The priorities of the Maltese Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers are being outlined to parliamentary committees by Maltese ministers at a series of meetings taking place in January.
Constitutional affairs: Brexit, lobbyists, political parties
The consequences of Brexit, transparency, and the future challenges for Europe were some of the key subjects that Malta’s Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech and Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds Ian Borg debated with the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 31 January. MEPs quizzed the Presidency on preparations for the various scenarios that might arise once the UK-EU negations have started and on the need to speed up work on boosting transparency in the Council.
Messrs Grech and Borg noted that it was too early to analyze all the possible UK-EU developments, but stressed that the EU’s agenda must not be “derailed” because of Brexit, promising in the meantime to deliver on security, migration and economic issues. They added that Council was ready to take big steps regarding the proposed mandatory register for lobbyists covering all three EU institutions and promised progress on rules on EU funding for political parties.
Environment, public health and food safety: climate change, circular economy, access to medicines
“We all have a duty to protect what we have achieved so far” in the European Union, José Herrera, Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change told the Environment Committee on 2 February. As priorities, he cited climate change, the circular economy (with the waste package), the 2030 sustainable development agenda, and antimicrobial resistance. “We want to be honest brokers, without hidden agendas, without pretentions”, he concluded.
Minister for Health Chris Fearne said that files on the agenda in the past few months should remain on the Presidency’s work programme. However, he proposed to add “new concepts and new ideas”. Work for methods and systems for preventing non-communicable diseases, in particular obesity, will be a priority, along with cross-border cooperation in services for patients suffering from rare diseases. On access to medicines, member states should share more information among themselves, in particular on joint procurement, he said.
Agriculture and rural development: Organics, Omnibus and post-2020 CAP
The Presidency aims to advance negotiations with Council and Commission on the new EU organics law, make progress on the agricultural parts of the so-called Omnibus legislative proposal and launch an in-depth debate on the post-2020 Common Agricultural policy (CAP), Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture Roderick Galdes told Agriculture Committee MEPs on 26 January.
MEPs welcomed the Presidency’s plans to start a debate on the next CAP reform, which, they said, must produce reasonable solutions and simplify farmers’ lives. They also called on the Council to show more flexibility in negotiations on the Organics law and to help Parliament to safeguard EU farmers’ interests in ongoing and future trade talks, inter alia with Mercosur and Japan.
Employment and Social Affairs: workers’ rights, posting of workers, European Accessibility Act
Updating EU rules and protecting workers' rights without hindering the internal market will be the Presidency's focus points, Maltese Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli told the Employment and Social Affairs Committee on 25 January. She advocated a compromise solution for the posting of workers legislation and pledged to push for a modernised concept of work-life balance, thus enabling greater employment of women.
MEPs reminded the Presidency to pay more attention to persistent youth unemployment and moving forward with adoption of the European Accessibility Act, common rules which should remove obstacles to disabled and older citizens wishing to access products, services and jobs anywhere in the EU.
Internal market: E-commerce, services, car approval
The single market, "the EU's greatest asset", is a key priority, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business, Christian Cardona, told Internal Market Committee MEPs on 25 January. Single market initiatives should help to improve consumer trust, he said.
Removing barriers to trade, giving consumers more choice, improving SMEs' access to finance, implementing the Single Market Strategy, Digital Single Market plans, the car type approval proposal and the recently presented services package were among the issues discussed with MEPs. On the Digital Single Market, the Presidency will give priority to the e-commerce package, especially to the geo-blocking proposal, and aims to make rapid progress on the consumer protection regulation, Mr Cardona said.
Industry, energy, research: full digitisation and connectivity, PRIMA, energy supply
Concluding negotiations on wholesale roaming and promoting internet connectivity in local communities are the Presidency’s priorities, Minister for Competitiveness and Digital, Maritime and Services Economy Emmanuel Mallia, told the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy on 25 January. PRIMA, the partnership for research and innovation in the Mediterranean Area, and strengthening research reporting and monitoring obligations are also among the research priorities said Parliamentary Secretary for Research, Innovation, Youth and Sport Chris Agius.
Minister for the Economy and Investment Chris Cardona said that the digitising industry will be pushed up the agenda, while Konrad Mizzi, Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, stressed that concluding the files on security of energy supply and energy efficiency labelling are also priorities.
Development: new development policy, migration, refugees
The Presidency wants to follow up on member states’ commitments at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul last year, get the new European Consensus on Development on track and improve coordinated responses to protracted crises, George Vella, Minister for Foreign Affairs told the Development Committee on 25 January. Migration is a key issue for Malta, which has been at the forefront of refugee crises in the Mediterranean.
Several MEPs voiced concern about the fate of refugees stranded in extreme cold in Europe and called for swift measures to alleviate their suffering. Others stressed that a long-term vision is painfully absent from EU policy on forced displacement and urged EU countries to make better use of local knowledge in analysing and solving problems.
Transport and tourism: ship and aviation safety, digitisation in mobility
The Presidency plans to put maritime transport high on the political agenda. It hopes to conclude negotiations on updating the passenger ship safety rules and make progress with the directive on port facilities for ship-generated waste, said Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Joe Mizzi told the Transport and Tourism Committee on 25 January. Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said the Presidency looks forward to starting negotiations with Parliament on aviation safety and the European Aviation Safety Agency soon and called for the single market to be completed, to benefit the tourism sector.
MEPs quizzed the ministers about the Presidency’s vision on the upcoming road initiatives, how to highlight opportunities in digitisation for mobility how to boost development on environmentally-friendly maritime transport. Finally, they asked how the Presidency intends to make sure that there is fair competition between rail and road transport.
International trade: free trade deals, TTIP, anti-dumping
The Presidency wants to give new momentum to the EU’s free trade deals, but not at the expense of standards, Christian Cardona, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business told the International Trade Committee on 24 January. “There will be no race to the bottom”, he said. Regarding TTIP, the minister said that the EU is ready to resume talks if the US shows willingness to do so. The Presidency is determined to move forward with the long-awaited reform of the EU’s trade defence instruments and its anti-dumping legislation.
Several MEPs suggested that now is the time for Europe to move forward and “take the front seat” in international trade, just as a new US administration is choosing a different path.
Regional development: cohesion policy visibility, “Omnibus”
The great relevance of EU cohesion policy, which is increasingly seen as an investment policy, and the need to simplify procedures and increase the visibility of the results of EU-funded projects were stressed by Parliamentary Secretary for the EU Presidency and EU Funds Ian Borg, on Monday 23 in a debate with Regional Development Committee. Mr Borg said the Maltese Presidency’s two main objectives regarding cohesion policy are to progress with the “Omnibus” legislative proposal and to focus on the political debate on how to make the results of cohesion policy more visible to citizens.
Culture, Education and Sport: high-quality education, audiovisual services, Year of Cultural Heritage
High-quality education for all and an education system that can tackle youth unemployment and skills mismatches are the key priorities of the Maltese Presidency of the Council, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo told the Culture and Education Committee on 24 January.
In the field of culture, progress on the European audiovisual media services and cultural diplomacy files will be the key priorities, said Culture Minister Owen Bonnici. He said he wanted protection against hate speech and protection of minors in online media, the functioning of the country of origin principle, independence and a clearer role for monitoring mechanisms and regulators of the audiovisual media services. Preparing for a European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 is also a key priority.
Foreign Affairs: accession negotiations with Turkey, neighbourhood policy and situation in Libya
The enlargement process negotiations and neighbourhood policy will be at the core of the Maltese Presidency, Foreign Minister George Vella told the Foreign Affairs Committee on 24 January. Several MEPs raised concerns about the situation in Turkey, and some asked that accession negotiations with it be frozen. “Turkey is not only a candidate country but also a key partner of the EU”, Mr Vella underlined. “It is of crucial importance to maintain an open dialogue, not to burn bridges”, he added.
Quizzed on the future of EU-US relation in the light of the recent election of Donald Trump as US President, Mr Vella underlined that transatlantic relations should be maintained and strengthened.
Civil liberties, justice and home affairs: migration and terrorism
Tackling migration and fighting terrorism and radicalization will be the Presidency's first priority, Maltese Home Affairs and National Security Minister Carmelo Abela and Justice, Culture and Local Government Minister Owen Bonnici told Civil Liberties MEPs on 12 January. The Presidency will work to address divergences among national governments and push for more solidarity and responsibility in dealing with migration flows. Mr Abela also said that the deal between Turkey and the EU should be respected.
Several MEPs asked what could be done to ensure that member states deliver on their obligations with regard to refugees. Both ministers acknowledged that the Dublin System needs to be reformed and member states’ commitments respected. Concerning the “smart borders” legislation, the Presidency hopes to have a deal on the new entry/exit system by June 2017.
Legal Affairs: copyright, taxation and family law
The Presidency will press the Council to agree on contracts for digital content by the end of June, and strike a balance between free flow of information and content creators’ rights (copyright), Justice, Culture and Local Government Minister Owen Bonnici and Economy, Investment and Small Business Minister Christian Cardona told Legal Affairs MEPs on 12 January.
MEPs asked what the Presidency intends to do about the proposals on “country by country” reporting by multinational companies for tax purposes and the revision of the Brussels II regulation on family law. The ministers promised that the Presidency would do its utmost to achieve progress on all files on the table.