4 July 2001
Richard Cachia Caruana, last week addressing the Seventh Meeting of the EU Accession Conference, paid particular detail to negotiations on the free movement of persons. The chapter, when completed and coupled with chapters on the free movement of goods and services, further enhances Maltas role as a player in Europes internal market
By Richard Cachia Caruana Chairman, Malta Core Negotiating Group
It has been by all standards a very significant six-month period. The accession negotiations have now moved into their most complex and intensive stage. At the same time, the Gothenburg summit has shown that the final goal is within sight. There is clearly the commitment and determination necessary to ensure the ultimate success of our endeavours.
We are taking up two crucial and difficult Chapters, those relating to the Free Movement of Persons and Justice and Home Affairs. This is the result of painstaking work over several months, infused by that same spirit of commitment and determination which was so evident in Gothenburg.
With the provisional closure of the Chapter on Free Movement of Persons, Malta will be completing negotiations on yet another major facet of the internal market. Together with the chapters which we have already provisionally closed, those dealing with Free Movement of Goods and the Free Movement of Services, this further underlines, that upon accession Malta will be an active participant in the internal market.
The acquis falling under this Chapter will give Maltese citizens, on accession, important new rights regarding residence and the seeking of employment in other member states; the recognition, in other member states, of Maltese qualifications for professional purposes; as well as, significant improvements in the entitlement of Maltese citizens to social security benefits through the co-ordination of social security systems existing in different member states.
However, the discussions on this Chapter, and in particular the aspects relating to free movement of workers, have also touched upon very sensitive issues in the Maltese socio-economic reality. There is in Malta a general, and I may say not surprising, perception that we are a particularly attractive location as a place for work and residence. When coupled with the considerations that our present active working population totals 142,000 persons, and that we have traditionally had a relatively low unemployment rate in Malta, this gives rise to concerns that EU membership could bring in its wake unpredictable high influxes of additional labour beyond the capacity of our market to absorb.
Our objective in tackling this issue was to seek a solution which responded to the legitimate concerns of the Maltese population in this regard and also reflected our full commitment towards membership of the Union. As I have had occasion to explain to this Conference in the past, our wish is not to stand aside from any of the basic commitments of membership, but rather to equip ourselves fully to live up to these commitments.
The solution which has been found in the case of free movement of workers has required patient and detailed negotiations, especially in its final stages. However, we believe that the outcome, in the shape of the safeguard formula which has been worked out, meets all the basic objectives. Malta can therefore start applying, and benefiting from, this part of the acquis from day one of its membership, with the assurance that if any problems arise, it can take appropriate remedial action.
There are a number of aspects relating to the negotiations on this issue, and to the manner of its resolution, which I would like to highlight. What is perhaps the most important aspect in this regard is the manifestation that the accession negotiations can and do take full account of the particular needs and circumstances of a candidate country, once these needs and circumstances are clearly spelled out.
In most of its aspects the accession process is a detailed technical exercise which escapes the interest and attention of most of the populations in both member as well as candidate countries.
It is useful to bring into focus those occasions when the negotiations reach out beyond the technicalities and move into domains of direct and active interest to our citizens. It is even more useful to have the opportunity to point out that such occasions are part of a dynamic process which involves give and take on both sides.
Another aspect of the negotiations on this issue which I would like to underline concerns the fact that new and creative solutions are possible even in the context of such a complex and all encompassing exercise as the enlargement process in which we are engaged.
I believe that none of the candidate countries in previous enlargements have felt the need to seek safeguard measures on free movement of workers as part of its accession process. The fact that a specific and satisfactory response could be generated in this regard says a lot about the nature of the Union we will be joining. It is equally a major source of encouragement for the rest of the negotiations where other issues of importance and sensitivity will be taken up.
The success of a negotiation of this type depends in a significant part upon the commitment, patience and I would say also tenacity, of those directly involved. Over the past few weeks I have personally had occasion to experience, and appreciate, these qualities in our direct interlocutors on this matter. I wish to extend a special word of thanks to the members in the Malta Team, the horizontal point and the relevant services of the Commission, as well as to the representatives of the Presidency and the other member states.
The other part of our agenda today concerns the opening of the Chapter on Justice and Home Affairs. Here again, over the last few months, we have had intensive consultations with the relevant Commission services, to explain the legislative and administrative measures which already exist in Malta, and those which are planned for the very near future, to ensure our full compliance with the acquis.
This Chapter touches upon very sensitive matters relating both to the Union's external borders as well as to its internal management. Malta's aim in the negotiations is to show that we are well equipped to accept the acquis under this Chapter in all its aspects: border control, visa policy, asylum and refugee policy, the fight against corruption and crime and the furtherance of the rule of law in our societies.
We stand ready to become part of the Schengen area as soon as possible
after membership. We are also ready to form part of a Union deeply involved
in furthering the wider international dimension of the rule of law and
co-operation against crime and corruption.
Today's session brings the number of chapters opened for our negotiations to twenty-eight, seventeen of which are now provisionally closed. Eleven new chapters have been opened under the Swedish Presidency and five new chapters closed.
The commitments undertaken in Helsinki, confirmed and amplified in
Feira and Nice, and lately in Gothenburg, regarding the pace and nature
of the accession negotiations, in terms of the principle of differentiation,
and of catch up, have by now been more than fulfilled.