The Malta Independent 17 January 2020, Friday

Urgent need to restore Malta’s name in Europe

Peter Agius Thursday, 5 December 2019, 07:59 Last update: about 2 months ago

Most of the public investment in this country over the last six years see their genesis back in February 2013.

It was another rainy day in Brussels. Then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi entered the Justus Lipsius Building from Rue Froissart where he first met Francois Hollande, then Angela Merkel, then David Cameron (before he messed it all up). On Malta’s mind was one unwavering target - making a success out of our hard-fought EU membership with a massive injection of EU funds.

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That was a long day. One of the longest European Council meetings. It took just about 24 hours of non-stop discussions at leaders’ and technical levels to finally agree to a one trillion EU seven-year budget, with a €1,128 Billion allocation for Malta.

Gonzi came back to Malta victorious, only to be bashed at the general election by Joseph Muscat. Countless opening ceremonies of public investments exceeding €900 million in cohesion funds alone ensued with labour ministers cutting the red ribbons to projects for our youths, our businesses, our communities.

Fast-forward to next week. It will most probably rain again in Brussels. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is expected at the Justus Lipsius to meet Merkel, Macron and 24 other heads of government for another marathon session to decide on allocations for the next EU budget taking us till 2027.

The future prospects of many 18-year-olds at MCAST or starting University depend on that meeting. Recently published statistics show how the injection of EU funds in developing EU member states contributes directly and indirectly up to 17% of the national economy. That faceless technicality belies the true importance of EU funding for Malta.

As a candidate for the European Parliament elections in the past months I met with those concerned, from Turu in the Mosta valley who managed to set up a state of the art sheep farm thanks to EU funds for agriculture, to Stefania a Maltese artist benefitting from funds through the creative Europe programme, to scores of youths I met, from over 5,000 concerned, participating in exchange programmes from Erasmus at European universities to short stints working abroad in manufacturing, design or catering. This is the Europe that we worked for. This is the Europe that we need to keep on working for. 

Now the game seems, however, to be stacking against us benefitting as we did in the past years.

I need to strive hard to describe this objectively, but let’s say that Malta’s name inspired curiosity in 2013. Now it inspires doubt. Having worked in Brussels since the very beginning of Malta’s adventure in the EU, I remember people asking me: how did you Maltese manage to succeed without natural resources, cut off from mainland Europe? No one asked about murder cases or the independence of our institutions, no one asked about freedom of the media or about corruption. Now these are the main things on their mind.

How does this tie in to the EU budget and making our EU membership a success? I hear you say. Well let’s point out our strengths around the EU negotiating table shall we. In the Council of Ministers we have 0,1% of a vote when the Council votes by qualified majority, which is the case for 95% of its decisions. In the European Parliament we have 6 out of 751 MEPs. Our economy and our population is roughly the size of the 26th largest town in Germany, and yet for the first years of EU membership we sat on that table with moral authority. With that moral authority we defended a budding gaming industry which attracted 260 companies established in Gzira and around the island. With that moral authority we influenced several pieces of EU legislation to take our peculiarities into account from fireworks to working times to state aid, not to mention the said EU budget.

Of late we seem to be wanting to squander the only strength we have around that table. Over the last few years, Malta was the subject of three main European Parliament debates, five official delegation visits and two main European Commission reports pointing to serious shortcomings with Malta’s passport sales.

If all goes on as detailed by Joseph Muscat in the televised address to the nation, the next European Council in February will be attended by another Prime Minister. For the sake of our youths, our workers and our businesses that council will need to be the beginning of a radical change of direction for Malta’s name in Europe.

 

Peter Agius is a former PN MEP candidate.

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