2 OCTOBER 2002

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EU membership: the natural and logical next step

Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami addresses the European Policy Centre meeting in Brussels, Entitled ‘Malta’s EU Membership: How and Why’. Dr Fenech Adami insists that, in the broadest sense, EU membership for Malta the natural and logical next step

In less than three months time the European Union promises to complete one of the most complex and significant exercises in which it has been engaged since its creation.

The complexity of the current enlargement arises from its size, duration and very nature. Its significance is enhanced by the fact that it reinforces a far-ranging and formative period of evolution within the Union itself.

While it is often difficult to disentangle the many elements involved in this current phase of European evolution, it is also important to keep in mind some of their distinctive characteristics.

Enlargement constitutes a dimension of the historical process that inspires and underpins the European Union. A precise definition of Europe in geographical terms is not relevant in this regard. Indeed, Jean Monnet’s response to Bismarck’s dismissal of Europe as a geographical notion is that "Europe has never existed … one has genuinely to create Europe". The process is gradual and in many ways unpremeditated. Speaking in a related context, the English poet T. S. Eliot once said "You cannot build a tree; you can only plant it, and care for it, and wait for it to mature".

The events in central and eastern Europe of the late eighties and early nineties provided a major and in most ways unexpected opportunity for the next steps in the creation of Europe. This has formed the basis of the present phase of enlargement. In a parallel though much more tragic way, the events in the Balkans of the mid and late nineties have laid the foundation for future work in the further definition of Europe.

Enlargement forms a key motor for the process of deepening the European Union. The current phase of internal evolution in fact dates back to the mid eighties, when the idea of a single internal market was first given shape. The development of the single market has ushered in the accumulation of competencies by the Union and the institutional and procedural reforms that have accompanied them.

Enlargement has widened and compounded the task, and in some ways has made it more urgent and vital. But other factors have also come into play – on the one hand the internal dynamics of the original design and vision of the European process, while on the other the need for such a dynamic process to absorb and respond to the events taking place around it.

These factors have been at the heart of the series of inter-governmental conferences over the last decade. The challenges that they are tackling go well beyond the demands arising from enlargement. They reside in three critical sets of relations of perennial concern to the Union – the relations among its principal institutions, the relations between its central structures and its citizens, and its relations with the rest of the world.

The division of competencies among three of the Union’s principal institutions – Commission, Council and Parliament – intentionally avoids the clear distinction between executive and legislative functions that is the norm both in nation states and in the more traditional multilateral organs. This responds well to the Union’s nature as a hybrid creation straddling the delicate ground between its inter-governmental and federal vocations.

At the same time, this unusual division of competencies tends to blur the image of the Union as a definable entity in the eyes of both insiders and outsiders. It has ironically also resulted in downgrading the role of the more visibly democratic part of the institutional structure – the European Parliament.

It is also generally recognised that the institutional reforms agreed at Nice, however limited in scope, constitute a necessary element for the closure of the negotiations. The Foreign Ministers of the candidate countries meeting in Warsaw today will be urging our Irish colleagues to keep this point in mind when voting in the coming referendum.

Malta’s application for membership of the Union came well before the current phase of enlargement. We submitted our application in July 1990 when the full impact of the developments in Eastern and Central Europe on the then European Community had still to be digested. Prior to that, a further enlargement, in what one could describe as the more traditional mode, was still necessary. Malta’s application was framed in that mode. We saw our eventual membership, as indeed we still do even now, as a continuation and strengthening of our internal development process, and of our long standing external relations, and not in any way as a radical change from our immediate past.

Over the last twelve years Malta’s membership application has gone through three fairly distinct phases. In the first phase we were aiming to form part of the then next planned enlargement. This resulted in 1995 in the membership of Austria, Finland and Sweden.

At the time, even taking account of existing economic disparities, we felt that we very much belonged to that stage of enlargement. For over twenty years we had enjoyed a close relationship with the European Community through an association agreement signed in 1971. This had underpinned our ever-strengthening economic, political and cultural ties with Europe. By the late eighties we sensed that these ties, and our own internal development, had matured sufficiently to justify membership.

The Commission’s avis on Malta’s application was published in June 1993. It confirmed our assessment that membership was a logical and desirable next step in Malta’s relationship with the European Community. However, the timing of the avis, and the fast track adopted with regard to the other applicant countries except Cyprus pre-empted the possibility of our forming part of the 1995 enlargement.

The second phase in our membership application was a two year period, between 1996 and 1998, when a short-lived new administration in Malta suspended, without withdrawing, our 1990 application. This apparent readiness by the Maltese electorate to tentatively explore possible alternatives to membership can in part be seen as a reaction to the 1995 disappointment.

My administration came back into office late in 1998 on a popular vote that confirmed our long-standing assessment that membership was by far the best, and indeed really viable, option for Malta. Our first act of policy was to reactivate Malta’s membership application. By that time the new accession process had gathered steam. We found that we had a lot of ground to cover in order to catch up, even in respect of candidates which, a couple of years earlier, had been well behind us in the process.

However, the decisions taken at the Luxembourg summit in 1997 provided ample room for catching up. After the preliminaries were completed, relating to the reactivation of our application, we took full opportunity of these provisions to reinsert ourselves fully in the negotiations.

Over the last two and a half years we have completed negotiations on 24 out of the 30 chapters of the acquis. In the very near future we expect that two more chapters, relating to Environment and Competition, will also be provisionally closed. We also hope to soon finalise the Veterinary and Phytosanitary parts of the Agriculture chapter. In the Customs chapter, there is only one residual outstanding item, which is tied to the negotiations under Agriculture. For all intents and purposes negotiations under this chapter can also be considered as completed. In a remaining chapter, Taxation, there remains one issue, relating to VAT zero rating on food and pharmaceuticals, on which we feel that further discussions are required.

Continues on page 19This leaves two final chapters pertaining to the financial dimension of enlargement, agriculture and budget, that need to be decided in the concluding two months of negotiations. The Union itself needs to finalise its Common Positions on these items by October. We also need to finalise a special protocol to deal with the structural constraints faced by Malta’s sister island of Gozo.

It can therefore be seen that, Malta’s accession negotiations are well on track to place us among the group of candidates that will form part of the next enlargement. This has been our clear objective throughout the past thirty months of negotiations. At no moment have we had any doubts or second thoughts regarding this objective.

Neither, for that matter, has the Commission. In successive reports, starting with a revised avis in 1999, the Commission has consistently recognised Malta’s vocation and readiness for early membership. In formal terms, Malta has throughout been seen as conforming with the political and economic criteria for membership defined at the Copenhagen summit in 1993, and with the other obligations of membership as outlined at the Madrid Summit in 1995. We are confident that the next Regular Report that the Commission will be presenting during the first part of October will once again confirm this reality.

Our commitment towards membership has also been continuously underlined and reaffirmed, both in the spirit in which we have conducted our negotiations, as well as in our manifest determination to live up to the responsibilities of membership. There has been some public comment about the tenacity with which we have defended our corner during the negotiations.

I will make no apology for holding tight on what we perceive to be our national interests – always, however, within the framework of the objective to share these interests with those of our prospective partners. Moreover, I will insist that the method and spirit in which we have negotiated fall fully and squarely within the mainstream method and spirit of the Union.

From all sides, a primary objective of the negotations is to ensure the full viability of the new members from day one of their membership. Initial disjunctions between the rights acquired and the obligations imposed by membership therefore need to be smoothed over through transitional or, exceptionally, some other special arrangements.

In common with other candidates, past and present, Malta has therefore sought a number of such arrangements as part of its induction into the Union. By the end of the negotiations, we expect that these arrangements will cover a maximum of twelve chapters. Most of these relate to technical aspects for which Maltese society as a whole, and its economy in particular, need some time to come into step with the full requirements of membership.

A few arrangements respond to Malta’s particular economic and geographical circumstances. This is particularly the case with regard to our requests for safeguards on the free movement of workers, for certain constraints on the acquisition of property, and for the protection of our farming and fishery sectors. We have also argued persuasively on the need to define acceptable conditions under which one of the traditional pastimes of a significant section of the Maltese population, which is hunting, can continue within the letter and spirit of the Union’s acquis in the area of nature protection.

The common element in all that we have sought in the negotiations lies precisely in our intention, expressed from the very outset, that Malta does not aim to stand aside from any of the obligations of membership, but only to ensure that we are in a position to effectively fulfil those obligations. In the many months of intensive negotiations we have found that our special needs can in fact be accommodated, either within the formal provisions of the acquis or in line with precedents already existing within the Union. This underlines one of the key aspects of the Union – that it is a partnership aimed at resolving shared problems, rather than an institution which imposes arbitrary obligations.

The final and most complex test of the partnership dimension of the Union will come in the discussions on the budgetary implications of membership. Malta shares many of the concerns of other candidate countries in the regard. In addition we have concerns of our own. These arise from what we see as the inapplicability to our particular case of the general formulae being proposed by the Commission. I think that I am fairly interpreting the view shared by all candidate countries when I say that the final resolution of the budget issue must emerge from tangible and realistic political commitments, rather than from the application of general and abstract formulae.

Shortly after the conclusion of the accession negotiations, my Government will ask the Maltese electorate to decide in a referendum upon the acceptability or otherwise of the package which has been negotiated. When I undertook to hold such a referendum prior to the last general elections, something that is not formally required under the Maltese constitution, I had clearly in mind that this vote would primarily be on the principle of membership, in full knowledge of the particular conditions following the conclusions of negotiations.

This arises from my conviction that, in its substantial majority, the Maltese electorate deeply shares the view that Malta’s future lies within the European Union. This has been confirmed in the voting patterns of all elections held in Malta over the last two decades, with the exception of the particular circumstances surrounding the 1996 elections. In Malta we may argue among ourselves, as indeed we do, about the timing and the conditions of such membership. However, only a small minority of Maltese will be found to seriously contest its ultimate desirability and inevitability.

My Government is confident that, on the basis of the package we have been negotiating, we have a convincing case to make to the Maltese electorate that the timing is now, and that the conditions are right.

The examination of the acceptability or otherwise of the accession package which has been negotiated will nevertheless have to be conducted within the framework of the considerations regarding the desirability and inveitability of membership.

In the broadest sense, membership of the Union is, for Malta, a natural and logical next step. Our whole history is in many ways part of European history. Our culture is woven into European culture. Our economy, in the areas both of trade and of investment, is intimately linked to the European economy. Our political, judicial and institutional structures, and the principles and expectations that underpin them, originate from the same philosophical and inspirational sources of their European counterparts.

The whole thrust of the European process lies in the direction of creating a stable area of peace and prosperity, based on fundamental principles that promote respect for the individual and partnership among nations. Malta deeply shares the values and aspirations that inspire and maintain this process. We strongly support its objectives, and the community method through which they are pursued.

We believe that we can also bring our own contribution to this process. We see this in particular in the enhanced opportunity which membership creates for us to play an effective role in further promoting Euro Mediterranean cooperation.

Partly because of the nature of the present enlargement, and partly in response to recent developments, the Union is currently giving very serious thought to how to further develop its role in the international arena, at both regional and global levels. We believe that the Mediterrenean dimension of European security and cooperation is a necessary accompaniment to this process. Malta can bring to bear its own special insights and experiences in this regard.

At another level, we see membership of the Union bringing with it an opportunity for us to have a deeper insight and a greater say in economic and political decisions which, whether we are members or not, directly affect our future. The nature of many of the challenges facing the international community clearly calls for collective responses in a whole range of areas, not least those relating to the promotion of security and to the protection of individual rights. The Union provides a coherent and stable framework within which member states can deliberate on the many and complex decisions they have to take in these areas.

Membership of the Union also provides a model and a vehicle for the continuing promotion of our economic and social development. Malta has no natural resources to speak of. Its population of just under 400,000 persons, and its area of just over 300 square kilometres, provide no scope for home grown economies of scale. Its agriculture suffers from severe handicaps related to size, poor quality of soil and limited water availability. Its imports, which are over a quarter higher than its exports, amount to over 100% of its gross domestic product.

Its assets lie in its natural attractions, arising from its climate and history, its political stability, its centrality in the Mediterranean and the adaptability and strong work ethic of its people. Membership of the Union will significantly enhance the potential, which is inherent in this background, both for the provision of services, which include transhipment, ship-repairing, financial services and tourism, as well as for the attraction of that type of foreign investment which is best suited to a small, modern and open economy.

We understand this in a realistic manner, and with our feet firmly on the ground. We realise that while membership opens up vast opportunities in terms of potential, it remains our direct responsibility, at both individual and national levels, to take the action which fully exploits these opportunities.

For us, as no doubt for the other candidates, membership of the Union therefore offers a challenge as much as a promise. We look forward to both.


Copyright © Network Publications Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt