08 MAY 2002
When a time-frame is a must
Electoral campaigns are known to bring the country to a standstill and with the most important general election since independence looming it is no wonder that this country is slowly grinding to a halt.
There is no getting away from the fact that the next general election holds the key to this countrys future. The choice is clear. Electors have to choose between tying this nations progress to that of a union of countries that is increasingly having an influence on the world stage and staying out hoping that the EU will reciprocate Maltas intention to get as close as possible without shouldering the burdens.
And whichever choice the electorate makes, business will not continue as usual. Over the last 15 years this country has seen its industrial and commercial landscape slowly transform into an open economy exposed to world trends and tragedies. These transformations are expected to accelerate once the foreign policy direction is established, hopefully reaching fruition.
EU membership will pit local industry directly against its European counterparts. But at the same time it will also open up a huge market that could be tapped if entrepreneurs have the right energy and inventiveness to expand beyond our limited shores.
Membership will bring new obligations, rights and commitments, which will definitely create a burden but will also bring Malta in line with the standards of the continent.
On the other hand, non-membership will still necessitate change.
The partnership will possibly give us some preferred trading status with the EU but the circumstances show that if Malta is to have a different agreement then the one it has had with the EU since the 1970s, this country will still have to embody most EU directives.
The partnership option, as yet, remains bleak. Although Labour exponents tell us that this country would have an agreement like those of Iceland and Norway, none of them highlight the obligations Malta would have to carry. Anybody who believes that the partnership option would retain the status quo is naive. Businesses will still have to transform their practices, competition will increase and standards will have to improve. All at a cost and with no say at the negotiating table where decisions are taken.
In this scenario the nation waits with bated breath for the moment of truth to arrive.
And it has never looked so confusing. With no decision yet on whether a referendum would be held on the issue of EU membership, uncertainty is bound to reign supreme. The country is already in election campaign mood and should the Prime Minister state what his intentions are it would not make much of a difference on the political level but it would certainly give businesses a time-frame to be able to plan new investments and take appropriate decisions.
This newspaper has stated clearly that it believes EU membership is the next logical step to take in this countrys historical progress. It is useless postponing membership by some 20 years as Labours partnership option seems to suggest. It is imperative for Malta to form part of the EU at a moment when important decisions are being taken on how best to transform the union. This is a one-off chance, which this country must embrace.
But it would be sheer ignorance if the Nationalist Party were to believe that it could carry the day simply on the basis that EU membership would benefit our children. Times of change instil fear and ignoring the downsides of EU membership would only breed resistance. Peoples worries must be addressed in simple language and not shrugged off. Arrogance will lead nowhere.
But the biggest challenge the Nationalist Party has is to convince an overburdened middle class to entrust it with another term in office, the only way to ensure membership. It is not an easy task indeed.
Over the past four years the tax burden has left its toll on a public that has been asked to make sacrifices. The unfortunate thing is that government needs to do more to control its own expenditure. What we now need is conviction to tackle the issues and though the Labour Opposition is not saying how it intends to control expenditure if elected, the public continues to feel the pinch.
A pinch that might very well prompt people to castigate the party in government even at the expense of losing out on EU membership.
A fresh impetus is required, newer faces, ambitious plans and most importantly concrete action to generate trust and show people that sacrifices have not been make in vain. Unless this is done no amount of rhetoric will be enough to save the day.