Time to decide
Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Borg addresses an NSTF
Mini-European Assembly and urges attendants to vote in next Saturdays
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
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 Maltas application for membership, to
negotiate the best membership conditions possible, and to present the
results of those negotiations to the electorate for the Maltese peoples
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Maltas 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.