Malta’s future in 2016 depends much on the way Europe will meet its challenges on immigration, terrorism, the Eurozone’s performance and the UK/EU negotiations which will lead to the Referendum on UK membership. The UK has for long been one of our longest business partners and Malta will be affected should the UK leave the European Union.
Alfred Sant, Head of the Labour Delegation at the European Parliament, told journalist Bryony Bartolo on the TV programme ‘Malta and the European Union’ that events and decisions in Europe in the next months will continue to effect directly Malta and Gozo. Unfortunately, said Dr Sant, faced by these crises, Europe is losing its unity, and individual member states are taking different stances from that agreed by the EU. It is also worrying that extremist parties, both on the far left and the right side, as is the case in Spain and France, are making breakthroughs at the polls.
Dr Sant said that Europe still has to agree on one policy on the influx and distribution of more thousands of refugees arriving from North Africa and the Middle East. The eurozone still has to witness the desired results. Unemployment, especially among young people, is still high, despite recent improvements.
Notwithstanding this, said Dr Sant, Malta’s economy is still thriving and looks to continue on this trend in the next two years. Dr Sant remarked that two important sectors of the Maltese economy showing continuous improvements in the past years are tourism and Financial Services. "The one-size-fits-all policy on taxation will not benefit our strong financial services sector which has developed so rapidly and successfully over the years. It is important that the Maltese Government, the Opposition and all Maltese MEPS in the European Parliament continue to defend Malta’s system of taxation, which is tailored made for our special circumstances. While we should favour transparency in taxation policies, we should continue to defend our national interests," said Dr Sant when referring to the recent vote in the European Parliament when all six Maltese MEPs voted against the proposal of harmonisation of taxes among all EU member states.
Quizzed on the negative effects of EU rules on Maltese agriculture and fishing, Dr Sant noted that the number of fishermen and farmers in the Maltese islands have decreased by half. ‘An average European farmer works 52 hectares of land, while Maltese and Gozitan farmers work an average of one hectare of land. It was always obvious that EU rules would affect negatively our farmers and fishermen. What we must do now is to see how we can cope in the current circumstances, until perhaps the EU changes its stringent rules on this sector for small island state members, which looks very unlikely at the moment.’ said Dr Sant.
Dr Sant said that despite the notable progress registered in the last two years, Gozo’s special characteristics calls for special treatment when it comes to the EU’s rules on competition. Gozo’s double insularity needs to be balanced by new economic activity, better IT systems and faster sea connections. This is important to make up for the one-size-fits-all EU rules which cannot benefit Gozo. Ultimately we must strive for the EU’s special treatment for Gozo. Government must be lauded for the new iniatitives taken for special investments in Gozo, like that in the health sector. Such initiatives, irrespective of EU rules, can generate more job opportunities for the young in Gozo, said Dr Sant.