The Malta Independent 18 May 2021, Tuesday

No biscuits for donkeys

Peter Agius Wednesday, 14 April 2021, 07:18 Last update: about 2 months ago

That is the Maltese saying for several situations where a good opportunity lands on the lap of someone unable to exploit it.

Maybe our readers can try to find a proper English translation rendering the concept better than my title. Alas, the Maltese expression comes to my mind pretty often when I dig a bit deeper into how Malta is using its European Union membership. Let me share with you just a few examples from over the past weeks.

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Over the past two years, the European Commission has paid 3,027 vouchers of €15,000 each to local councils across the continent for these localities to provide free WIFI to residents. A good move from Europe to advance its drive for wider digitalisation, including the local bodies and providing a tangible benefit to all citizens. In Malta, 57 local councils applied for this. But while communities across Europe have been enjoying the free WIFI for over a year, in Malta the project is stalled in some sort of public procurement quagmire. Councillors, Mayors and residents now realise that what was sold as a very interesting EU benefit needed more diligent follow-up closer to home.

The settings change but the attitude remains similar. On Monday the European Commission approved the application of Cyprus to protect the local cheese known as Halloumi as a European delicacy worth of protection as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). A painful reminder that Malta remains the only EU Member State without any food product recognised as PDO. The delicious Maltese Ġbejna' application as a protected European product was considered and reconsidered over and over again for at least five years, for Government to finally to wash its hands clean over a dispute between small and big producers.

Has there not been, I ask myself, detractors or counter-claims on Parma Ham or Cypriot Halloumi? Was Malta’s Ġbejna saga unique to us and thus unsurmountable? Cyprus is comparable to Malta, being a Mediterranean state subject to our same fiery whims, but even the Cypriots managed to make the EU machinery deliver better than us. DPO registration is not just a matter for national pride. The Union can help marketing protected European products through specifically designed mechanisms including a special Regulation meant to promote European products in the world. 

And if we are incapable of promoting an ancient and basic Maltese product as a piece of cheese, how can we expect to promote the most novel of our produce? Our land produced talent to compete with the best in Europe and the world, but how can our designers, our sports people, our architects and other professionals and tradesmen face European markets when our authorities fail to lead the way?

I dream of a country which is proud of its children, striving to promote tradition and innovation in Malta and abroad. As a nation, our responsibility is to open the roads for the talented, not the narrow nepotistic alley towards a government consultancy or tender, but the huge highway of international markets.

Europe is the vehicle to that highway. Right now in Brussels, the scene is abuzz with the new European Bauhaus Project expected to channel millions of EU funding and group together architects, artists, designers and many other professions around ideas for sustainability in our towns and cities. I myself have written about this and sent mailshots and messages to the Chamber of Architects, Chamber of Engineers as well as to several individual budding and established professionals. I do this with pleasure. I consider it my duty that, if I get information on anything  useful, I should pass it around. But does something like this have to depend on a private initiative? Should not government take a more active role in informing the public and its several interest groups on avenues to think bigger, to participate at European level?

I will not give up on the Maltese potential to make European membership a success on all fronts. That, however, requires an objective reading of the status quo. That exercise is severely prejudiced by the misplaced false nationalism of a few protagonists on the local and European scene.

Joseph Muscat’s ‘best in Europe’ slogan is the frame in which many atrocious pieces have been scribbled. I could not fathom to understand for instance, how a person of such promising age as MEP Alex Saliba can address the highest institution of the European Union – the European Parliament – pointing fingers to Spanish and German MEPs for not pushing their local scandals for discussion in the European assembly.

The ‘smell your armpit’ argument of the labour troll suddenly finds its ‘ambassador’ at the European Parliament. That is a perversion of politics as a public service.

All politicians need support to be able to implement vision, but when politics becomes only a matter of fuelling ingrained prejudices, then we seriously need to ask whether those supposed to lead us are making up a good case of biscuits for donkeys.

 

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