05 MARCH 2003

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Time to decide

Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Borg addresses an NSTF Mini-European Assembly and urges attendants to vote in next Saturday’s referendum not on the basis of our own personal interests or party political beliefs, as the answer will carry enormous repercussions for future generations and for the future of the country.

As you are all no doubt aware on, Saturday 8 March a question of great magnitude shall be put to the Maltese population. The answer to this question – ‘Do you agree that Malta should become a member of the European Union in the enlargement that is to take place on 1 May 2004?’ – is of huge import.
It is an answer that each and every one of us must give on the basis of what we believe is in the national interest and not purely on the basis of our own personal interests or party political beliefs. This is because it is an answer that will carry enormous repercussions for future generations and for the future of this country.
None of us are mere observers to the process that has brought us to this point.
Whether as part of a sectoral interest group, environmental lobby or youth organisation; whether in business, government, the opposition or a member of society in general, the debate about EU membership has loomed large in our daily lives.
The Maltese Government, in September 1998, was given a mandate by the electorate to reactivate Malta’s application for membership, to negotiate the best membership conditions possible, and to present the results of those negotiations to the electorate for the Maltese people’s ultimate decision.
This, the Government has done.
Yet before I delve into any further detail about the results of the accession process, it is perhaps opportune to take a step back and look at the thinking that led Government to pursue this course of action in the first place.
In the midst of a globalised and rapidly changing international environment, Government had to find the best path for Malta that would allow us to realise our aspirations to modernise the way in which we do things and to take our rightful place within the international system.
Government has long held that accession to the Union is the only viable way of achieving these ends. It is Government's conviction that as a country with a long and distinct relationship with the European continent, to accept anything less than membership would deny Malta the opportunity to achieve its fullest potential. It would, for no good reason, deny us the opportunity to form an integral part of a unique and close grouping of like-minded countries, with all the attendant benefits that would accrue. It would deny us the option of having a shared future with so many of the countries with whom we have long-standing historical and cultural ties, with whom we conduct the bulk of our trade and whose decisions within the Union so often affect us directly.
The last four years have seen Government pursue negotiations with the Union with a view to establishing the precise conditions of accession for Malta. These negotiations have therefore focused on securing a package of terms for membership that, while bringing us in line with European norms and standards, remains fully cognisant of the specific attributes of Malta.
Bringing these two elements together, into one complete package, was not easy. However it has been achieved, largely due to the close co-operation between the European Union and our own officials, that emerged during the course of negotiations.
The results of the negotiations speak for themselves.
Anyone who takes the time to go through the many and varied areas of the final negotiated package can see that while the bulk of the acquis could be adopted as it is, certain specific arrangements and transitional periods needed to be concluded in order to cater specifically for Malta's case.
77 of these were in fact negotiated. Seventy-seven arrangements that cover areas as varied as the acquisition of immovable property, the freedom of movement of workers to and from the Union, fisheries, agriculture, the environment, the introduction of certain health and safety regulations and many others. Malta also secured a protocol on abortion and declarations covering neutrality and our sister island Gozo. A financial package which will provide Malta with a net inflow of 194 million euros for the first three years after accession was also concluded, and agreement was reached so that Maltese will become an official language of the Union upon accession.
These results confirm that membership of the Union is suitable for Malta. They confirm that what Government has advocated all along is indeed fact.
Yet, to return to the question that is the subject of this intervention - the pros and cons of membership – I think it is important to focus on the bigger picture of what Malta's membership of the European Union will mean.
Opponents to membership disagree. They urge us to 'do our sums', and to take our decision on the basis of the bottom line at a purely personal level. I too invite people to do their sums - and if they are allowed to do them correctly, I am confident that a very large majority indeed, will find that European Union membership will be significantly beneficial to them personally. Yet even more than that, they will also see that membership will also be of benefit to the nation - to Malta, as a whole.
And if Malta prospers, it is fair to assume that so too will its individual citizens.
Just by looking at what the European Union is today and the process of development that has brought it to this point, is indicative. The European Union exists in the interest of its constituent members. More than that it was designed by its constituent members to prevent the possibility of war re-emerging from the still-smouldering embers of the Second World War.
Due to the inherent success of the project, what originally started out as an economic venture soon took on social, political and cultural dimensions, and, most recently, a monetary dimension too. This natural progression of events also saw the number of members in this regional grouping increase, as more and more saw the benefits that were to be gained from this pooling of national sovereignty and resources. What started as a Coal and Steel Community of six member states is today a vibrant political, social and economic union of fifteen, with ten acceding countries, three candidate countries, and the new applicant Croatia, waiting in the wings for membership.
The Union has also proved itself to be a relevant undertaking in a world where more and more nations are forming into blocs to better pursue their common interests; where transnational issues that affect us all can be better addressed and where decisions can be taken in concert with one another. It is also clear that the Union is a dynamic undertaking, evolving constantly to pre-empt, prepare for and respond to the challenges of today. More than that, the Union also realises that in order to truly achieve the aims of its founding fathers, it must be as inclusive as possible.
The Union can only be as good as its constituent parts.
In this, we see an invaluable opportunity for Malta to play a crucial role in bridging the Euro-Mediterranean divide. This will serve to further our own foreign policy aspirations for the Mediterranean whilst simultaneously contributing to the Euro Mediterranean Process of which we already form part.
It will also give Malta occasion to further our own national development in tandem with so many of our partners in Europe, with whom we already enjoy such close relations.
The implications of Malta’s accession to the Union are truly multifaceted. They impinge on who we are at virtually every level. Opportunities such as this do not come around often.
On the contrary, as I mentioned at the outset, we are at a critical juncture where we must take a decision on what we want for this country, our own future and the future of our children. This is therefore a decision that must be taken primarily in the national interest and not solely on the basis of what you and I may want as individuals.
I augur, therefore, that when the time comes to decide, each and every one of us will stand up and be counted. Each and every one of us will stand up for what we believe in.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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