Malta is the smallest member state of the EU and since becoming a member, this is the first time that it will hold the EU Council presidency. Technically, administratively and politically, the task has rightly been seen in Malta as a big challenge. The government has been preparing for a long time and has worked hard to meet it with success.
I certainly hope that its efforts will be rewarded, and that the Maltese political and administrative system will rise to the occasion and deliver a smooth and efficient operation.
The nature of the task is such that if done badly, everybody will notice; while if done well, everybody will take the outcome for granted.
However at present, the political situation in Europe has become increasingly complex. Political and economic uncertainty is prevalent with an apparent gridlock of crisis situations. During Malta’s presidency, the UK will present its formal request to exit the EU. Meanwhile, immigration issues remain in an unstable equilibrium, the threats of terrorism persist, the stand-off with Russia shows little sign of resolution – all this against a background of an economic performance in Europe that leaves much to be desired. The radical change in the US administration will be compounding uncertainties.
The Maltese government has made it clear it wants to be realistic in its approach, both because of the wide and deep complexities of the problems that the EU faces; and because Malta’s reach is obviously constrained by its size.
I fully support this approach and believe that if wisely deployed, it could give more significant results, than can be anticipated at present. The Brexit negotiations for instance, will be extremely complex, inclusive of potential deep cleavages, within both the UK and the EU. Ensuring that messages and positions are clearly read and transmitted will be a vital task in creating a context that allows negotiating give and take during the initial period to develop in good faith. Here, the Maltese presidency could have the opportunity to make a very worthwhile contribution.
On two issues that have been on the agenda for quite a while, and which are vital to Maltese interests, I would be very happy to see the Maltese presidency make a positive impact: the emergence of a European common policy that would bring about order, solidarity and a coherent solution to the immigration crisis; a new emphasis on a European policy towards the Mediterranean space, which beyond immigration, should establish clear lines on energy, trade, investment and development cooperation between the north and south of the Middle Sea.