Full text 
Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 5 April 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

6. Formal sitting – Malta

  President. Mr President of the Republic of Malta, it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the European Parliament today and to offer you the opportunity to speak to its Members, who have been discussing your country at length over recent days.

You are here today as a Head of State, but we are well aware of your long-standing commitment to European integration, as Prime Minister of your country, for many years — the years of Malta’s journey towards the Union.

Almost three years ago you signed the Accession Treaty, which was the culmination of many years and great efforts leading to Malta becoming a member of the European Union.

It is a very important sign of the consensus that exists today in Malta with regard to European integration the fact that last July, you, your country, your Kamra tad-Deputati — Malta’s House of Representatives — ratified the Constitutional Treaty unanimously, and that you did so after others had rejected it, is a very important sign of the consensus that exists today in Malta with regard to European integration.


In doing so, you sent a very clear message at a difficult time for the Union and you put an end to the political divisions that had characterised the debate on Europe in your country.

Your presence here in this Chamber reminds us of something very important: European enlargement has been looking to the East for a long time and now Malta, in the South, is reminding us of our Mediterranean vocation and the need to reinforce our dialogue with the countries of the Mediterranean basin.

Your country is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and has always been at the centre of policies relating to Europe’s southern borders. Relations with the countries of the South today are the main geo-political challenge facing Europe and your country in particular, which is on the front line in this encounter; on the front line in terms of the arrival of many human beings who want to come to Europe, often risking their lives, because they see us as a new Eldorado, whose standard of living acts as a magnet to people suffering the most extreme forms of poverty.

We are therefore aware that great numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants are currently reaching Malta’s shores. We have been discussing this issue here. We have listened to the report drawn up by a delegation from the European Parliament that has had the opportunity to visit the camps. They illustrate the most important challenge facing Europe in terms of defending and protecting human rights and building better relations with its neighbours in the South.

In these special circumstances, Mr President, your visit is very welcome and Parliament therefore has a great interest in hearing what you have to say to us.

Thank you for being here with us. You have the floor.



  Edward Fenech-Adami, President of the Republic of Malta. (MT) Mr President, honourable Members of the European Parliament, it is a pleasure as well as an honour for me to address your institution.

As a representative of one of the countries that joined the European Union in 2004, I bring with me recent experience of the meaning of enlargement, both in terms of what a country goes through in preparing for membership of the European Union and in terms of the impact of membership on a new Member State.

My country considers membership of the European Union as a natural return to our home in Europe, where we belong. We are proud to be part of the family of nations that forms the European Union, with all its spiritual, cultural and humanistic heritage.

Our journey towards membership was not easy. We had a long and difficult debate leading up to the point, three years ago, when the Maltese people made a clear and sovereign decision in favour of membership by means of a referendum and then of a general election. This lively debate gave us the opportunity openly and freely to discuss the merits and dangers of membership, while we scrutinised the possible impact of membership not only in economic terms but also in political and social terms. In this sense, it was an exercise through which we brought Europe closer to the people, and it is an exercise with which we should continue.

The preparations for membership were a burden on those countries that joined during the last enlargement. It is true that no enlargement on such a scale had ever previously taken place, and never before had candidate countries been asked to implement such huge reforms as part of their preparations for membership. I wish to congratulate all the new Member States of the European Union for having completed such a difficult process. I also want in the same way to congratulate the European Union itself on the way it acted as a hugely effective catalyst in encouraging those countries to adopt the reforms.

We often speak of the pessimism that gripped Europe following the two referenda that took place last year and in which the European Constitutional Treaty was rejected. We fail, however, fully to recognise the European Union’s enormous success in absorbing the new countries so naturally.

Not only was 2005 not an ‘annus horribilis’ for Europe, as some said it was. Rather, it was a great success for Europe, for it showed that Europe was capable of facing the challenge of the greatest enlargement in its history. We often forget now that enlargement actually took place less than two years ago.

That does not mean that life is easy after enlargement. On the contrary, it is as difficult for the economy as much as for society to adjust to the reality of membership. That adjustment requires leaders to take difficult decisions, which are often unpopular. In fact, it is necessary for a country to take these decisions, whether or not it joins the European Union. Membership of the European Union simply makes these decisions more real and more exacting, as well as inevitable.

What is certainly wrong is for us to blame Europe for reforms that are unpopular but that, in reality, are the result of decisions that every responsible government must take. It is a mistake for governments to blame Europe for these difficult decisions and then to take all the credit for the benefits.

Mr President, I also wish to share my thoughts on a number of other issues with you.

I shall start with a few reflections on the European Constitutional Treaty.

We have to accept that there were shortcomings in the way that the Constitutional project was presented, even if the difficulties concerned were really more a matter of form than of substance.

To new Member States, the Constitutional project seemed premature and unduly rushed, for example. The aspect of timing was a legitimate concern. Indeed, countries preparing themselves painfully for membership viewed the prospect of a change to the rules of the Treaty as one might a change to the rules of a race just when the finishing line is in sight.

I know that the Constitutional Treaty was supposed to speed up decision-making by the Union of twenty-seven, but the citizens of some of the Member States clearly viewed it differently. The Union that they had grown up in was altered by the 1995 enlargement and even more by the 2004 one, and in the light of globalisation the Constitutional project appeared to entail never-ending change.

In retrospect, therefore, we can see that we might have been wiser to have given this important project more time and waited not only until the ten new Member States had settled in but also until all twenty-five members had had time to adjust to the new realities of the European Union.

Nevertheless, the issue remains of how to escape from the present impasse.

It goes without saying that the wishes expressed by the people of the two countries that did not accept the Constitutional Treaty have to be respected, but the same could be said of the decisions of the fourteen countries that ratified it. In my country, for example, the Constitutional Treaty was adopted by our national Parliament unanimously, and thus our commitment to membership became a foregone conclusion and there was a clear-cut end to our divisions.

Now is the time to engage in debate and to share our opinions about the possible scenarios we have before us. One scenario is to stick to the commitment made by the signatory Heads of State or Government to try to find a solution within the European Council if four-fifths of the Member States ratify the Constitutional Treaty and one or more Member States have difficulty doing so. This would make it necessary to continue with the ratification procedure. In that way, it would be possible for the agreed process to continue with a view to our deciding afterwards how to proceed.

Another scenario could include using the first two sections of the Constitutional Treaty to draft a ‘European Charter’. This could offer Europeans a clear and concise document with which they could more easily identify. The other section of the Constitutional Treaty may be considered as having already to a large extent been ratified by the existing Treaties.

Another scenario could include strengthening the protocol concerning the role of the national parliaments. Specifically, the latter’s consultative role in relation to the European project could be extended.

Naturally, there are other options that could be considered, and this period of reflection exists to enable us to do just that. Let us not waste it.

Mr President, I turn now to the subject of political leadership in Europe. We often speak of the lack of such leadership. This is not the result of a lack of initiatives, and definitely not of European initiatives. If anything, it may be the result of a lack of coherence between initiatives, for how can we expect to have political leadership if some of the initiatives do not hang together?

What sort of coherence do we have when, on the one hand, we insist on solidarity and, on the other, fail to make the necessary financial resources available? What coherence do we have if, on the one hand, we remove borders and, on the other, create obstacles? What coherence do we have if we call for a collective effort but then allow countries to face difficulties on their own?

I do not think that a lack of political leadership can be blamed on the Community’s individual institutions, whose initiatives and perseverance speak for themselves. Indeed, any lack of confidence in these institutions should be addressed.

Being able to inspire confidence is not like having a particular talent. It is not something with which we are born, but something that we have to earn. We thus need to ask ourselves what we can do to win back people’s confidence in the European Union and its institutions.

We can do this by once more developing a bond with the people, and in this connection I would praise the work of the Commission which, through Plan D, has taken on the difficult task of bridging the gap between the EU and its citizens. As an institution elected directly at a European level, the European Parliament is in an ideal position to support the work of the Commission. It is not more words that are needed in order to form close ties with our citizens. It is a question of listening more and, if Europe communicates more effectively, it will be in a better position to reflect the aspirations of Europeans and to produce results in all areas of concern to them.

To strengthen confidence, we must not only communicate better but also be more efficient in the sectors to which the European Union is already committed. We can also build confidence by showing that the European Union is willing and able to engage in new common initiatives in sectors where we face new challenges that cannot be tackled by individual countries on their own. We have constantly to ensure that the European Union provides more and more value for its Member States and citizens.

More importantly, however, we can increase confidence in the EU by showing that, when adopting policies, taking decisions and acting both internally and externally, the European Union permits the expression of reason. By this, I mean that it consistently reveals a sense of balance and justice in its political development, in its decision-making and also in its dealings with other countries around the world.

In this regard, there is enough evidence to make me feel optimistic that the Union really can win back people’s confidence, as it is evidently prepared to be on the side of reason. Let me cite a few examples:

Because I come from Malta, I am also an observer of the way in which the European Union tries to find a balance between the interests of large countries and those of small ones. I have always been convinced that, for the European Union, what counts is not the size of the country you hail from, but the strength of your ideas and the clarity of your vision. Naturally, size also matters. The European Union is, however, unique in the way it develops a model for leadership that balances the interests of large and small countries and often combines these interests in a common interest.

Due note should be taken of this particular value conferred by the Union. It is a virtue that makes Europe what it is: rich in diversity and fully respectful of its Members’ obvious differences. It may also explain why small countries feel strong ties to the European project and, specifically, to the Community method.

The European Union increases the influence of small countries. It strengthens their identity and, especially, their linguistic identity, and it really opens up to them the wide horizons of the rest of Europe and the world.

The European Parliament should also continue to develop this balance and to take account of the particular interests of the small states. The European Union cannot and should not be a directorate of large countries.

The Services Directive is another example of how the European institutions stand out as the voice of reason. I praise the work of this Parliament in drafting a compromise on such an important initiative. The widespread approval enjoyed by the European Council is also a valid testimony to your work. Now that a functional compromise has been found, it is time for the legislative process to be concluded quickly so that Europeans might reap the real benefits of the internal services market.

Similarly, the initiative in favour of a common energy policy to meet the huge challenge of obtaining a reliable energy supply is another desirable development in connection with which the Commission should be applauded and supported. It is such initiatives that show that Europe really deserves people’s confidence.

However, there are other challenges to which Europe responded too slowly and in relation to which there is always an ever-increasing need for action at European level. In these sectors, we have to do more work to permit the expression of reason, to achieve a fair balance and thus to increase people’s confidence in Europe.

I feel that the work of the European Commission on developing a maritime policy is of particular importance because it is aimed at creating an intrinsic maritime advantage for Europe as a main item on its agenda. It is not just because I come from an old maritime nation that I state without hesitation that Europe’s maritime heritage is not being utilised enough at European level. We need to adopt a holistic attitude. We should not let short-term interests in certain sectors deflect us from the progressive view we take of maritime issues as a whole. We should strive to lead the maritime world rather than try to create a privileged space within it.

We should win the confidence of people not only within the Union but also outside it, showing also that we are capable of increasing their confidence in us through acting justly. Our Euro-Mediterranean policy is a clear example of this. The complexity of this region, which we share with our neighbours, and its intrinsic connection to the peace process in the Middle East require us, much more than ever before, to be the voice of reason. The recent incidents following the publication of certain cartoons unfortunately proved to be a step backwards in this regard. These events do, however, give us the opportunity to rebuild confidence even at this level.

Another challenge comes from the obvious but inevitable consequences of globalisation. The answer to this challenge cannot be found in protectionism or in putting aside what has been attained so far. There has to be a fair balance between the inevitable consequences of free trade, on the one hand, and the affirmation of the main values of Europe, and not least our social model, on the other. It is true that it is not easy to find such a balance. However we cannot forget that it is Europe’s sense of balance and reason that distinguishes it from the other actors in the international arena.

Another challenge, and one that is more visible on the human level, is the challenge of illegal immigration. Some days ago, a delegation from your institution visited my country as part of Parliament’s current efforts to visit countries within and outside Europe in order to examine the extent of the challenge of illegal immigration. This is a problem that, at the moment, places a heavy burden on the ability of a number of Member States, and not least of my own country, to cope with the seemingly endless influx of people coming mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.

As your delegation was able to see in talking to immigrants and those seeking asylum, the problem is both real and urgent. On the one hand, the Mediterranean faces a humanitarian disaster in which hundreds of people die while trying to reach Europe, while thousands more live in uncertainty and in difficult conditions after having achieved their aim. At the same time, the countries receiving a heavy influx of immigrants see their capabilities and resources stretched beyond their limits.

Clearly, this is not a problem for Malta alone or for any other country alone. It is a common challenge requiring a collective effort. However, I must emphasise that Malta’s problem is more acute because Malta is the most densely populated Member State. Europe urgently needs an immigration policy offering a more practical solution to this problem in all its complexity, a solution offering a typically European solidarity with the people involved in this drama and with the countries of origin, but also with those countries that constitute immigrants’ introduction to Europe and that do not have the means of addressing this problem on their own.

I therefore thank the European Parliament and the members of the delegation that came to Malta for having placed this item on Parliament’s agenda and for having made our country’s call for urgent action heard.

If we want to increase people’s confidence in us, we have to show that we are responding effectively to the interests of the people and, to do this, we need to acknowledge the mood of the people. Political leaders should not follow, but lead, the people. They should not, however, move forward with too much haste. Otherwise, they will leave the people behind and be cut off from the realities of the world. Here, too, a balance has to be found.

There are a number of values that distinguish Europe from other continents and the European Union from other projects in the world aimed at regional integration. Europe is already distinguished by its full commitment to the values of peace, tolerance, human rights and solidarity. The European Union is becoming more and more conspicuous as the voice of reason among its neighbours and in the world.

For Europe to be the voice of reason, we need to go beyond the bounds of national egoism and work together for our common good. We must continue to uphold this value in the action we take both among ourselves and with other countries. This is the Europe that people expect of us and the Europe that they are prepared to trust.

Thank you.


  President. Thank you very much for your words, Mr President.

I am sure that your presence here will have given all of the Members a better understanding of your country’s difficulties.

Thank you for your words of praise for the European Parliament's work.

I also hope that the alarm sounded by our Members on visiting your country has been heard by all of the people responsible and that both your government and the Union's institutions will do what they can effectively to ensure that the admission policy in Europe shows greater respect for the citizens of other countries who try to come to ours.




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