09 February 2005

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Time to draw a red line
Will Malta qualify for European Objective 1 funding or not? This is the million dollar question being asked. The answer to this question is of paramount importance, as the issue had underlined the main economic argument for the European referendum.
To this extent, government’s credibility is on the line. There can be little doubt that had government assured people that the funding was in the bag.
Various government spokesmen had varied simply in terms of the actual amount. Figures changed from Lm80 million Lm100 million yearly. The Malta Financial and Business Times, in May 2001 had highlighted its misgivings on the amounts of prospective funding being bandied about and Labour spokesmen were far more sombre and realistic, arguing that funds would always be hard to come by.
Irrespective of the fact that promises made are still unfulfilled, the way forward now is to ensure, with all lobbying powers at our disposal, that the funds do arrive.
In this respect it is augured that all government and the Maltese MEP’s, regardless of their political allegiance, use all means available to argue Malta’s case. The funds are crucial to the economic and social development of the country. Without these funds it is going to be more difficult to improve our infrastructure.
Without such funding, it is also going to be difficult to stem the growing euro-scepticism developing in this country. In all fairness, our funding may have been compromised by our EU entry in tandem with the ten eastern European countries, which have traditionally enjoyed a lower standard of living than we do.
As a result, the funding figures were reduced. Entry at an earlier date may have entrenched our Objective 1 status. This is all history now, however, and any argument that Labour’s freezing of Malta’s EU entry application process is to blame merely smacks, although correct, as party propaganda.
We must face the facts as existent today. We fully back the resolute prime minister, who is drawing the red line and his determination must be matched and, more importantly, transformed into action by his foreign minister. Dr Frendo must leave no stone unturned in lobbying with all and sundry to ensure that government wins the funding argument. Even, if necessary, by threatening to utilise its veto power when approving the next European budget. Europe must be sensitive to our needs. It is encouraging to note that Europe has already shown signs of sensitivity to the issue by introducing an Objective 1A status that caters for the needs of countries such as Malta and Cyprus, whose status has been compromised by the entry of the ten new states. Government, however, is fighting an uphill battle. The European landscape is changing fast. Malta no longer benefits from Romano Prodi consistently enthusiastic over seeing Malta join the Union.
He was Malta’s best friend and his close relations with Dr Fenech Adami paved the way for our entry into Europe. His enthusiasm is not equally shared by the Barroso commission, which now takes our entry for granted and the possibilities of our opting out as exceedingly remote. This leaves us with little room for manoeuvre but to threaten to veto the budget.
This tactic must be used with firmness and resolve. It is the main tool at our disposal for Europe to exercise the necessary sensitivity to Malta’s circumstances. Europe still needs to be persuaded to our argument.
Reaching its objective will go a long way for government to win back the trust of the electorate since government’s reservoir of trust is running dry. It is now time to fight with all political means at our disposal for these funds.
Malta deserves nothing less.

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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