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Mediterranean Realpolitik

Recently an event took place in Brussels that seems to have gone unnoticed by the local or foreign media maybe due to the end of summer last minute holidays. The first meeting of the newly set up committees of the Euro-Med Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) took place in Brussels on September 21-22. This event opens a new chapter in the Barcelona process for the Mediterranean and Europe. It also opens multiple horizons for Malta to work in, both as a new EU member state and as a member of the countries of the Mediterranean Sea.

We can play a very important role here in implementing the EU's neighbourhood policy with regard to our own patch through the Barcelona process set up in the 1990s and geared to bring together culturally, economically and politically the countries of the EU and the Med and augment peace in the EU's back or front yard, whichever way one looks at it.

Malta is strategically placed to play an important part in this role but we must not run away with the idea that we are the only ones placed to carry out this job nor that we have a sole right to intervene on behalf of others. This is a process that must treat all partners as equal. Truly, one must observe with hindsight that, had we failed to become EU members, our role in this process of essential solidarity at its best would have been relegated to one of a lesser influence at best. There was the real danger that Malta would have been well placed to act as a "bridge" between the North and South of these White shores but, as a colleague once remarked, we could be the only ones standing on this "bridge". Now, as it has turned out, Malta can play its proper role within the European and Mediterranean political context as a fully Mediterranean and fully European country.

The people that have been nominated by our national Parliament to sit on the Euro-Med Assembly are Mario Galea, George Vella and myself. We have also agreed among ourselves which committees to sit on. Mr Galea will sit on the cultural committee of which we have one of the vice-presidencies.

Dr Vella will sit on the political affairs committee and I will sit on the economic and social affairs committee. Dr Vella and I have agreed to alternate on these last two committees after a stint of two years.

These committees are composed of 25 parliamentary representatives from all countries of the EU by right plus 15 members of the European Parliament (EP), among whom are two Maltese MEPs - Simon Busuttil and Louis Grech - plus 40 members from the Med partner countries. So from a total of 80 members, Malta is represented by five members. Had we opted to stay out of the EU, we would only have had three!

The agreed speaker of this consultative assembly is Ahmed Fathi Sorour, the Speaker of the Egyptian National Assembly. After one year the post will alternate between the Speakers of the EP, the Tunisian National Assembly and the Hellenic Assembly for a year each for the whole duration of EMPA which runs for four years.

The introductory meetings went well and all committees presidencies and vice-presidencies were elected as agreed beforehand except in the political affairs committee where only the chairman from the EP was elected. There was previous agreement that one vice-presidency had to go to Israel and one to Palestine. Unfortunately, lack of maturity, not witnessed in the other committee meetings, led to the decision being postponed to the next committee meeting as some Arab countries did not wish Israel to hold the vice-presidency!

If EMPA is to succeed, it is imperative that agreements reached at the institutional level are not reneged upon as otherwise we will sink into a quagmire. In these things it is essential to seek what unites us and not the things that separate us! There is much to say in favour and against each country in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but all agree that all wish to see the end of the terror and bloodshed.

Institutional dialogue buffered by the presence of other EMPA countries should aim at being the light forward in this deadlock. That is why it is important for all countries to take this initiative seriously. Some countries, such as Ireland, did not even bother to nominate the person to occupy the vice-presidency in the economic and social affairs committee. This attitude should not be allowed to pervade the milieu of these meetings.

EMPA is a consultative assembly similar to that which already exists in Europe in the form of the Council of Europe (CoE) and it would be wise for EMPA to follow many of the initiatives and workings of this august institution without having to re-invent the wheel of inter-parliamentary supernational assemblies which are an important modern form of political evolution aimed at confidence and democracy building measures in all countries involved.

It was a breath of fresh air to find that the official languages of EMPA are all the official languages of the EU plus Arabic, Hebrew and Turkish. The working languages will be French, English and Arabic.

It is interesting that EMPA's first meeting has coincided with the impending position of the EU on Turkey's application to join the EU. I disagree completely with those who oppose the accession of Turkey for religious or cultural reasons. These should be used to slowly augment the EU's own culture not conflict with it!

Dr Asciak is a government member of Parliament.

michael.asciak@gov.mt

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