome.
"The event is an important one for Europe, including Malta and Italy." He stated.
Mr Gozi condemned the "terrible" terrorist attack that took place on Tuesday in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey."We must stand up against ISIS, these are barbaric acts," he said, while urging Europe to foster cooperation against terrorism.
Referring to Schengen, State Secretary Gozi described the arrangement that guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens as being "shaky and under strain; the suspension of Schengen can be perceived as a good thing but we need to strengthen our cooperation to tackle the situation of our external borders.
"We are only safe if we fight against the illegal trafficking of migrants; we need to work on border control."
On a separate note, he said: "Good things have happened in the EU but bad things as well.
"The good things are flexibility in economic rules to enhance investment and the launching of the Economic Monetary Union.
"But the EU has been hesitant towards change too often. The EU did not live up to its promise on migration for instance," Mr Gozi said, adding that "we should re-launch the debate on the function of the EU".
On his part, Dr Xuereb pointed out that when Malta and nine other countries joined the EU in 2004, there was a strong sense of optimism as Europe seemed to be overcoming the ideological divide between East and West.
"Today, we find ourselves in a situation whereby the European capital Brussels had to cancel its New Year's Eve activities whereas in other European cities they were significantly curtailed," Dr Xuereb said.
The opening speech was delivered by the Deputy Prime Minister and minister for European Affairs, Louis Grech. The Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties, Helena Dalli, also intervened and spoke of the need to revisit the Lisbon arrangements "in order to secure a Union that is forward looking, transparent and efficient, connected to society and that presents itself as a strong and credible partner on the international scene".
Following the keynote address by State Secretary Gozi, a panel discussion ensued. Tha panel was composed of the ETC chairperson Clyde Caruana, MP Luciano Busuttil, who is also the chairperson of the Foreign and European Affairs Committee of the Maltese House of Representatives, MEP and Shadow Minister for European Affairs Roberta Metsola, the newly appointed Head of the European Commission Representation in Malta Elena Grech and Latvian national Liva Vikmane, who is a member of the executive committee of the European Students Union.
The Parliamentary Secretary for the 2017 Malta EU Council Presidency and EU Funds, Ian Borg, delivered the concluding address.