EU funding myth debunked
Quoting the recently-published EU financial report, The Sunday Times revealed that, in the first seven years of EU membership, a grand total of €731 million in EU funds were pumped into our country. This makes an average of more than €100 million for every year of membership. When you deduct Malta’s contribution to the EU Budget over the same period you end up with a whopping net balance of €354 million in favour of Malta.
Allow me to share three observations with you on this news.
The first is that EU membership is not just about EU funds. There are other, even greater, benefits of membership that should be taken into account. Some are not quantifiable.
My favourite, for instance, is EU citizenship, which granted us a new set of rights putting us at par with other fellow EU nationals.
This implies greater rights when we move to other countries but even when we stay at home. And the rights cover diverse areas, ranging from our purchases as consumers to our rights as workers or even our legitimate expectations to a cleaner and healthier environment.
These rights have not just improved our quality of life but have also empowered us to stand up for what is rightfully ours, even if that means challenging our own national authorities.
But there is more.
EU membership has opened our tiny economy to a vast internal market with unlimited horizons. In turn, this has rendered our country more attractive for investment and better able to generate new and better-paid jobs. The evidence is that we are exploiting these opportunities rather well considering the rate at which we have managed to generate new jobs and to keep down unemployment. But we can do even better.
My second observation is that, despite the injection of a massive three-quarters of a billion euros into the country, mostly into our infrastructure, there is no commensurate visibility of the EU as having funded a great part of the cost of these projects. This is, after all, the greatest ever public infrastructure programme in our country’s history.
True, we see the new roads and we also see that something is happening at Magħtab. But we do not see the multi-million euro liquid-waste treatment plants that now account for our clean seas. And, worse, we have to struggle to see any signs denoting these projects as having been co-funded by the EU. And when signs are put up, for instance on the new roads, they are so small and cluttered with text and logos that no one really manages to capture the message. In other countries, bigger boards are used with a simple EU logo denoting that a given project was co-financed by the EU. They keep it simple but effective. Why can’t we do so too?
My third observation is that The Sunday Times report put paid to, once and for all, one of the greatest myths about EU membership peddled by the Labour Party in its anti-membership campaign prior to the referendum. People like myself, who provided facts, were vilified by Labour while billboards were put up telling us that all we stood to get were a meagre one and a half million liri.
That myth has now been debunked.
Now you might think that, seven years on, this is all water under the bridge. Perhaps, but maybe not. For the PL is still peddling myths on EU funding.
Now that its greatest myth has been debunked, it wants to have us believe that we are not using EU funds or that we stand to lose them because of the government’s supposed ineptitude. This was the gist of a parliamentary question recently tabled by my MEP colleague Edward Scicluna to the European Commission. But the Commission quickly put his mind at rest informing him politely that, so far, there is no such concern. On the contrary, it commended Malta for having a “good rate of commitment of the funds and projects and schemes”. And it added that it expected Malta’s use of EU funds to “accelerate in the coming months and years, with Malta reaching the agreed spending targets”.
So much for Labour’s doubts.
Yet, that still leaves one big elephant in the room. This is that the architect of Labour’s anti-EU campaign is now its party leader. I do not recall him admitting that he was wrong or offering an apology for getting us so close to missing out on membership.
Whatever, now that we are in, we may well choose to forgive him for that. But if his judgement were so poor on such an obvious decision as membership of the EU, chances are that if he is Prime Minister in two years’ time his poor judgement will come back to haunt us.
Dr Busuttil is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.