Staying out means losing out
It is becoming increasingly evident for the business sector that the issue of Malta's membership of the European Union is one of joining or of staying out. Irrespective of the position taken by the various institutions representing the business sector, they have nonetheless stated clearly that this is the way their members should view the issue.
The costs, benefits, threats and opportunities of membership are well known. Equally well known are the special concessions Malta has obtained from the EU, some going as far forward as 2010 and even beyond in a couple of instances, and one or two that are permanent. Totally unknown are the concrete benefits and opportunities of staying out, as one may easily deduce what the costs and the threats are.
What is galling is the claim by those opposing membership is that there is no guarantee what would happen beyond the concessions and the transition periods that Malta has managed to negotiate. They claim that there is no guarantee that the other members (because by that time Malta would be a member) of the EU would be sympathetic to Malta's cause.
Yet they want us all to believe that they can negotiate better conditions for Malta outside the EU when there is nothing yet concrete, black on white, except that these negotiations could take up to 10 years, therefore with an EU of at least 27 member states. How sure are they that the 27 EU member states would be sympathetic to Malta's cause?
Let us not forget that today the European Commission and other EU institutions have a centre left bias (Prodi himself is a former Italian prime minister of the centre left coalition), so surely more sympathetic towards countries that have special circumstances, like Malta. The representatives (not those that live in the fringes whose only recognition in life seems to come from the fact they have styled themselves as Euro-sceptics) of these institutions have said, time and time again, that Malta got a very good deal from the EU and any other arrangement with the EU, be it a free trade area, partnership, or something someone still has to invent a slogan for, would always be second best.
In other words, they cannot give us anything better if we opt to stay out of the EU. In this regard, the message has been a consistent one - Malta would lose out by staying out. This is because all other agreements with countries that have chosen to stay out of the EU, or cannot join the EU, are simply not good enough for Malta.
Switzerland has had to accept foreign workers and a provisional tax on bank deposits that it would have to pass on to EU member states in return for the free trade agreement it got from the EU. Norway and Iceland have had to accept to contribute significant sums of money to the EU budget in return for their agreement with the EU. All three countries have had to transpose whole chapters of EU legislation into their national legislation in return for the agreement they got with the EU. Iceland has had to transpose pages of EU legislation into its national legislation on trains when it does not have a single train. No wonder these three countries consistently debate whether they should join the EU and the yes vote is on the increase.
The partnership idea was floated by the EU in response to the claim made by North African countries for a closer cooperation with the EU. These countries may not have to contribute to the EU budget, or to accept into their law book EU legislation, but get little to no funds from the EU budget and have had to accept stringent rules on free trade that would put paid to a number of companies in Malta, if we were to have such an arrangement. That type of arrangement also falls short of Malta's requirements and means very little in concrete terms.
Some may not realise that today we are enjoying certain benefits relating to rules of origin (and therefore allowing Maltese products to enter the EU market duty free) deriving from the Association Agreement signed with the EU in 1970 because at the time it was already recognised that EU membership was a long term goal for Malta. Staying out this time would mean an end to all this because Malta's long term goals would become a totally unknown factor and there would be no justification for the EU to give us any special concessions that it would not have given to other countries.
As if this was not enough, we have recently had the publication of a study by Prof. A. Bayar on the costs and benefits of EU membership and non-membership. The conclusion is a very definite one and should hopefully shock some people into their senses. If Malta were to stay out of the EU, we would have static growth of our economy, while if we join the EU, Malta's economy would grow an additional 5.9 per cent. Malta has had an average growth rate of around four to five per cent in the last years. This would mean that, in the least, we would double our growth rate if we join the EU when compared to what would happen if we stay out of the EU.
Economic trends of the last 20 years prove Prof. Bayar right. Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece all had a GDP per capita similar to ours at the time of joining the EU. They have now left us far behind. Moreover, with the current growth rates in Malta, it would take us something like 75 years to reach the EU average if we decide to stay out of the EU. This means that we need a new impetus and only membership of the EU can give us that sort of impetus.
It is easy to become sceptical of such figures but they are backed by scientific studies. Therefore, before anyone raises their finger, can they please tell us what scientific studies they would have conducted and to put black on white the conditions that would prevail if Malta were not to join the EU? The business sector that invests millions in this country to provide employment and generate wealth deserves nothing less.
This is why I believe that the EU membership issue is reduced to joining or staying out, and staying out would mean losing out for the business sector and the persons it employs.