Saturday

24th Feb 2018

Focus

'Pragmatic' Malta to take on eurosceptics

  • "We should stop blaming people who vote for extremist groups and we should focus on their concerns," said Maltese PM Joseph Muscat (l), with Juncker. (Photo: European Commission)

Malta, the smallest EU country, has launched its 6-month presidency of the EU Council on Wednesday (11 January) with an aim of trying to heal the wounds of an EU faced with Brexit and the rise of euroscepticism.

"We don't have delusions of grandeur," said Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat at a press conference in Valletta. But he promised "hard work" to try to mend the "huge disconnect" between European citizens and politicians at national and EU levels.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

During its term at the helm of the EU, Malta will focus on migration, security, the development of the digital single market to boost growth and progress of social inclusion.

In the eyes of the Maltese PM, a social-democrat, all issues are linked when it comes to explaining the crisis of faith the EU is experiencing.

"We should stop blaming people who vote for extremist groups and we should focus on their concerns," he said. "Most of times they are asking the good questions and extremists give the wrong answers."

"I see the limitations of trickle-down approach," he said, pointing out at "the lack of proper distribution of wealth [and] the lack of proper policies that foster economic growth."

He said that EU leaders should put themselves in the place of "people who feel disenfranchised" by the economic crisis and the arrival of new migrants. So far, he noted, political correctness has prevented them from "tackling issues head on".

Maltese officials insist that the EU has been too slow at reacting to the financial and migration crisis, and that it has to show action and pragmatism.

"There is a deficit of credibility because there is a deficit of implementation," the deputy prime minister Louis Grech told journalists.

But on the most controversial issue on its agenda, the reform of the Dublin asylum system, he said that Malta's job would mainly "ensure that there is a convergence" between member states.

'Mutual understanding'

A proposal presented by the European Commission in May last year has been opposed by several member states, in particular over a plan to introduce mandatory relocation of asylum seekers with a €250,000 fine per migrant that a country would refuse to take.

"This is an issue of mutual understanding,” Muscat said, adding that Malta would be "pragmatic" and would listen to opposing countries and their public opinions before proposing a compromise.

He noted Malta, which itself faced mass arrivals several years ago, has been "one of few countries advocating burden-sharing" and said that "solidarity is not a a la carte thing".

He insisted however that EU borders must be strengthened first and that a first step would be for member states to provide resources to the new EU border and coast guard and asylum agency.

After the British vote to leave the EU, the 27 other countries have embarked in a soul-searching effort to give the EU a new purpose.

The effort started at a summit in Bratislava in September and new initiatives should be agreed in Rome at the end of March for the 60th anniversary of the Rome treaty.

'Crucial' summit

In the meantime, Malta will host an intermediate summit on 3 February.

The gathering is of "crucial importance", European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in Valletta on Wednesday, explaining that the EU "is delivering in a better and more performant way than this was the case until now."

"The next 12 months are going to define the future of Europe," Grech said, adding that a lot of what can be achieved will depend on the outcome of the elections in Netherlands, France and Germany.

But the minister said that the EU should "avoid tensions as much as possible" and adopt reforms "within the current structures" instead of embarking in a treaty change process. He noted that the Brexit vote has been a "catalyst" for "a reexamination of the European project, but not a redefinition".

He also warned against the temptation to vote for anti-EU parties.


Even if the system is not perfect, he noted, leaving a structure that has provided stability, security, peace and better living conditions over 60 years would be "unhealthy and counter-productive to EU citizens".

Malta joined the EU in 2004 after only 54 percent of voters backed the accession in a referendum. Now, however, 82 percent of Maltese feel they are EU citizens, compared to an average 67 percent in the EU, according to the latest Eurobarometer figures.

Size of the brain

"The EU has widened our perspective," Vanni Xuereb, the head of the Malta-EU Steering and Action Committee, a public agency, told EUobserver.

"As an island we can feel we are part of something else," he said.

He added however that "Maltese are quite pragmatic when it comes to accession, which is also a warning. That could change when they think are are not benefiting from the EU."

In that sense, he observed, the Maltese population may be a good indicator of the feelings of other Europeans in the coming months.

That is maybe why Malta is starting its first EU presidency with an ambition to have its voice heard.

"Smaller countries can be effective too," its deputy PM Louis Grech said. "The size of the brain cannot be judged by the size of the country."

Malta will try to 'please everyone' on migration

The forthcoming EU presidency will seek compromise on asylum policy and push forward discussions on the control of external borders, Maltese interior minister Carmelo Abela told EUobserver.

Malta aims to 'restore faith' in EU

The Mediterranean island will take the six-month EU presidency on 1 January, with migration and security as main priorities.

Opinion

What to expect from Bulgaria's EU presidency?

Corruption, organised crime, lack of foreign investment and digital skills make Bulgaria an unlikely standard bearer for the EU during its presidency. But perhaps Sofia can pull it off.

EU states loosen grip on tax havens

Finance ministers removed eight entities from the tax havens blacklist, while ruling out more transparency or sanctions - prompting criticism from tax-campaigning NGOs such as Oxfam.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?