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Simon Busuttil cannot be trusted on Gozo

Joe Cordina recalls that Simon Busuttil was not able to convince the Commission that Gozo should get regional status at a time when we were acceding – a point in time when we had considerable bargaining power

1 June 2017, 10:55am
Simon Busuttil’s track record on getting EU funds for Gozo is clear - grand gestures with no substance
Simon Busuttil’s track record on getting EU funds for Gozo is clear - grand gestures with no substance
One of Simon Busuttil’s main pledges is that he will convince the EU that Gozo is a region and as a result, the EU would grant Gozo €250 million in regional funds

The promise of large scale EU funds brings back some memories. Back in the early 2000’s Simon Busuttil was the Head of MIC, the Malta EU Information Centre. He was heavily involved with Richard Cachia Caruana in negotiations with the Commission, including the status of Gozo.

Back then Gozitans were led to believe that Gozo would be receiving EU funds directly. However when negotiations ended, Simon Busuttil published Special Edition No.18 of Aggornat – the MIC’s newsletter. In it he declared that after all, he did not manage to convince the EU that Gozo should be considered as a region. The only concession was that the EU accepted that for statistical purposes, Gozo could be treated as a region – the so-called NUTS III classification. Quite an achievement!

The Declaration on the “Island Region of Gozo” which was attached to Malta’s Treaty of Accession to the EU showed clearly how ineffective this concession was. In fact the Declaration states that “The Government of Malta….recognising further that the NUTS III classification accorded to the island region of Gozo may not, on its own, ensure implementation of the European Union’s stated commitment to take measures for the benefit of less-favoured regions”. In less legalistic terms, the statistical classification of Gozo as a separate region from Malta does not mean it gets funds on its own merits.

The grand Declaration negotiated by Simon Busuttil fifteen years ago states that if Malta eventually loses access to EU funds, the Government will ask the Commission to see whether Gozo could still get some funds. Let us be clear. The Declaration does not include a commitment that the Commission would decide in Gozo’s favour. In fact, it does not even include a commitment that the Commission would even bother to respond to the Maltese Government’s request. This must surely be the weakest declaration ever concocted in diplomatic history.

On 11 August 2002 the Times of Malta reported a press conference given by the Gozo Business Chamber in Xewkija on the topic of EU funds. John Magro, president of the Chamber, according to the Times argued that “Gozo will not be directly eligible to EU funds as the majority of the people had initially believed”. He said that the NUTS III definition has no real meaning in terms of financial aid, and that “having such a definition for Gozo will not, on its own, help to solve Gozo’s problems”. The Gozo Business Chamber had written to Michel Barnier who at the time was EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, but he had nothing more to offer besides the NUTS III classification.

So Simon Busuttil was not able to convince the Commission that Gozo should get regional status at a time when we were acceding – a point in time when we had considerable bargaining power. This was a time when Eastern European countries, which are much poorer than us, were still not Member States and taking up much of EU funds. In this light, do you think there is any chance that the very same Simon Busuttil will be able to now convince the EU to grant Gozo this status? At a time when the EU budget will be facing severe cuts as a result of Brexit.  Incidentally today Michel Barnier is the European Chief Negotiator for Brexit. 

But let us not be pessimists and say that Simon Busuttil will give it a try, will he be really believed? Does he really believe Gozo should administer its own regional funds?

Well let us quote the Aggornat Special Edition No 18 signed in February 2003 by a certain Dr Simon Busuttil. In page 3 Simon Busuttil says “This has a lot to do with the need to ensure that the region is large enough to have the structures to administer and absorb funds effectively. In our case, it was agreed that EU funding should be administered by the national Maltese structures and not by separate administrations in Malta and Gozo. Separate administrations were, in any case, not considered to be cost-effective.”

There you have it from the horse’s mouth. Simon Busuttil believes that separate administrations for Malta and Gozo are not cost-effective and would not be able to absorb funds effectively.  This shows that his manifesto pledge is nothing but an attempt to win votes.

Simon Busuttil’s track record on getting EU funds for Gozo is clear - grand gestures with no substance. On 3 June Gozitans need to vote for a better tomorrow and prevent Simon Busuttil from stopping the largest foreign direct investment project ever to benefit Gozo.   

Joe Cordina is a PL candidate on the 13 district

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