Maltese EU Council presidency: Not business as usual
Malta's EU Council presidency comes at the most unstable and challenging time for Europe, says Marlene Mizzi.
Marlene Mizzi | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
On the 1 January 2017, for the first time since its accession in 2004, Malta assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council. During the presidency, Malta has set an ambitious to-do list to reflect the times in which we are living.
Holding the presidency for first time was always going to be challenging, but having the presidency in such turbulent times, both in Europe and globally, will make Malta's work even more difficult and demanding.
Europe is undergoing drastic changes, which will definitely affect the work of the presidency. I do not think that there was ever a presidency that has had to deal with a list of unexpected ingredients such as the Brexit vote, Trump´s victory in the US elections and the current political scenario with elections to be held in France, Germany and possibly Italy.
In addition, the presidency will need to find a way of uniting deeply divided member states under a single European voice on sensitive issues that affect all European citizens, such as the Brexit negotiations, the revision of the multiannual financial framework, the migration crisis, growing security challenges and finding a strategy to deal with growing European antagonism among citizens.
Therefore, I do not think that it is business as usual for the Maltese presidency. On the contrary, I think that it is a litmus test for Europe, which would put an enormous amount of pressure even on the biggest, most experienced countries in Europe, let alone the smallest EU member state.
The presidency is well aware that the continuing sustainability of the EU needs to be ensured, and that the Union bureaucracy needs to be addressed in order to reconnect with citizens. The way I see it, the EU must put its citizens at the heart of its agenda, not only in the coming six months.
Europe needs to start giving its people a chance by reconnecting to them and acting on their concerns and aspirations. I am happy that the Maltese presidency is taking this important step, which hopefully will be followed by subsequent presidencies.
Top priorities under the Maltese presidency will include migration, the single market, security, social inclusion, Europe's neighbourhoods and in particular the Mediterranean and the maritime industry.
There is an urgent need to solve the refugee crisis. Europe also needs a better investment policy in the field of energy, environment and infrastructure, as well as long-awaited structural reforms to the European economy to engage actively on issues that threaten our society such as social exclusion, poverty and demographic change.
Modernising and deepening the internal market is also among the presidency's key priorities, as well as the development of the digital single market, the mobilisation of private investment, taking forward the upcoming package for services and further enhancing the environment for SMEs.
Furthermore, I hope that the presidency will make progress on important files such as the revised telecoms package, the new copyright initiative, enforcing consumer rights, geoblocking, parcel delivery and Wi-Fi for all.
I would also like to see the Maltese presidency to generate a discussion and a new economic foundation in Europe for digital start-ups and entrepreneurs with a view to bring sustainable growth and jobs to our citizens.
Last but not least, they should end the roaming charges by June 2017, so that citizens can finally stay in touch when traveling across Europe without incurring any additional costs.
All eyes will be on Malta for the next six months. I am convinced that the Maltese presidency through its determination, professionalism and commitment will take centre stage and will prove that it can punch above its weight and deliver its goals in the interest of Europe and its citizens.
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