22 MAY 2002
An eloquent Irishman speaks to the Maltese eurosceptics
Selling the idea of EU membership by bringing over foreigners to speak about the benefits is a sensitive strategy, which may not always go down well with a nation that tends to be over sensitive to what foreigners have to say.
Malta is a proud nation. This nations survival on a barren rock in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea is a living testimonial to this. This reality is entwined with the dependence of the Maltese economy on trade relations with other countries, both to the north and to the south.
This complex scenario is difficult to grasp and many a foreigner has had his tongue bitten off for failing to understand the very fabric that has woven this nation together.
Not the same can be said of Pat Cox, the President of the European Parliament.
His address to the Maltese Parliament yesterday was one of eloquence and inspiration. It was a speech that touched the controversies surrounding the membership debate locally. And hailing from Ireland, an island state with a strong tradition of nationalism, he managed to describe the Maltese fabric with an abundance of polarity.
Pat Cox touched on divorce, abortion, military participation, the influx of foreign workers and national identity, all crucial issues that have characterised the EU debate.
The well-informed Irish gentleman spoke with confidence by drawing on his countrys experience as an applicant country and today as an EU member state.
The prophets of doom profess that Malta is on the periphery of the European continent and will be sucked in by the Brussels centre. But much to the consternation of the bogey-man preachers, the Irishman showed them how this line of thought turned out to be false when Ireland joined the EU 30 years ago.
Today, Ireland remains an island state with a strong national identity despite years of membership. It has prospered into the centre of information technology for American companies wanting to tap the European market, despite being on the periphery of the European continent. Abortion is not on the statute books despite being legal in all EU states and divorce only made it because the Irish wanted it.
Neutrality and military participation are very dear to the Irish and Pat Cox was adamant that no Irish soldier has ever been on a UN or EU mission unless the decision was taken by the Irish government and parliament. There is no reason why Malta should be any different.
Malta in the EU will retain its characteristics just like Ireland has retained its own. The EU will not solve all our problems and it will not be the source of all our problems. It will eventually boil down to our politicians to administer this country and give it a vision.
Membership will be a reality that our proud nation will learn how to tackle and take in its stride.
Just as in the past we learnt how to deal with colonial masters that had their own vision, Malta will also learn how to deal with the EU. But this time the equation will not be one-sided in favour of the coloniser. Malta will be a sovereign country in a union that has prospered, brought peace of mind, and improved the social and environmental standards of each and every member state.