The Malta Independent 11 December 2019, Wednesday

Wrong place, wrong time

Noel Grima Sunday, 16 June 2019, 07:40 Last update: about 7 months ago

At first, I could not believe my ears. I was watching a press conference where several heads of state and government were speaking in their own language. On top of their speeches, there were translators. But, in between, I heard faint whistles and the phrase ‘Shame on you’, which has its roots in the Brooklyn protests at the time of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for the alleged rape attempt on a chambermaid at a five-star New York hotel. It was the same chant that reverberated around MCAST when Lawrence Gonzi went there before the 2013 election.

There were two protests at Castille as the leaders arrived, one by a pro-choice group and one by Occupy Justice, with photos of Daphne Caruana Galizia, which seems to have been the noisy protest.

I can think of two distinct responsibilities: firstly, the police messed up badly. They did not anticipate what could have happened and failed to take steps. As a minimum, they should have moved the small group away to where they could protest and not be heard.

Next, I blame those with dreams of glory for choosing to hold the press conference outside Auberge de Castille without realizing how the ceremony could be disrupted. In less glamorous times, press conferences were held inside the building’s courtyard.

In Brussels, just to give an example, protests are held well away from the European quarter and the press conferences are held inside.

The disturbance, as I saw it, only affected the leaders. It certainly did not disturb the TV feed and interpreters.

And the leaders had important things to say. Thankfully, their words won the battle of the airwaves.

The Malta Summit of the South European EU Member States was just one of a series of caucuses held after the EP elections and before this week’s European Council.

I did not care much for Joseph Muscat’s speeches, which were rather rambling and focused more on geo-political issues. But the Portuguese prime minister and the Spanish one had important things to say about social Europe, and even Italy’s Conte, whose country stands to gain if the EU becomes more socially-minded, was not as clear as the first two.

The tide has turned in the EU: it is not an EU of austerity now, but an EU of social justice, of solidarity (expressed in solidarity with Cyprus with reference to Turkish interference in oil and gas prospecting). It is an EU looking at growth, but not growth as mentioned by Muscat, but one to be brought about as a result of making changes to the community deeper, more extensive, more widespread ­– hence, steps to bring about the realization, after so long, of free movement of capital, of companies and of persons, a digital union, and perhaps, too, a Europe that creates jobs while ensuring there is a social net protecting the needy.

The growth, in other words, that we are looking at, comes from manufacturing and from SMEs – a sustainable growth; a growth that comes from more cohesion. A Europe that is about to lose the UK is a poorer Europe so it must learn to do more with less. It is a Europe that must unite more closely, and hence implement tax harmonization and move to better economies of scale.

Obviously, there is much to be discussed here – which is why the leaders met here before the summit. In between, they may also have been discussing the key appointments coming up.

Today’s problems will remain, such as migration and, hopefully, a more united EU will find a better way to tackle the flow. While Muscat praised the Libyan navy for recuperating the boat people, and not knowing at that point who the protesters were, I thought for a fleeting moment the protesters were anti-migrant.

I am not saying that Daphne’s murder is not a black spot on this country’s recent history or that rule of law concerns are not absolutely important, but there is a time and place for everything and an EU mini-summit most certainly was not it.


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