14 NOVEMBER 2001
Malta registers good progress but more has to be done in enforcement, problems still pending in environment and agriculture
By Kurt Sansone
The European Union is satisfied with Maltas progress toward accession, however in its regular annual report it points out that in the coming year Malta must bolster its administrative and enforcement capabilities.
The report, which is the third of its kind in the ongoing accession process, was presented yesterday to the Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami and Foreign Minister Joe Borg by EU ambassador Ronald Gallimore and the head of the EU-Malta Enlargement discussion group, Arhi Palosuo.
The report gives a positive outlook of the work that has been done in the past year to align Maltese legislation and structures to those of the EU.
In Mr Gallimores words, "Malta is on track, good progress has been registered but a lot more has to be done."
Both Mr Gallimore and Mr Palosuo stressed that Malta, similar to the other accession countries has to focus more on strengthening its administrative capacity along with enforcement in the coming year.
The EU representatives nonetheless, expressed their conviction that Malta could be ready for the final stage of accession by the end of next year.
Talking to the press after the presentation of the report, Foreign Minister Joe Borg expressed his satisfaction at the EU Commissions conclusions. He described the report as an objective and factual exercise.
When asked whether Maltas internal political division on membership has any bearing on the accession process, Mr Palosuo reiterated the Commissions position that it will continue to negotiate with the government of the day. "We work with the government of Malta and we will continue with our work and if the ratification process is concluded as expected by the end of 2002 it will be up to the government of Malta to decide what to do next," Mr Palosuo said.
Apart from strengthening its administrative and enforcement capabilities, in the coming year Malta will have to conclude the negotiation process on the remaining chapters.
The forthcoming Spanish EU presidency will continue negotiations on taxation, competition and fisheries while new chapters will be opened.
The Taxation chapter has not been closed because of the special arrangement government has requested on the VAT regime. Malta has asked to retain the zero-rate on food, education and medicines. Foreign Minister Joe Borg said that the negotiating team was still waiting for the EUs final position on the request.
As regards the Fisheries chapter no conclusion has yet been reached on the 25-mile exclusion zone requested by government. "The EU has asked us for more details on the request and we are in the process of collecting the information. Once we give them the requested information it will be up to the EU to determine whether we have proved our case or not," Dr Borg added.
On the other hand, the Competition chapter has not been closed because of some differences related to monopolies and State aid. The report specifically states that the State Aid Monitoring Board must be reinforced through training and institution building. Furthermore, government must create an inventory of state aid without which no adequate assessment can be done.
In addition to these semi-concluded chapters, new chapters will be opened and these include agriculture, customs alignment, the environment and regional policy.
The hardest are definitely agriculture and the environment because of the radical overhaul that needs to be undertaken in existing structures. New structures will also have to be created to conform to EU exigencies.
In agriculture, the EU report points out that little progress has been reported over the past year. It recognises that the Rural Development Plan has been commissioned but stresses that the sector still enjoys the protection of import levies. It also makes reference to Maltas limited agriculture land and small internal market.
The environment chapter will also represent a hard nut to crack. Mr Palosuo explicitly said that in this sector Malta will have to show more impetus. The administrative structures have to be bolstered along with adequate enforcement.
Speaking on a general level Mr Palosuo added that all accession countries had administrative capacity problems. "In the next year the EU commission will be working closely with candidate countries to identify the weaknesses and work on them," Mr Palosuo said.
EU ambassador Mr Gallimore stated that the EU is happy with the body of laws that have been passed in Parliament and the various authorities and structures set up over the past year.
He pointed out that the backlog of court cases has been cut down, an issue which was highlighted in last years report. Mr Gallimore added that the countrys finances were also under control and very good progress was registered in the social policy and health and safety fields. He also mentioned the maritime sector and applauded Malta for taking appropriate action after the Erika disaster. "We are satisfied with the efforts done in maritime safety and these need to be pursued further. The EU will follow the changes very closely," Mr Gallimore added.
On the down side, Mr Gallimore stressed the need for Malta to focus more on curbing piracy.
Asked at what stage will the EU assess Maltas administrative capacity, Mr Gallimore stressed that this was an ongoing process. "This is a continuous process but by the end of summer next year the EU will be able to give its final assessment of Maltas preparedness, in time for the end 2002 deadline."