Maltese Presidency presents its priorities

On January 18, Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta, presented the priorities of the Maltese Presidency to the European Parliament Plenary .

By Sophie Bolla

20 Jan 2017

The issues of migration, security and corporate tax dominated the debate. Please find below a summary of the discussion.

Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta, congratulated the newly elected President of the European Parliament. He explained that the Presidency will be a fair partner and will work to achieve the results the EU seeks. He then said that it was an emotional moment for him as the last time he was in the European Parliament he was an MEP. In those times he was a member of the first group of MEPs from the new Member States. There was much excitement in the air and throughout Europe. There were concerns about growth and how to protect consumers, how to move Europe forwards. Few could anticipate the crisis which would sacrifice so many jobs or the fact that strong banks would have to be saved with taxpayers’ money. Nobody thought that one Member State would leave the EU. Migration was seen as a Mediterranean problem and not a European problem.

He then noted that the Maltese Presidency has chosen to focus on 6 sectors: 

  • Migration
  • The Single Market
  • Security
  • Social inclusion
  • Europe’s neighbourhood
  • The Maritime sector

Concluding, he stated that Europe means different things for different people. The EU project of the last 60 years has brought to best period in this continent millennial story, the most prosperity and progress. This is why the Presidency’s theme is “Union” as the EU celebrates its 60th year anniversary.

Please click here to access his full speech.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, congratulated the new president of the Parliament. He has known him for decades and he knows he is a convinced European and he is sure that Mr Tajani will exercise his new function with savoir faire and elegance. He then paid homage to Martin Schulz who was a great President of the European Parliament and a great European. Europe owes him a lot.

He then stated that he comes from the smallest founding country of the EU and he is very happy that Malta, the smallest country of the EU, is taking the reins of the Presidency for the first time. Whenever he is in Malta, he noted, he says that that the day Malta became a member of the EU was a very great day for him because Luxembourg was no longer the smallest country of the EU. However, he knows that the European commitment that Malta shows is in no way proportional to its size. Ambition is something that is needed more than ever right now for the economy, the fight against terrorism and the reaction to the UK decision to leave the EU and to prepare the relationship with Donal Trump in the US.  He welcomed what Prime Minister May said yesterday but added that a speech alone cannot launch negotiations. The negotiations will start after the UK trigger article 50 and will last for 2 years. He will do everything to make sure that negotiations will happen according to rules and they yield good results.

He then said that citizens would like Europe to react more rapidly and with greater solidarity to the events of 2016. Quite often Europe ends up going down the route of extremists because they make the EU responsible for all ills. They fool those people who think that if you close in on yourselves that is the way to wave all problems away. We need to show those people who think this is the time to deconstruct Europe that they are wrong, he pointed out. No country will be able to organise the economy on their own, fight terrorism or welcome migrants.

The Maltese Presidency can count on the support of the European Commission to stand together and celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. The EU need to stand united and strengthened to face all the challenges. He has been sorry to see that solidarity is not always forthcoming and for the first time some countries have not applied the decision taken in an area as sensitive as asylum. He pointed out the need to set up a permanent European system for management of migration in a credible and long-term way. He suggested a revision of the Dublin rules to set up a clear system to help countries who have a huge influx of migrants and to create a European agency. He appealed to the European Parliament and the Council to conclude the reform of Dublin under the Maltese Presidency. He added that he would like the new agency to become operational as quickly as possible. Europe must protect its border and have an asylum policy is marked by solidarity. He talked about the amalgam between terrorists and migrants. He said that the EU needs to continue the fight against terrorism and need to check the movement of all people crossing its borders without a visa. He hoped to have the ETIAS proposal become a reality soon.

On economic growth and jobs, he said that the EU needs to come up with real results by doing away with barriers and creating new jobs. The Maltese Presidency supports extending the Digital Single Market and opening up the capital market to SMEs. The EU also needs to continue what it started to benefit as many SMEs as possible. He appealed to the co-legislators to make sure that the investment plan is adopted before the summer.

He added that he was happy that the Presidency is also looking at social affairs. The social dimension is essential for the balance and credibility of the EU project. Social policy must be given the space it deserves specifically by coming up with a basis for social fairness. Defending our European model is key so that we have a system that protects everybody, he said. We have to ensure that we do not leave the weakest by the roadside as we progress.

Concluding, he said that Malta is taking the Presidency at a very important time when the EU has to decide whether it continues or not. We need to look back to the EU founding fathers and steer a steady course, and he knows that Malta with help to do so. He said that he would like to see 2017 be the year where we look forward, otherwise citizens and particularly the young will turn their back on Europe. 

Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) explained that today’s start of the Maltese Presidency shows that a small country is stronger as part of the EU. This is a strong political signal. The priorities of the Maltese are right. On migration, the EPP group has said that they want to ensure that deaths are brought to an end. His request as a MEP is to make sure that what has already been agreed actually happens. We have to end the deadlock on solidarity in Europe, he said, and find the right balance. On security, he said that after every attack, minister meet and they say that there has been no progress in data exchange. Citizens are calling for more Europe, more security. He then noted that soon, the Parliament will look at CETA and he was grateful that a socialist government in Malta is supporting CETA. On the preparation for 2019 elections, he said that some movement is needed in order to make sure the electoral law is advanced. We need to work together and the EPP stands ready, he concluded.  

Maria João Rodrigues (S&D, PT) welcomed the Maltese Presidency. She noted that the Maltese are starting their Presidency in a very challenging context, with Europe being surrounded by many sources of tension and, with the Putin effect on the one hand and the Trump effect on the other, the calls for nationalistic solutions. This is why European unity and solidarity are more important than ever. This should be translated into an ambitious roadmap to be adopted in Rome in March because we need once and for all to assert the European Union as a strong, economic, social, political and democratic power, she said. She added that the EU needs to use the roadmap to reconnect with its citizens. She then said that the S&D group believes that the road map should be an ambitious and progressive. We need to have a roadmap where social Europe is really at the heart making the best of the upcoming European pillar of social rights, she pointed out. It is key to make sure that the growth and jobs strategy will be underpinned by a more powerful investment plan aligned with sustainable development goals. She added that these goals should also inspire the EU development policy because this is the only way to go to the source of the migration wave. Another big test for the Maltese Presidency will be to come up with a real European asylum system. What is happening with refugees so far is shameful. Finally, she called for the EU to align the Community budget to support all these goals and to make sure that Eurozone Member States also have the instruments to implement these objectives. The S&D group is waiting for the Commission White Paper on this.  She also called for a powerful and balanced reform of the Economic and Monetary Union.

Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) noted that Presidencies often judge their success on how many trilogues are completed. However he said that trilogue agreements can give the illusion of action but it is important to ask with each new agreement whether the EU citizens feel safer, more prosperous and more confident. He said that the closeness of the EU with its citizens will not be achieved by legislating every aspect of people’s lives or by being preoccupied with the intrigue of the Brussels bubble but by listening and acting on the big issues facing the EU and by doing less and doing it better. He said that the EU should be taking tough but fair decisions on migration and asylum, cooperating on security, offering protection against those who wish us harm, and solving the problems of the Eurozone while facing the challenges and opportunities of Brexit.  On Brexit, he hoped that that the Presidency sees Brexit as the way to create the basis for a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship between the UK and the EU: a prosperous European Union trading and cooperating with a prosperous United Kingdom. On the specific issue of migration, he hoped the Maltese Presidency will be able to draw a clear distinction between migration and asylum to ensure that the EU delivers a policy that is tough but fair. He also hoped for the EU and the incoming Presidency to develop a single market that delivers less bureaucracy and more choice for consumers, to encourage social inclusion and to develop a neighbourhood policy that does not mean a costly EU army but the ability to take tough decisions on sanctions when they really matter. Concluding, he urged the Maltese Presidency to take the EU in a new direction.

Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) thanked the Maltese Presidency for defending the interest of the European Parliament, noting that it will be even more necessary because of the negotiations of Brexit. He agreed with Mr Kamall who said that this Presidency could be a true turning point. The turning point is already here, he noted, with a US President openly against the European Union and saying that other countries will break away. This is a wake-up call for us to reform the European Union as fast as possible, he argued. A more integrated European Union is needed, he said, for everyone’s geopolitical interests. He then pointed out that the Council will have an important summit in Valletta in February. The coalition between the EPP and ALDE have prepared five concrete points to reform the EU. He said that they could use the method that was used for the Monti report which was a report on the own resources of the EU where the three institutions work together. Let it be an open process, he said, adding that it is time to work together.

Neoklis Sylikiotis (GUE/NGL, CY) congratulated the president on his election. The Maltese Presidency, he said, must manage the deep economic crisis and therefore should not insist on destructive neo-liberal policies and the Stability and Growth Pact. The EU must adopt measures that will help the real economy and social cohesion. The new targets set up by the Commission cannot function because of the framework of neoliberal economy which the EU is in. On the migration crisis, he said that the EU needs to abolish Dublin and needs to have a refugee policy on the basis of solidarity. Europe should not become a fortress and should re-do the Turkey deal. Otherwise, refugees will continue to drown in the Mediterranean. He also stated that the Neighbourhood Policy should stop supporting foreign interventions, should put pressure on Israel to stop occupation and to adopt roadmap for peace. He expected the Malta Presidency to undertake initiatives to put pressure on Turkey about the situation in Cyprus. He took the opportunity to thank President Juncker for his presence at the Peace Conference in Geneva on this topic.

Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE) whished the Maltese Presidency all the best. He noted that it is a difficult time between the Turkish, Russian, Chinese and now American presidents who want to split Europe and an extreme right who wants to go back to the past. One of the Maltese Presidency’s priorities is migration and that is natural. 2016 was the most deadly in the Mediterranean and the reasons behind this migration are very far from having disappeared.  This year tens of thousands of refugees who have come to the EU are stuck in camps that are inhumane. He hoped that Malta would do all it can to mobilise this solidarity. The relocation of refugees has not happened, he pointed out. The EU has to accelerate the agreement and ensure that it becomes the norm. Malta should not be the only one to deal with this problem. On the agreement with Turkey, he said that the idea was to retain and repatriate but what about agreements with Libya between two governments who bellicose. Why did we agree to this type of agreement? On tax justice, he said that it is not even on the list of priorities. Tax competition can only harm the taxpayer. If we do not tackle this, he said, we are going to see huge inequalities and going to lead tax evasion and the rise of nationalism and populism. Malta is a tax haven for multinationals, he argued before asking the Maltese Presidency to advance on the anti-money laundering directive, on public tax declarations from multinationals and on the harmonisation of the tax base for corporate tax. There are a lot of elections coming up in Europe but the Malta Presidency can use the indignation of citizens to lift up some of the blocks in the Council.

Rolandas Paksas (EFDD, LT) said that this is the start of the Maltese presidency and yet another attempt to open a new page of the EU. Today the windows of the instructions are brightly lit but it remains inside these walls. Many millions of people in the EU are just striving to survive. The EU is dealing with a crisis in identity. Our legislative activities are intensive but Brussels is increasingly ignoring national parliaments. He hoped that Malta will formulate new priorities for the EU.  

Marcel De Graaff (ENF, NL) was very happy that the Maltese Presidency considers migration as the main priority of the EU and is in favour of more monitoring of the external borders. However, so far this has meant more efforts to pick up migrants on the coast of Libya and send them to Europe. When we increase the monitoring of external borders, we end up with more migrants. He then said that this mass migration is leading to the collapse of Europe. Member States need to have national borders again to be able to quickly repatriate illegal migrants and restore Europe.

Krisztina Morvai (NI, HU) congratulated the President of the Parliament on his election. She added that Helga Steven was also winner when said that it is possible to be born deaf but still listen to people.  Malta should encourage politicians to listen to EU citizens on topics such as migration and how their lives have been put upside down. She heard stories about how women are now possible victims and they fear possible attacks. Their stories should be incorporated in migration policies. She then noted that Hungary has been a member of the EU for 10 years and the pay-out differential is 10 times with Austria. All Member States in the EU should have equal rights.

David Casa (EPP, MT) said that he was conflicted by this Presidency. He worked hard for Malta to enter in the EU but he is now embarrassed by this administration which is shameless and riddled with corruption. It hindered local press from being present at ministerial briefings. The Panama Papers showed that some ministers had opened offshore accounts in Panama. He is proud to be Maltese and all they have achieved but he is ashamed of this administration.

Alfred Sant (S&D, MT) said that among the objectives that the Maltese Presidency has set, giving attention to the Mediterranean should be welcomed by all. The Mediterranean has recently been relegated as a reference to migration tragedies. Still, he said, it remains a neighbourhood which the EU shares with States which medium and long-term interests will eventually converge with the EU. These interests cover the economy, culture and security matters. Promoting a coherent approach to these countries should be given full priority to the EU. It is essential to show that Europe is not pursuing an agenda of regime change or trying to revise the exploitative past.  He added that it would be a gross mistake for Europe to cherry pick the topics they would like to work on based on their own agendas. Even if the Maltese Presidency only succeeds in achieving its objectives, the efforts would have been well worthwhile, he concluded.   

Bernd Lucke (ECR, DE) said that Europe needs new reforms and this is the Maltese main task. A lot of people in this house agree that a reform is necessary. The economy is the main problem and State debt is part of that. We should have a system for state bankruptcy in the Eurozone. This is because the EU is not able to implement the budgetary terms that are required by the Treaty.

Marielle De Sarnez (ALDE, FR) said that the EU has weaknesses and she is seeing a recurring lack of political will from national governments. The EU has to decide that if it will exist. It is time to move forward in refunding the union and to ensure that within the Eurozone there is tax and social harmonisation. Now is the time to speak with one voice and make the EU voice heard in global diplomacy. Now is the time to think about a true common security and defence policy and to have a common policy on asylum, migration and development. European citizens expect that their leaders are up to the challenges. It is our duty to act and succeed, she concluded.  

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