20 - 26 June , 2001

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Gothenburg – unity emerges from chaos

From the ashes of violent anti-globalisation protests and what was previously thought to be a potentially disastrous "No" vote from our Irish friends, it now appears that an even more unified and stronger European Union has emerged from Sweden.

In fact, despite the set-back suffered at the hands of the Irish, EU leaders went a step forward from what had been achieved at Nice – by committing themselves to conclude negotiations with candidate countries by the end of next year, with fixed dates and timescales re-established at the conference.

As a testimony to the strength of the EU’s commitment to enlargement, this pledge was made despite the distractions caused by what was undoubtedly the most violent protests that the European council has witnessed to date.

As the Czech prime minister pointed out last week-end, it was encouraging to hear EU representatives speaking of concrete objectives instead of just talking about hope and vision.

And the summit also provided its hosts, Sweden, with a fitting grand finale to the country’s term of EU presidency. Both the country and its Prime Minister, Goran Persson, are eager to extend the frontiers of the European Union.

The EU’s leaders were adamant about brushing aside the Irish fiasco – labelling the EU’s expansion process as "irreversible". That statement had at least brought consolation to those who were biting their nails to the quick with the thought of Malta’s future in the EU being shot down by a mere handful of voters who had bothered to turn out for the Irish referendum.

The current Maltese administration is now riding the crest of the Gothenburg wave. Particularly since Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami has set his sights on closing an additional seven chapters this year, leaving just eight to be negotiated next year, compared with the 23 that will have been closed by this year’s end.

However, when talking about Malta and the EU, the country’s political diversity rarely fails to rear its ugly head.

In a clear message to the Maltese, Romano Prodi told journalists that the only stumbling block for Malta was not one of funds, nor the process of negotiations – rather, a problem of defining Malta’s political will.

In the wake of last week’s meeting, with all its smoke and rubber bullets, many are predicting the demise of summits as we have always known them. Ironically, such violent protests have taken wing at a time when the EU is making a concerted effort to get in touch and to open fruitful dialogue with its grass roots.

Accordingly, the famous strolls of leaders through the streets, such as Tony Blair’s bicycle ride through the streets at the last Amsterdam summit, and photo sessions with smiling civilians might be a thing of the past.

As an example, next month’s G8 summit in Genoa is expected to be a tight affair and is, in fact, expected to be held aboard a warship – far more than a stone’s throw away from the anti-globalisation, anti-capitalist protestors that now routinely turn out to vent their frustrations.

The summits of the future may very well become more a well-executed military operation, with public relations exercises being carried out from within the hull of a war ship or from behind lines of riot police.

But as long as the commitment to enlargement that has been voiced stays the outlook will remain promising, irrespective of the security the summits command.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt