EU: Seizing our moment in the next five-year mandate

After 15 years of membership in the EU, Malta is no longer a new member state, as we are transitioning to a position in which our citizens expect to play a more pro-active role participating in debating Europe’s future

The appointment of Miriam Dalli as  Vice-President of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament augurs well, but this should be the start and not the end of our commitment to an enhanced role in the European socialist family
The appointment of Miriam Dalli as Vice-President of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament augurs well, but this should be the start and not the end of our commitment to an enhanced role in the European socialist family

Progressives all over Europe have every reason to be upbeat with the result achieved during the recent European elections. Against all polls and predictions, the group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament has remained a strong force and is the second largest political family. And while one should not take lightly the fact that social democracy is practically dead in France, Germany, Italy and in most of the Eastern European countries, left-of-centre governments have been formed in the last few months in the Nordic countries, namely Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party of Frans Timmermans was the unexpected winner of the European Parliament election. In Spain and Portugal, centre-left parties are running the show after years of fragmentation and paralysis.

In Malta, the social democrats I represent in parliament and government have won the European Parliament election by more than 42,600 votes, and managed to elect four out of Malta’s six representatives in the European Parliament.

Where does this leave us? I believe that we, as a party and as a country, should seize the moment.

First, as a party, Malta’s social democrats should have a stronger voice in the Party of European Socialists. The appointment of Miriam Dalli as Vice-President of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament augurs well, but this should be the start and not the end of our commitment to an enhanced role in the European socialist family. As President of the Labour Youth Forum between 2001 and 2008 I was an ex-officio member of the Young European Socialist’s bureau. The top positions in these structures were always naturally occupied by French, German, Italian and Britons, together with the odd Spanish and Scandinavian representatives. Likewise, at PES level, these countries have been calling the shots for decades.

As opportunistic as it may sound, with Brexit happening this coming October and the dire forecast on a national level for social democrat parties in France, Germany and Italy, Malta’s social democrats have a legitimate right not only to seek such an enhanced role on a European level, but more than that, to shape the PES’s blueprint for the next decade.

In a number of meetings I had with my counterparts and members of the PES family in Brussels, I reiterated that while the result achieved on a European level brings new hope for the future and is a reflection of a smart candidate (Frans Timmermans was our spitzenkandidat), a strong manifesto calling for a fair, free and sustainable Europe, together with party unity; the result achieved is a conglomeration of a number of wins achieved on the ground.

So the PES should not rest on its laurels and should instead start an immediate exercise in analysing why Scandinavian and Southern European centre-left parties are winning while central and Eastern parties are losing, and losing big. In doing so, Malta’s Labour Party should not be left on the sidelines. It must have a central role.
 
Malta’s next moves

On a national level, Malta too should seize its moment.

After 15 years of membership in the EU, we’re no longer a new member state, as we are transitioning to a position in which our citizens expect to play a more pro-active role participating in debating Europe’s future. From ensuring the Eurozone’s long-term stability to winning the global race for innovation, from cyber-regulation to social fairness, from climate change to migration and from the single market to an ambitious Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU’s strategic agenda is the starting point.

And as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat rightly said during the last MEUSAC’s core meeting, while much focus is being made on the names of potential candidates to fill the EU’s top jobs, the more important aspect isA the policy direction the EU will be taking. The role of Malta’s politicians  should be less about writing what the draft agenda states and more about shaping it and to lead the way forward. The watered-down strategic agenda has the broad support of all EU member states. That is why calls have been made for a more ambitious and more positive vision.

On the other hand, Member States are at loggerheads when it comes to including the EU’s values and the need to safeguard our way of life which easily translates to rule of law, transparency, and governance. The new Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union has the EU’s ability to uphold the rule of law topping its agenda. Malta should not shy away from shaping the narrative and should continue engaging in a constructive dialogue under the rule of law framework. The current implementation of the Venice Commission recommendations clearly shows that government is walking and not just talking its talk.

Another thorny topic is climate change, which is also a priority for the Finnish Presidency. The bone of contention here is the objective of ensuring a carbon neutral Europe by 2050. This has recently been blocked by Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Malta voted in favour of including this reference in the strategic agenda and I believe Malta should start showing leadership in this sector not least because we did take a leading role in the European Parliament through our MEPs in the last legislature.

Talks, discussions and ultimately decisions on migration, fiscal independence, the EU’s competition policy, enlargement and the beefing up of the economic and monetary union topics are also going to shape Malta and the Maltese. That is why we’re seizing our moment in the next five-year mandate and that is why we choose to be protagonists and not mere spectators.

With its Anglo-Saxon work ethic, Malta is well known to punch above its weight. During and after the outbreak of the financial and economic crisis of 2008, the Maltese government avoided having to bail out any banks, sparing the countries’ coffers million. This while other neighbouring countries were in financial meltdown.

We’re the largest growing economy in the Eurozone, coupled with a budget surplus while others are beleaguered by zero or negligible growth, soaring unemployment and government debt.

Prime Minister Muscat acted as an interlocutor in one immigration crisis after the other, by bringing to the table solutions which benefited the many. That is why we are now positioning ourselves to be a powerful force driving Europe forward with an anti-austerity agenda, increased investment and decarbonising of our economy, together with our progressive allies.

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