The European Union is at a political crossroads and the Maltese EU Council presidency will be leading it through turbulent times. Euroscepticism is on the rise, and 2017 will see two key elections and the start of the Brexit negotiations. To say that Malta has a big task ahead is an understatement.
However, I am confident the Maltese presidency will be able to steer Europe so that it comes out stronger. Malta needs to be pragmatic, ambitious and focused to ensure leadership, and I am sure that Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his team will succeed.
I believe that Malta recognises the crucial issues that are currently dividing Europe, including migration, social inequality, security, gender inequality, unemployment and poverty – all important issues that have been given weight in the Maltese presidency’s priorities.
Focusing on the Mediterranean has also been listed as a priority for Malta. This is a much welcomed addition to the list, as the situation in Libya worsens and the instability in the region continues to grow. Considering our proximity to Libya, Malta is well placed to give utmost importance to this critical region, as it recognises that there can be no security in Europe without security in the Mediterranean region.
This, together with further international engagement through effective diplomacy and a greater focus on security, may help to try and qualm the fears of European citizens who continue to look at how things are developing beyond our borders and are concerned about the impact that this can have on their daily lives.
Citizens are worried about the growing security threats to Europe. 2016 was characterised by horrific terror attacks which left hundreds of people dead and injured, and this remains a very vivid memory in people’s minds. The Maltese presidency will focus on continuing e¬ orts to combat terrorism through cross-border collaboration and the strengthening of existing tools to effectively target terrorism and organised crime.
Priorities include the enhancement of databases used by national law enforcement and border management authorities, the continued e¬ orts on the fight against terrorist financing and further negotiation on the anti-money laundering directive.
Malta has also established that it intends to work on achieving significant progress on initiatives aimed at better managing the Union’s external borders and strengthening the governance of Eurojust.
This will include the establishment of an entry and exit system for third country nationals and the creation of an EU travel information and authorisation system (ETIAS) to help bolster internal security.
However, none of this can materialise without the collaboration of the European Parliament and European Commission. Essentially, proper dialogue, understanding and effective compromise has always been the key to success when it comes to European policy, and I am more than certain that the Maltese presidency will ensure that this is respected, particularly when it comes to negotiating with the Parliament and Commission.
Malta recognises the importance of these two institutions. As guardians of the EU, I believe that the Commission will work towards instilling European principles into legislation at such a crucial time for our continent, and I am sure that Malta is ready to work within this framework.
At the same time, the Maltese presidency must also recognise the very important role of the Parliament when it comes to representing the interests of European citizens.
Having one of the highest voluntary voting rates in the world, Malta will continue putting the will of the people as the most essential element in its policies. So, I expect no less, when it comes to European legislation and I am certain that the Maltese presidency will protect this essential value.
To conclude, I am looking forward to the Maltese presidency, that will help set the pace for both the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead. I believe that Malta will not only help steer Europe in the direction of better economic growth, through its own model which has generated some of the highest employment rates in Europe, but will also look at strengthening the social aspects of Europe.
All in all, I want to see a progressive presidency which can make a difference in the lives of our citizens.