The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

Four years of action

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi Sunday, 6 June 2021, 09:47 Last update: about 12 days ago

In these past four years our country underwent an intense process of modernisation. Important developments can be felt in governance and in our social and physical infrastructure. Integrated in a forward-looking economic plan, strategic management of European funds propelled action which led to meaningful social impact. 

This year, amid an unprecedented global health crisis, government presented the country’s largest ever budget worth €5.9bn especially invested in the resilience of our health system, our social services and widespread support to the most sensitive of economic sectors on the back of a period of sustained growth.

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A budget of this magnitude represents a new way of treating crisis rooted in investment in people, workers and social services rather than in austerity and shortage. An exercise that has enabled economic activity and ensured a decent standard of living for many.

In 2020 alone more than a billion euros were invested in social benefits. The wage supplement, along with other Covid-related measures, resulting from the European instrument to Support to Mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (Sure) have until now amounted to an investment of €450m and counting. These efforts are short-term measures as much as they are a long-term investment in that the workflow of business enterprises is being supported with the long-term health of our society and economy, by preventing a social crisis after the public health crisis.

Social progress is the mark of these four years. Education was central to the important steps our society has made. Through the European Social Fund we addressed early school leaving, a pressing issue for Maltese society which kept families in poverty bereft of opportunities for progress. The second issue of the Youth Guarantee saw thousands of yougsters receiving specialised support and training, enabling them to join the workforce. The tangible results to these efforts were the lowest ever unemployment rates which characterised the pre-Covid period.

These four years will also be remembered for the leap made in our physical infrastructure rendering better air quality and a better quality of life. EU funds were key in delivering the Marsa Junction project – an indispensable tool to eliminate the endemic bottlenecks in the heart of the island. Our well-being rests on increased use of alternative ways of transport. ERDF funds, invested in pedestrian bridges, are helping in the flow of traffic and more importantly encouraging alternative modes of transport like cycling, by making our road system safer and more accessible. The Just Transition Fund will enable us to accelerate the electrification of our road transport sector while the maritime industry is becoming effectively cleaner by means of the shore-to-ship facilities.

The shortage of a secure supply of clean water was a silent tragedy affecting our island. Our investment of €90m in better water supply, including through treated sewage, is an invaluable development for our society.

European funds are key facilitators of both public and private investment, steering society and industry towards a sustainable future. Resilience also depends on a multi-skilled workforce and a diversified and advanced economy, hence, our investment in the country’s digital transformation and the increased training and skilling opportunities for workers across many a sector. Digital hubs may provide an ideal space to conserve and harness innovation in the field, paving the way for newer and cleaner industries.

Looking ahead, the largest allocation of European funds, ever negotiated by Malta since joining the European Union, promises to continue to maintain our pace across many a sector despite the pandemic, as we remain focused on delivering  social and economic development.

 

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi – Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds

at the Office of the Prime Minister

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