29 JANUARY 2003
Matthew Vella reporting Strasbourg
A grim Alsace sky greeted Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami as he arrived at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to address the Assembly as Chair of the Committee of Ministers, in which he sent out strong signals on the probable date of Maltas EU referendum.
Welcomed by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly Peter Schieder and Foreign Minister Joe Borg, Prime Minister Fenech Adami held meetings with the CoE President and Secretary-General William Schwimmer, before addressing the parliamentary assembly.
Most importantly, Dr Fenech Adami took the opportunity as journalists listened in on his meeting with Mr Schwimmer to hint at 15 March, as a likely referendum date. He alluded to a possible dual date with the local council elections being held on the 8 March, but added he could consider postponing the local elections due to such an important date.
Following his address to the Parliamentary Assembly, in answer to an Irish delegate Dr Fenech Adami said the referendum campaign would unfold over the next five weeks, with a Saturday being reserved for the referendum. Both the 8 and 15 March have been the dates toyed by the PM as likely referendum dates.
The Prime Minister also said he would be announcing the actual referendum date on his arrival in Malta today, or tomorrow.
Taking questions from the assembly, Prime Minister Fenech Adami assured the members gathered that participation in the EU dialogue in Malta had produced strong arguments both for membership and against membership at all levels.
"It is amazing how the EU debate has in fact engulfed the whole nation and public debate.
"I am however worried that much emphasis is being placed on the negative effects of EU membership, particularly how this will affect individuals or rather, groups of individuals, rather than what is the better choice for the whole nation.
"I have no doubt that the majority of the Maltese recognise their European identity and the historical connection it enjoys with Europe. It has a sense of belonging with Europe.
"In the coming campaign, I shall be doing my best to stress the national importance of such an issue, and how Malta fared ever since signing an agreement with the then-EEC thirty years ago. The EU has brought jobs and investment to our island and many economic players realise that Maltas economic development is strongly linked to the EU.
Prior to his address, Dr Fenech Adami met with Parliamentary President Mr Schieder, who expressed his faith in Malta, describing it as a country "devoted to the Council of Europe and dedicated to sharing its ideals".
Mr Schieder said Maltas chairmanship of the Assembly represented a double occasion for the Council, having both Dr Fenech Adami as Chair, and also Dr Joe Borg as representative on the Committee of Ministers.