The financial burden of Malta taking on the six‐month rotating EU Council Presidency next year is a price worth paying, the Malta-EU Steering & Action Committee (MEUSAC)’s Vanni Xuereb told The Malta Independent on Sunday.
“The ‘Trio presidency’ was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 precisely to try to seek greater continuity of the EU’s work in the Council. Member states holding the presidency now work closely together in groups of three, hence the word ‘trio’. Thus together they set long-term goals and prepare a common agenda determining the topics and major issues that will be addressed by the Council over an 18-month period.
“Undoubtedly, additional financial and human resources are required for the presidency. However, this has not stopped countries our size, such as Luxembourg – which has just successfully concluded its 12th Council presidency. I believe that the financial burden is a price worth paying for the opportunity for the smallest member state to chair one of the main EU institutions and, thereby, exert considerable influence at EU level and beyond. After all, should the EU remain composed of 28 countries, we will next be holding the presidency in around 14 years time.”
Dr Xuereb believes it is important to temper expectations about Malta’s Presidency of the EU Council.
“It is important not to raise expectation too high. The Council Presidency helps to ensure that the EU’s goals in its many areas of activity are achieved. My hope is that when the United Kingdom takes over from Malta on 1 July 2017, we will hand over in a situation where the Union is still intact, indeed in better shape and capable of acting as a stronger actor on the international scene.”
He explains that Malta will need to frame the country’s particular needs in the context of wider EU priorities.
“The priorities on which Malta will be focusing are EU priorities. The Trio Presidency Programme takes as its basis the Strategic Agenda adopted by member states in June 2014.
“The Trio Programme provides a framework for continuity between the three presidencies (The Netherlands, Slovakia and Malta) and centres around five goals, namely a union of jobs, growth and competitiveness; a union that empowers and protects all its citizens; an energy union with a forward-looking climate policy; a union of freedom, security and justice; and the union as a strong global actor.
“Within this context, Malta will seek to push forward EU priorities that are of particular importance to our country such as securing long-term and durable solutions to addressing migration flows. In this respect, Malta and its Trio partners will focus on the development of the Common European Asylum System, efforts on relocation, resettlement, returns and readmission, as well as fighting human trafficking.
“Other priorities will include the strengthening of the single market and the completion of the energy union. However, it is still too early to talk with absolute certainty, since Malta’s Presidency Work Programme will not be presented before the latter part of this year.”
As the government entity responsible for steering consultation on EU policy and laws and disseminating EU-related information, MEUSAC will play a crucial role in engaging different stakeholders and the public in the presidency, Dr Xuereb says.
“We have already started to do this. Over the past few years, the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the presidency, Ian Borg, has been regularly updating members of our Core Group on preparations for the presidency. MEUSAC also regularly and actively participates in the inter-ministerial committee on the 2017 Presidency.
“Besides this, we have been disseminating information on what the EU Council Presidency represents, given that there is a general and widepread misconception that the member state holding the Council presidency is acting as the ‘President of the EU’. Many, therefore, seem to believe that Malta will be running the show and will lead the EU in any direction our country deems necessary in accordance with our own national priorities.
“As rightly pointed out by the State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic, Ivan Korčok, during last Monday’s public dialogue on the programme and priorities of the Trio Presidency, the presiding member state holds the chair of one of the main EU institutions and is expected to push the EU agenda.
“I believe that the media also has a vital role to play in the build-up to the Presidency by communicating clear and precise messages to the public to help them easily understand what the presidency is all about.
“Last Monday’s Public Dialogue was organised by MEUSAC in conjunction with the Parliamentary Secretariat for the EU Presidency 2017 and EU Funds and was, in fact, the launch of an information campaign that will gain momentum throughout this year in order to engage civil society in particular.
“MEUSAC will also continue to lead and stimulate a national debate on European ideals, values, objectives and long-term strategies, especially in view of all the developments taking place such as the UK referendum, which will definitely have an impact on the EU as a whole and the Presidency itself.”
He says that the complexity of the European Union sometimes makes it hard for citizens to understand.
“I think that there is a lot of information circulating in this country on the EU in general. However, the EU is a complex institution, and sometimes not easy to understand and to explain. Moreover, there are many misconceptions, even when it comes to the rotating presidency itself which, as I have already mentioned, is often mistakenly referred to as the ‘EU Presidency’.
“It is our task at MEUSAC to try to do as much as we can to provide information in a simple and easily understood manner in order to try and increase awareness and thereby strengthen the link between citizens and the EU.”