‘More Europe’? Don’t we have enough already?

They failed to heed experts who said no country could fight the virus on its own, failed to perceive that the world’s most advanced health care systems were at grave risk of being overwhelmed

It seemed like a small matter at the time,  given that the world was reeling from the first severe blows of the COVID019 pandemic … but back in early March, Politico.com reported that there were ‘rumblings of discontent’ within the European People’s Party: among other things, over the appointment of Simon Busuttil as the EPP’s new secretary-general.

“Some MEPs and EPP insiders accused Weber of favouring a close ally with little experience of the Parliament or knowledge of the group,” the story ran. Much more revealingly, it added: “MEPs have also questioned why a Maltese national — representing a party that has only two EPP MEPs — got the job, when the EPP’s largest national delegations come from Germany and Central and Eastern Europe.”

Now: it’s not often that I feel compelled to rush to the defence of people like Simon Busuttil (who, in any case, is now in the big league... so he can fight his own battles unaided).

But if you read the above argument carefully, you’ll notice that it was not targeted specifically at Simon Busuttil himself: but rather, at ‘Maltese nationals’ in general.

In a few words: if Simon Busuttil should be excluded from any major EPP posting, simply because the Maltese Nationalist Party only has two seats (out of 750) in the European Parliament… then it follows that no other Maltese MEP should ever aspire to any higher position, either.

For in case anyone’s forgotten: Malta’s national delegation, in its totality, only amounts to six seats in the same Parliament. And to put that into a little perspective:  Germany’s delegation has 96 seats. France, 79. Italy, 76. Spain, 59. Poland, 52. Etc., etc.

So if we were to accept that the deciding factor is the extent of one’s representation in the EP (and not, say, the candidate’s competence or qualifications for the role)… then all six Maltese MEPs would be automatically by-passed in favour of members of much larger EP delegations… every single time.

Much more worryingly, however: if you applied the same reasoning to all the other institutions that make up the wider EU – namely, the Commission and the European Council – the result would be that Maltese contenders for top EU positions could simply forget ever bothering to apply.

After all, Malta has a population of only 500,000 – the equivalent of a small town in Germany or France – in a European Union numbering over 500 million citizens.

In any case: luckily for us, those grumbling MEPs did not get their way in the end. Not only does Simon Busuttil remain EPP secretary to this day; but Labour’s Miriam Dalli enjoys a similar position in the Party of European Socialists: suggesting that – with the EU in its present form – our tiny national EP delegation has actually punched considerably above its (virtually non-existent) weight.

Meanwhile – again, with the proviso that the European treaties remain as they are today - Malta is still empowered to appoint its own member to the European Commissioner, just like every other member state (even though, funnily enough, there were once ‘rumblings of discontent’ about this, too. And the argument was exactly the same: i.e., ‘why should tiny Malta have the same clout, at Commission level, as much larger and more influential countries?’)

OK, by this point some of you might be wondering why I’m only bringing this up now (and not in March, when it happened). Well, I’ve given one reason already – the COVID-19 pandemic – but if that’s not enough, here’s another:

The COVID-19 pandemic. And no, I’m not stuttering. Incredible as it may seem, this same global health emergency has now been cited as yet another argument in favour of – you guessed it – ‘More Europe’.

Most recently, in an opinion piece yesterday by Nationalist MEP David Casa … but before that, by countless other European politicians (including ALDE’s Guy Verhofstad): not just about COVID-19, but also about pretty much every other problem or controversy you care to name.

To keep this part brief: whatever your problem or complaint, you can rest assured that it will somehow be turned into a justification of… ‘More Europe’.  And that means further consolidation of another mindless soundbite, ‘The European Project’… which in turns envisages the gradual integration of all 27 EU member states into a single, federalised nation (a ‘United States of Europe’, if you will.)

In a nutshell, then… ‘More Europe’ means the extinction of the same treaties, and the same present-day modus operandi, that make our country a truly (well, almost) equal partner within the Union as it stands today.

This is precisely why some of us are actually quite content with the amount of ‘Europe’ we already have… while others still argue in favour of ‘less’ Europe, not more.

Either way: at today’s levels, Malta is still only just able to get represented within the highest decision-making institutions, and at the highest political echelons. (For instance, it is unlikely – but by no means impossible – that the President of the European Commission or Council might one day be Maltese).

But raise the dosage, even just a little… and, BANG! Those ‘rumblings of discontent’ will evolve into an earthquake; and one by one, all the doors of European power will be slammed shut in our faces forever. In one fell swoop, Malta will have permanently lost its ability to influence future decisions about how to govern its own affairs... including…

OK, at this point you might be able to start seeing the connection with COVID-19.

Notwithstanding my own aversion to the idea of ‘federalisation’… I can still more or less understand that there might actually be weighty political and economic arguments in favour of such a monstrosity.

But COVID-19? THAT, of all things, is suddenly an argument in favour of ‘More Europe’?

Ooh, I’m not so sure. Let’s look it at only from the perspective of only one member state, shall we? Our own.

By now most of you will have surely realised that - compared to other European countries - Malta has actually fared incredibly well so far: so well, in fact, that we are now contemplating lifting the emergency restrictions as early as next week.

There is, of course, room to question the wisdom of that strategy… but I’ll save that for another time. Right now, there’s another question to be asked.

Would Malta have fared quite so well, had our response been dictated to us all the way from Brussels… instead of from our own national health authorities (which have, let’s face it, outperformed even our wildest and most optimistic expectations)?

The short answer to that one, of course, is… well, it’s probably unprintable. But the longer one would have to consider what might have happened, had it been the EU calling the shots instead of Chris Fearne and Charmaine Gauci.

For instance: with hindsight, it emerges that one major factor in our success was the decision, taken on March 17, to close the national airport. In so doing, Prime Minister Robert Abela also issued the equivalent of a death sentence to Malta’s entire tourism… (even if several people criticised him, and still do today, for not taking that initiative sooner.)

Nonetheless, that one drastic measure put an instant halt to the importation of new cases, thereby dramatically reducing the initial rate of contagion. So much so, that by early April there were no imported cases at all. All new infections were, and still are, limited to local transmissions only… and the consistent trend of low numbers - down to as low as zero, in fact - strongly suggests that Malta’s approach so far has been the right one to take.

But that was thanks to policiess that were clearly based on sound, expert medical advice. What would have happened had we relied on the advice of the European Commission instead?

In a speech to the European Parliament on May 26 – interestingly enough, a week after Malta closed its borders – Commission President Ursula von der Leyen criticised countries that had responded to the crisis by… um… ‘closing their borders’.

“A successful European response can only be coordinated if our internal market and our Schengen area work the way it should: a crisis without borders cannot be resolved by putting barriers between us,” she said.

But that’s just a minor detail.  As I began with a Politico quote, I may as well end with one. In an article entitled ‘How Europe failed the coronavirus test’ (7 April), the EU stood accused of “[failing] to hear the warnings that containment would prove ineffective.

They failed to heed experts who said no country could fight the virus on its own, failed to perceive that the world’s most advanced health care systems were at grave risk of being overwhelmed.

They failed to understand that drastic measures would be needed until Italy — patient zero among EU member countries — frantically imposed travel restrictions that impeded European leaders’ own movements…”

And that, I fear, is the sort of government we would have had (to make matters worse, via long-distance), if the dream of ‘More Europe’ had already become a reality by the time the pandemic broke out.

So, um… no, thanks.  As things stand, I’d say we have more than enough Europe already.