15 JANUARY 2003
By Matthew Vella
Following his appearance at the PN General Council where he expressed his personal opinion on EU membership, Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association President Winston J Zahra said he would abstain from voting in the council meeting that would be shortly deciding the MHRAs stand on the Maltas EU bid.
At the official launch of the EU decision Time conference yesterday at its premises in Sliema, the MHRA announced that its official stand would be based on information that it had compiled in the last five years, seeking a non-political stand on the issue.
"After five years of collecting information on the EU, attending foreign conferences and commissioned three cost-benefit reports on the Acquis Communautaire, the MHRA will be taking a non-political stand on the EU. The MHRA has also passed on numerous documents to its members to ensure that the necessary information is available to facilitate each individuals decision when the time comes.
"Today we have all the information we need for the council to take a decision. We will not be politicising this issue because we are not interested in the partisan aspect. For us, the EU decision is important for tourism, the nation and for future generations," Mr Zahra said.
Mr Zahra also said the MHRA would be meeting Opposition Leader Dr Alfred Sant and MLP tourism spokesperson Mr Karmenu Vella, to discuss Labours partnership strategy, in order to have a total idea of what is on offer.
Mr Zahra said that the MHRAs important role in the industry and its commitment to its members meant that it would be examining the partnership strategy as well.
"We want to include all possible routes when we shall take our decision. We have obligations to all our members and to evaluate the partnership strategy as well, irrespective of any negotiated packages within both the EU or partnership option."
Mr Zahra said that it owed such a responsibility to its members, of which it represents over 120 hotels and 300 restaurants, 70 per cent and 35 per cent of national establishments respectively.
In a bid to ensure a proper evaluation of the information gathered in the last five years, the 14-person council of the MHRA would only be taking a decision a few days prior to its 4 February conference at the Westin Dragonara Hotel in St Julians. The conference will include a question and answer panel that will be attended by members of the Government and Opposition and other main players in the tourism industry.
Mr Zahra said that the EU Decision Time conference will include a historical synopsis of the MHRAs studies on the EU, to recap and refresh its members minds on the information passed on during the past few years. This will include reports on its meetings with the Hotels, Restaurants and Cafés of Europe (HOTREC) and discussions with its European counterparts. Its past activities also included three national seminars relating to EU accession vis-à-vis food safety, social policy and waste management.
"Secondly, the results of the final three cost-benefit reports on the impact of the EU Acquis Communautaire relating to VAT and the Euro, employment, health and safety, and consumer protection and standards will be presented.
"Finally, the MHRA will take a non-political stand on EU accession based solely on its scientific studies and for the benefit of tourism within the national context. The conference promises to be an exciting conclusion to many years of hard work by the MHRA on this national issue.
"Our industry is the cornerstone of the economy and our decision on EU accession will be critical on the direction our industry takes in future years. This is not a political issue as are as we are concerned, but a major national issue which will affect us and future generations," Mr Zahra said.
The conference, which will open to the entire industry and the public, will also feature presentations from a Spanish and Cypriot hotelier, as well as an address by the President of HOTREC, Joaquim Cabrita Neto.