The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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What’s the state of the Union?

Josianne Cutajar Sunday, 18 September 2022, 09:41 Last update: about 8 days ago

This week, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, gave the annual state of the Union address, where she addressed the European Parliament about the challenges being faced by the European Union at this current time. The President of the Commission initiated her message by addressing the elephant in the room - the ongoing war in Ukraine and its effects - and then proceeded to speak about various other current issues.

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The war has affected Europe in many ways. It has made the European population realise that a war on European soil is not a thing of the past. It has also affected our most vulnerable citizens. Whilst the Maltese Government has kept the prices of electricity constant, shielding our people from the international fluctuations in the energy market, which have spiraled since the start of the war, this is not the case elsewhere in the EU.

Against the current reality, President Von Der Leyen announced in her address that the EU should seek to set a limit on the profits of large energy companies. She noted that during these times excessive profits should be shared with the most vulnerable of citizens. This approach is in line with one of the key pillars of the European Union - social justice.

As a European Union we need to learn from past mistakes when it comes to our energy policy. The European Union was wrong in allowing itself to become overdependent on Russia for its gas supplies. It was wrong to rely so much on one country for so much of its needs. What needs to be done in this case is diversification of both energy suppliers as well as of energy sources. Investing in renewables is essential given that it can help reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and energy supplies from third countries. The challenge, in this regard, is how this can be done in a manner that takes into consideration the different specificities of various regions and Member States and that leaves no one behind. Malta, for example, has a specific and small market size and is limited when it comes to investing in certain renewables, aspects which do not apply to other Member States.

More concrete action is also needed in matters relating to migration. In her speech, Ursula von der Leyen stated that Europe’s “determination and drive for solidarity is still missing in our migration debate.” Naturally, such solidarity is paramount when you have thousands risking their lives in search of a better life and Member States at the border like ours bearing the brunt without adequate assistance from others. That is why Malta, along with some other Member States, has been calling for a mandatory responsibility sharing mechanism within the European Union.

The President also spoke about the need of fostering and increasing competitiveness in the Union. Specifically, she mentioned the need to re-skill the European workforce and attract other skilled workers in order to address the shortage of workers in certain economic sectors. This point is one that Malta, having full employment, increasingly finds itself in - including in areas like tourism. Therefore, initiatives which seek to address this challenge are of importance not only for the Union as a whole, but even for Malta and Gozo.

Another part of the speech which I followed with attention was that related to small and medium enterprises, an area I work upon directly at the European Parliament. In characterizing SMEs as Europe's long history of industrial prowess, she stated that red tape and bureaucracy must be cut down so that these companies will be able to not just survive in current circumstances, but also thrive. The revision of the Late Payment Directive and an SME Relief package were among the points of action mentioned.

It goes without saying that the current times are indeed challenging ones and thus we need to step up in the face of adversity. EU citizens will now be expecting that these political statements are translated into concrete actions, actions which ensure that our citizens, especially the most vulnerable, are not the ones to pay the price.

 

Dr Josianne Cutajar is a Member of the European Parliament

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