The Malta Independent 19 August 2019, Monday

Malta’s bilateral relations, our allies and windows of opportunity

Joseph Cuschieri Sunday, 27 July 2014, 09:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

 

Even though Malta’s cooperation with neighbouring North African, Asian and European countries has blossomed and yielded significant results over the years, our closest bilateral relations are undisputedly with the United Kingdom. Be it because Malta was a British colony for a significant period of time or otherwise, Maltese governments have worked hand in hand with British governments. While cooperation with the United Kingdom should continue and expand, I believe that other windows of opportunity exist for Malta, and it should seize each and every opportunity to strengthen its foreign relations. Such relations have, very recently, led to major investments from Asian countries such as China, which were described as groundbreaking. However, we don’t necessarily need to look as far as China because opportunities exist for closer cooperation with neighbouring Mediterranean countries as well.

Given that the United Kingdom, one of Malta’s closest allies within the EU, at the moment seems to be at a crossroads in terms of its relationship with the Union, Malta should seek to build new partnerships. In this regard, I believe that Italy has a big role to play.

First and foremost, Italy and Malta have had very good bilateral relations for decades that can be used as a foundation to build a better long-lasting relationship and more cooperation. Secondly, Malta’s Prime Minister has far better ties and links to Italy’s premier Renzi, who is also his socialist colleague in the Party of European Socialists, rather than the euro-sceptic, conservative David Cameron who has gone on record several times saying that he intends to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Last but not least, a window of opportunity has now arisen for Malta to grasp and better its relationship with Italy, in the form of the European Council presidency.

In this regard, Malta needs to exploit its ties with Italy, which has presided over the European Council 11 times, to learn how it can use this tool to fulfil its priorities when the time comes in 2017 for Malta to take the reins of the presidency. This is very important because when a country has the presidency of the Union, it can steer discussions in a manner that can be used to reach certain policy priorities identified by the presidency itself. Thus Malta needs to absorb as much information as possible from Italy as to how the dynamics work in the presidency to better understand what to expect when it’s in the limelight.

Furthermore, our strong diplomatic and bilateral relations with Italy can be used to escalate matters where common interests between the two countries exist. Thus having the Italian presidency pushing to the discussion tables and debating issues such as migration – an issue in which Malta and Italy are facing more or less the same problem – may prove to be very useful. Although this might not solve the problem, it might very well be a good starting point that will lead member states to realise, discuss and possible agree on a solution in this regard.

Malta should also support the Italian presidency policy priorities to abandon sterile austerity v. growth controversies and re-think, with a fresh mind, the most effective policy strategy to restore growth, create jobs, and rebuild a positive relationship between the Union and its citizens. There is no better time to act than now, when growth is very low, unemployment is increasing and recovery is very weak and uneven in some member states.

Last but not least, Malta and Italy shouldn’t just seek to cooperate on issues relating to or emanating from the presidency. Cooperation should be sought in a variety of areas and shouldn’t be limited to just one sector. This will reap benefits that will help our economy.

 

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