Prodi said election after referendum was ‘crazy’
European Commission chief Romano Prodi was worried to learn Malta was going to the polls before signing the EU accession treaty on April 16, 2003, former Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami yesterday revealed.
However, according to the architect of Malta’s EU membership, there was never any doubt in his mind that the electorate would confirm the referendum result and hand another electoral win to the Nationalist Party.
“(Romano) Prodi called me soon after the (March 8, 2003) referendum result and asked me point blank whether I was crazy to call an election after the success of the referendum.
“I responded that, although this was a reaction to the Labour Party’s position of refusing to accept the result, it was also a guarantee the electorate would again confirm the PN in government.”
Malta’s presence at the Athens accession treaty was in the balance until the end – the general election was held just four days earlier, and a victory for Labour would have derailed the process.
Speaking to The Times yesterday on his recollections of the EU accession’s historic signing, Dr Fenech Adami said it was the culmination of years of hard work to anchor Malta in the EU.
“It was a big satisfaction not only for me personally, but also for Malta and the party. We had made EU accession our vocation and it was with great pride and satisfaction that we managed to reach that point despite the great opposition we had for our project.
“I remember Guido (de Marco) was so happy. He had insisted with me that he wanted to be present for the ceremony in Athens. I had no problem with that and told him to come join us.”
The treaty was signed by Dr Fenech Adami and then Foreign Minister Joe Borg during a colourful ceremony at the foot of the Acropolis in the presence of the 25 EU heads of government.
Some 200 Maltese joined the festivities in the Greek capital through a special Air Malta charter flight organised specifically for the occasion.
Back home, thousands of Maltese gathered at Ta’ Qali to watch history in the making ‘live’ on giant screens, waving EU and Maltese flags.
Contacted yesterday, former EU Commissioner Joe Borg said April 16, 2003 was the culmination of his political career.
“We had worked so hard for that day to arrive and we were finally there. Before the ceremony started we were taken to a tour of the Acropolis.
“I can tell you no one really paid any attention to the guide dishing out information on Greek history. I was so excited on that day. I felt huge satisfaction.”
Asked whether during the accession process he ever felt Malta would not make it to EU membership, Dr Borg admitted it was a continuous uphill struggle, particularly with the Labour opposition sending divergent messages.
“We managed to win the referendum only due to the objective, but strong information campaign led by Simon Busuttil. I have no doubt on this bearing in mind how Malta was almost always politically divided in two.”
Malta officially joined the EU on May 1, 2004 but the two protagonists were no longer there.
Dr Fenech Adami had stepped down as Prime Minister and was elected President of Malta while Dr Borg was appointed as the country’s first European Commissioner.