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Maltese problems, European solutions? - Peter Agius

The European People’s Party’s election of Manfred Weber as candidate for European Commission President to replace Jean Claude Juncker is good news for the Maltese people. Should Weber take the commission seat, we will count on a long-standing friendship, his ability to bridge different interests and his known attachment for the priorities of every country, irrespective of its size.

 As a candidate of the Nationalist Party for the next MEP elections, I analyse Weber’s candidature for its relevance to provide solutions to the Maltese.

Since I started campaigning, I have met people from all walks of life, from farmers to entrepreneurs, from civil servants to manual workers. With all of these I discuss the Europe that they expect in their work and their daily life.

There are evidently different needs to be quelled with different sectors, and yet there are concerns which span all sectors of society. There is a widespread feeling that Europe did not act boldly enough on two main issues, firstly with regards to migration, where Malta remains at risk of migratory pressures beyond our capacities, and secondly, with regards to the Maltese government’s deficiencies on good governance and people’s own fundamental rights.

On migration, I expect the next European Commission President to clear the blockage of the Visegrád countries for a European system of solidarity. Recent intelligence reports say that up to 24 million young Africans may be considering the perilous voyage to Europe to escape from political instability, terrorism and famine in their countries. Europe has made small steps forward on migration, we have reinforced border controls and return mechanisms, but Malta still lacks the all-important guarantee of a legally binding migrant distribution mechanism.

We need to revise once and for all the perverse Dublin principle that the country of first entry remains responsible for migrants coming to Europe. The Maltese people also expect Europe to have clear rules on migrant movements and search and rescue responsibility. We cannot depend on Matteo Salvini’s moods on whether it is our responsibility to rescue migrants near Lampedusa nor on Joseph Muscat’s phone calls with Emmanuel Macron to strike weekly deals on distribution up north.

Weber’s possible election to Juncker’s post may also bring hope to those who feel that Juncker’s commission did not act decisively or sufficiently on cases of rule of law and fundamental rights in Malta. 

We cannot expect Europe to solve our problems if we abstain from doing our part ourselves

In this regard I must say that while I share the people’s frustration on cases of intolerance to the freedom of expression or association, with swept off flowers and barricaded memorials impeding tribute to the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and the doubtful handling of money laundering and corruption claims and hidden FIAU reports, I am less convinced that Maltese problems should be solved through European solutions.

As one wise man once said, Europe will not save us from our own shortcomings. If we want to safeguard our European legacy in Malta we must act to bring change through local politics. I must admit, in my knocking of doors I am meeting people who are presently not fully convinced with the Nationalist Party. They see us as still reeling from two mammoth defeats.

My word to these people is that no change will be coming their way unless they are part of it. We cannot expect Europe to solve our problems if we abstain from doing our part ourselves.

I cringe at the idea of Malta passing through the ordeals of Poland and Hungary with the use of Article 7 of the treaty reprimanding a member state for failing to uphold European values. I will do whatever in my competence to stop that from happening, not because it would be unmerited on fact, but because I trust that our democracy is strong enough to save itself from abuse.

Weber’s election also opens an important phase for European democracy. As the people of Malta and the EU will be weighing the political options to choose their representatives in the European Parliament, we will not only be choosing six individuals, we will also be choosing a vision of Europe.

Do we want this Europe to be bolder and stronger in the areas where it can make a difference to our lives? Do we want a Europe, which is a main actor at the international scene, on climate change and the environment as well as on trade?

For Europe to get closer to its people we should simplify its exercise. The European Parliament is proposing that the appointment of the next European Commission President is not a backroom deal between leaders in the European Council but the direct outcome of the European Parliament elections. The lead candidate of the European political party that gets the largest number of MEP seats should be the next Commission president.

Prime Minister Muscat has not yet declared whether he will support this step forward for European democracy or whether he will stick to a backroom deal between leaders in Brussels.

As the lead candidates for the main European Parties become known, we are entitled to know where we stand in this regard. Are we ready to go the full way with European democracy?

Peter Agius is a PN candidate for the European elections, former head of the European Parliament Office and cabinet member of the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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