22 MAY 2002
By Kurt Sansone
While stressing more than once that it is solely Maltas prerogative whether to join the European Union or not, European Parliament President Pat Cox appealed to the country to get its act together and take a binding decision once and for all.
"Whatever sequence you decide to adopt, whether its a referendum first and election after or vice versa, the important thing is that you make up your mind," Mr Cox told journalists during a press briefing held in the afternoon at the European Delegation embassy yesterday.
He continued, "The EU will respect any democratic decision taken by the Maltese people but it cannot accept a situation where the country decides to become a member only to pull out of the Union some months later."
Mr Cox would not elaborate on the direction of the enlargement process when asked what would happen if Ireland rejects the Nice Treaty once again.
"I do not know," he answered frankly. "If the Irish vote No it will open a new political vector in the debate. But it is a bridge that we will cross when we arrive there even though I hope we will not have to cross it."
Mr Cox added that if the Nice Treaty does not pass, a total of five states would be able to become members under the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty.
When asked for his reaction to the Labour Partys position, Mr Cox diplomatically said that he "respectfully disagreed with Dr Sant on the issue."
Speaking earlier in Parliament, Mr Cox dwelt on his home countrys success story as an EU member state drawing striking parallels between Ireland and Malta.
Political observers described the speech as incisive and clear. It showed that Mr Cox was well informed of the membership debate in Malta, touching on sensitive issues such as divorce, abortion, military participation and cultural identity.
Hailing from an island state with an insular and Catholic mentality and overtly conscious of its identity, characteristics that also describe Malta, Mr Cox spoke with confidence about the situation in Malta and addressed the major fears put forward by eurosceptics.
His direct speech and eloquence prompted observers to suggest that his speech should be translated into Maltese and be dispatched to each and every home as part of the pro-EU campaign.
Mr Cox kicked off his speech by describing Irelands experience soon after attaining political independence in 1922. "Ireland remained dependent on Britain until the 1960s. We were locked in a stagnant regional economy in which the export of people through immigration was larger than industrys export potential," Mr Cox said.
But Irelands membership of the EU changed all that. Mr Cox explained that Irelands total exports in 1973, totalled EUR 5 billion, a figure that increased to an impressive EUR 82.5 billion in 2001.
"We now sell goods and services but not our birthright and identity," Mr Cox proudly told parliament adding that membership gave the Irish people a new self-confidence that strengthened their identity.
"Despite 30 years of being members of the EU, today, our culture and identity are in a healthier state than when my country was in a state of stagnation," Mr Cox stressed.
On Malta losing out to Brussels, Mr Cox drew parallels with the debate in Ireland when membership was being considered.
"Sceptics had warned that wealth would shift from Europes peripheries such as Ireland to the centre. But the centre-periphery paradigm turned out to be false, it simply did not work in Ireland because the island prospered immensely."
He then spoke about values and said that Ireland has divorce because the Irish people decided to introduce it. "The European Union played no part in that decision," he stressed, adding that the Irish people have rejected abortion legislation for the third time.
On the issue of neutrality and military participation, another sensitive issue for Malta, Mr Cox emphasised that no single Irish soldier has ever served in a military mission mandated by either the UN or the EU unless approved by the Irish government and parliament.
Mr Cox stressed that the decision whether Malta joins the EU or not rests solely with the Maltese people. "Although I have my personal convictions on what should happen there is no external diktat on the choice to be made. The choice is yours. Our door is open, our hearts are open but the choice remains yours," he concluded his brief speech.