16 JANUARY 2002
Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Borg took the opportunity while exchanging the traditional greetings with foreign and Maltese ambassadors to highlight last years major developments and Maltas progress to EU membership which, Borg explains, will take on a new focus this year
I would like to welcome you all here today for the final event that marks this years Exchange of New Year's Greetings. In keeping with the tradition started last year we once again have Ambassadors accredited both to, and from, Malta present and I hope that, as was the case last year, this will be a welcome and valuable occasion for you to share views and exchange ideas.
The far-reaching consequences and long-term implications of recent developments on the international scene, such as the introduction of the euro, the continuing fight against terrorism following the horrendous attacks of the 11 September and China's recent membership of the WTO, mean that 2002 is certain to be an important year for the international community and for Malta.
Government's primary foreign policy goal, Maltas membership of the European Union at its next enlargement, will this year take on a new focus. At the European Council in Laeken, Malta was one of the 10 countries identified by the Commission as most likely to be ready for accession at the next enlargement. All signs point to this taking place early in 2004 in time for the candidate countries to be able to participate as member states in the elections to the European Parliament in June 2004.
Malta is therefore working hard to ensure that negotiations on the remaining chapters are concluded during the course of 2002. Thus far, 20 out of the total of 29 chapters of the acquis that are currently open for discussion with the candidates, have been provisionally closed by Malta. Alongside the closure of chapters, we are also working to ensure that the remaining legislative, administrative and financial preparations that are necessary in order to adopt the acquis, are in hand to meet the end of year deadline.
Throughout the process we have been fortunate to have a close relationship with both the Commission services and with the individual member states, both through their representatives here in Malta and through our own representatives in the respective capitals.
We have also benefited from the visits of a number of leading Commission and member state dignitaries over the past year, whereby we have had the opportunity to discuss in an open and frank manner Maltas progress towards accession.
We are certain that the strong support that has been forthcoming from our partners thus far will be maintained and further strengthened over the coming year. This support coupled with our own determination and hard work, leaves us confident that we will successfully meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Yet membership of the Union is not the only area on which Malta is currently focusing its energies. Hand in hand with our goal of joining the EU is our strong resolve to have ever-closer relations with our Mediterranean neighbours. Indeed, during this year, it is our intention to pursue, with strong determination, a vigorous role in the Mediterranean, continually searching for new and better ways in which to consolidate our relations in the region.
To do this we intend to further intensify our active participation in the various regional initiatives that are currently underway. We also hope to work as close partners on a one-to-one basis with our North African and Middle Eastern neighbours. Indeed we have already reached the final stages of a free trade agreement with Tunisia and are planning to commence negotiations on a free trade agreement with Egypt and possibly Jordan and Morocco too.
We also already participate in a number of programmes under the EuroMed partnership that serve to help us build our bilateral relations with partner countries further. We are convinced that the Spanish Presidency of the Union will seek to give new impetus to the EuroMed process that was started in Barcelona in 1995. This process has been held hostage to peace in the Middle East for too long and must find new ways and means to proceed further.
Strong relations with key players in each region are particularly important for Malta as we tend to develop relations with the larger members of a particular region due to the problems of limited resources that Malta faces. Our priority for the coming years, as it has been over the past year, is the conclusion of agreements on the Avoidance of Double Taxation, Investment Guarantees and the Fight against Organised Crime with these and other countries. It is our intention to continue to widen our network of these agreements as far as possible.
The deepening and widening of co-operation in other complementary spheres is also crucial not least for the various direct benefits that they provide to different sectors of society, be this through exchange programmes, scholarships, cultural events or through improved trade opportunities.
During the course of the past year, a large amount of bilateral co-operation has focused on capacity building in connection with Maltas application to join the European Union. This form of co-operation, which we expect to continue and further intensify over the coming year, will serve to ensure Malta is well-prepared to meet the challenges of membership.
Malta has traditionally played an effective role in international fora. We intend to maintain this position as we not only believe in the contribution we have to make, but also in the benefits such a role carries for Malta. The issue of putting forward, contesting and successfully securing representation in certain international or regional fora is also of extreme importance to us as a means of contributing towards the furtherance of the aims of the respective organisations and towards the formulation of decisions that have an effect on Malta.
Indeed in 2001 we have achieved a large measure of success in this field which we hope to sustain over the coming year. The year 2001 has been a demanding one for Malta. However it has also been a rewarding year as we have achieved significant successes and made important strides forward in a number of areas of our foreign relations.
This has not been without the help of all of you present. I would therefore like to conclude this intervention by thanking you for all the hard work you have put in over the past year. I trust that this co-operation will extend well into the years to come, and that as we find assistance from you, you too will find full co-operation from our side.