Burden sharing obviously not working
The burden-sharing principle approved by EU member states in November was "obviously not working", European Commission Vice President Gunther Verheugen said yesterday.
Mr Verheugen added that "as a European citizen, I feel ashamed seeing that bigger and richer member states are not willing to implement the burden-sharing (principle) and really help Malta".
Replying to questions by The Times at a press conference at the end of his whirlwind visit, Mr Verheugen insisted that Malta was not the filter for the rest of Europe and the country was right to expect other EU countries to carry their part of the burden.
Mr Verheugen said he would encourage EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot to table ambitious Commission proposals that would effectively solve the problem and ensure Malta did not have to carry the burden alone.
"If this had to happen in an average German town with 350,000 people, a revolution would start immediately. You must put it into perspective because Malta is a small, densely populated island and is the closest to Africa. I fully share the view of Mr Barrot that burden-sharing must be implemented," he said.
Asked whether he agreed with a recent Labour Party suggestion that Malta should use its veto on a number of issues to drive home the point on its problems on illegal migration, Mr Verheugen replied that "no responsible government would consider this unless it is the last resort".
Mr Verheugen, who was responsible for EU enlargement at a time when Malta was preparing for accession before joining in 2004, is now EU Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry.
At such a difficult time for the world economies, the effect the crisis was having on enterprise and industry was obviously high on the agenda in talks between Mr Verheugen and the Maltese authorities.
The matter was discussed with Finance Minister Tonio Fenech who said the talks focused on finding ways of continuing to support industry in such challenging times.
Mr Fenech said they had also discussed the semi-conductor industry, specifically STMicroelectronics in Malta, and how this industry could be assisted, even to retrain its workers.
He confirmed that the assistance the government was providing to Maltese companies facing difficulties was within the parameters of EU regulations.
Mr Verheugen said the automotive and semi-conductor industries were of strategic importance for Europe, which had to ensure it maintained a strong manufacturing base for these industries in Europe, including Malta.
Central to their discussions, he said, was the future of small- and medium-sized enterprises in the EU and the problems of production and administrative burdens, as well as encouragement for entrepreneurs.
Mr Verheugen said he was keen on visiting Malta for the first time since it joined the EU and noted that, at first sight, nothing had changed.
"When I was last here there were fears Malta would lose its identity but I couldn't see any of this during this visit. It is still Malta; it is the European Malta," he said.
"I am very happy that polarisation is finished and there is now a broad consensus that the EU membership was the right decision for the country and that without the European internal market and without the euro Malta would be in a desperate situation," he added.
Earlier, Mr Verheugen met President Eddie Fenech Adami, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat.
Dr Gonzi said Mr Verheugen was visiting Malta at a challenging time for the country and others around the world and European countries had to help each other overcome the challenges.
He said the visit coincided with Malta's fifth anniversary of EU membership and the first anniversary since the euro's introduction "which was fantastic for us in the present circumstances".
Mr Verheugen said Malta was a positive contributor at an EU level, which showed that influence in the EU did not depend on size but character. He praised Malta for its positive role and thanked the island for being his ally on a number of issues under his portfolio.
Dr Fenech Adami told Mr Verheugen he was approaching the end of his term and was looking forward to it. In turn, Mr Verheugen replied that he too was happy because his term was also reaching an end too.
Referring to a courtesy meeting with Dr Muscat, Mr Verheugen said his meeting was pleasant because Labour was no longer opposing EU membership.