20 MARCH 2002

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Referendum likely for second quarter of 2003

By Kurt Sansone

The signing of the Accession Treaty between Malta and the European Union will take place in March next year along with that of other candidate countries, sources in Brussels told The Malta Financial and Business Times. This date rules out the possibility of the government holding a referendum on the issue in the first three months of 2003.

A spokesman for the Malta-EU Information Centre confirmed that the signing of the Treaty had to take place at the beginning of 2003 but added that the official date has not yet been made public.

After signing the Accession Treaty each candidate country, including the EU member states, have to ratify the treaties in their respective parliaments. Once ratified, the treaties will pave the way for membership in the beginning of 2004, in time for the EU parliamentary elections to be held in June 2004.

The Maltese government, in line with its electoral promise, will, however, have to hold a referendum on the issue before passing on to ratification in Parliament.

Such a scenario makes it very likely that the EU referendum will be held sometime in June next year, six months before the latest possible date for a general election. Unless the general election is held before the signing of the Treaty, which is highly unlikely, the country will have to face another tense round of local elections in March that will give a clear indication of the pulse of the people prior to the two very important polling dates.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Presidency last week announced the setting up of a committee that will start drafting the candidate countries’ Act of Accession to the EU. The committee will hold its first session in Brussels by June this year and will meet every week.

The Spanish Presidency wants to progress with the work as much as possible in order for the drafting of the Act of Accession to be completed during the second half of 2002, under the Danish Presidency, to enable the European Parliament to start examining the text in 2003.

The EU wants to conclude negotiations with candidate countries by the end of 2002 to be able to meet the deadline imposed by the Laeken European Council, which envisages the prospective member states as participants in the European Parliament elections in 2004.

The Committee will be made up of representatives of the Member States, the Commission, the Council’s General Secretariat, the Commission’s Legal Service and teams of lawyers and linguists. It is understood that the committee will shortly recruit three Maltese lawyers, who will be based in Brussels, to assist in the drafting of the Accession Treaty for Malta.

 



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Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
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