2020: A lot of positive work overshadowed by COVID-19 | Josianne Cutajar

COVID-19 may have dominated the news in 2020 but a lot of good work was carried out by the European Parliament in the past 12 months

Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar
Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar

2020 has been a tumultuous year, dominated mainly by the COVID-19 pandemic, the measures introduced to curb its spread and its heavy toll on human lives. The work of the European Parliament had to continue and countless positive changes were introduced, decisions agreed upon and initiatives achieved.

Here’s a look at some of the more positive things that have taken place in 2020.

SMEs

In what I consider an important personal achievement, the final Plenary session of the European Parliament for this year successfully voted in the Report on Europe’s Strategy for Small and Medium-sized enterprises that I had been working on this year. The vote passed with a positive majority in the same plenary in which the vote on the European Budget (MFF) for the next seven years was also taken successfully. I worked intensively on this report as negotiator for the Socialists and Democrats within the EP.

The strategy is crucial for thousands of SMEs across the EU – including SMEs in Malta and Gozo – for which major support will be provided to the enterprises as well as their employees and families.

Working Group – SMEs and Travel

I was also appointed as chairperson to the working group on tourism, travel and mobility of the European platform SME Connect. This working group gathers thousands of stakeholders in the sector, representing the interests of SMEs.

Tourism and travel

My work on the travel and tourism front also continued within the EP’s Tourism Taskforce and the TRAN committee. COVID-19 has shown us how important it is for Europe to establish an effective common travel policy. It has also reminded us of the necessity to make tourism resilient to future shocks.

#Go4Local message

I also spearheaded the #Go4Local message, with a view to encouraging consumers to purchase local products from local enterprises during the festive season.

The role of women in society and gender equality

As a member of the European Parliament, I have worked on a subject that I consider of utmost importance: The role of women in society and gender equality.

Huge strides have been made in recent years to promote and ensure gender equality across society. However, despite the issue being a priority of the EU’s, I feel much more needs to be done to reach a point where equality between genders is finally fully guaranteed.

Progress has also been registered on a national level. So much so that, in the past weeks, we witnessed the appointment of a number of strong women to important positions. To mention but a few, Ramona Attard was appointed President of the Labour Party, Carmen Sammut was made Chairperson of the PBS Board, Norma Saliba took on the role of Head of News of the national television station and Dr Yvonne Farrugia was chosen to become a European Prosecutor.

Island regions

Having been born and raised in Gozo, I recognise the challenges islands face, including a limited market, reduced accessibility and connectivity, high environmental vulnerability and increased costs for residents and businesses. These challenges inevitably lead to competitive disadvantages that need to be balanced with ad hoc regulatory measures.

I participate in the EP’s REGI committee and am a member of the SEARICA intergroup, wherein we discuss regional and islands’ politics.

In a recent webinar, organised as part of the European week for regions and cities, entitled “The policies of the European Union in European islands: challenges and solutions”, I highlighted the obstacles that island regions like Gozo face but also the opportunities that lie ahead for our islands.

Common Agricultural Policy

In October, I went against the line of the S&D group I form part of and voted against the Strategic Plan for the Common Agricultural Policy. Why? Because I chose to vote in favour of Maltese and Gozitan farmers. I could not, in good conscience, vote in favour of a plan that does not take into consideration the special needs of farmers on islands like ours.

Under such plan, our farmers will be stretched to the limit since it does not include a derogation allowing the allocation of up to €3 million per year of voluntary coupled support to Maltese farmers. As I have said on other issues, what is good for farmers in large countries does not necessarily apply in the case of smaller countries and regions.

The CAP should guarantee a fair income for all farmers including those coming from peripheral areas or islands like ours.

Digital services and AI

Two reports – on the Digital Services Act and on Civil Liability of products utilising Artificial Intelligence – were approved by the European Parliament this year. I was privileged to represent the S&D on the EP’s Transport and Tourism Committee and I believe the EP’s vote goes a long way towards making the digital market more accountable and responsible.

Delegation for Relations with Australia and New Zealand

I was honoured to be appointed Vice President of the European Delegation for Relations with Australia and New Zealand (DANZ), on behalf of the Socialists and Democrats within the European Parliament. This delegation is tasked with the upkeep of Europe’s ties with Australia and New Zealand as its main objective.

Topping the agenda at the moment are the Free Trade Agreement currently at negotiation stage, as well as collaboration on common challenges that include climate change and, more recently, Covid-19.

The crises we face today are showing us is that the most effective answers come when countries from different parts of the world come together and be open to dialogue. Faced with the struggle against climate change, the new challenges to our health brought on by the pandemic, as well as security issues, no single country can come up with solutions and save the day on its own. We all need each other.

I am determined to further promote and protect the values shared by both parties including the human rights front, while paving the way for more joint investment in sectors such as research and innovation.

2021

As 2020 comes to a close, we all look forward to a brighter 2021. The introduction of the COVID-19 vaccines has raised the spirit of many who are hoping to a quick return to normality.

And I look forward to contributing further to the European Parliament’s efforts to provide a better future for all EU citizens. There is a lot left to do and I aim to continue working as hard as I can to ensure the rights of all Maltese and Gozitans are duly represented.

I wish all readers a Happy New Year!

Josianne Cutajar is a Labour MEP • This is a paid post

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