29 JANUARY 2003

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Louis Buhagiar says MLP should accept a ‘yes’ vote

By Kurt Sansone

Labour MP Louis Buhagiar has provided the answer to the possible scenario where the referendum gets a ‘yes’ majority and a Labour government is elected in the subsequent general election. The former parliamentary secretary believes that a Labour government should then acknowledge the result of the referendum. His comment was buried and went unnoticed in an opinion published in The Times.

Professor Louis Buhagiar said that if the ‘yes’ vote prevails in the referendum it would "make the Labour option more difficult to sustain."

Profs Buhagiar said: "For a variety of reasons, I feel that a Labour government should then acknowledge the result and accept the people’s verdict."

Prof. Buhagiar reiterated that although the partnership option was ideal for Malta, it would be better to have a Labour government running the show if people decided in favour of membership.

He said: "A majority of people are already looking forward to new Labour to solve the mounting problems generated by lassitude and poor administration. They will then look up to it more, in order to negotiate, hard and proper, for them as an active member of the European Union – something the Nationalists have proved to be incapable of doing."

Despite the image of unity the Labour party is trying to portray on the issue of EU membership, Prof. Buhagiar’s article indicates that there are currents within the Labour Party that believe that a referendum result should be respected.

However, the article also indicates that after publishing a document outlining the benefits of the partnership policy as opposed to membership, the Labour Party’s message is still unclear even among its own MPs.

Prof. Louis Buhagiar began his article by saying that an alternative arrangement akin to that adopted by countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein is more in line with Malta’s needs.

Only a week previously during the Super One TV programme Robin Hood, both Alfred Sant and George Vella said that the partnership policy was not like the arrangement enjoyed by Norway. The countries mentioned by Prof. Buhagiar form part of the European Economic Area. If Malta opts to join the EEA it would still have to adopt the vast majority of EU regulations including those concerning free movement of goods and workers. And although Switzerland is not party to the EEA arrangement it still had to accept the principle of free movement of workers in June last year.

Despite quoting extensively from the partnership document released last week by his own party, Prof. Buhagiar made the mistake of describing the partnership policy as a "contractual agreement involving industrial free trade between Malta and the EU."

It is no coincidence that Prof. Buhagiar made reference to ‘industrial free trade’. For years that is how the Labour Party has described its EU policy. But for the first time the latest document completely drops the reference to ‘industrial free trade’ and talks about a fully fledged ‘free trade area’ with special concessions for agriculture.



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