Church urges Maltese Presidency to prioritise EU values, migration and energy efficiency

‘A return to the values of the founding fathers of the European Union’ must be a top objective of Malta’s Presidency of the EU Council, the Church in Malta recommends

The Maltese Church presented 'its reflection in a spirit of dialogue' (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
The Maltese Church presented 'its reflection in a spirit of dialogue' (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

The Church in Malta has weighed in on Malta’s Presidency of the European Council, urging Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to ensure that the future of the 27-nation bloc seeks a return to its founding values, that growth and social exclusion are not pursued separately and that energy security is combined with sustainable use.

The Church also urged the Maltese Presidency not to ignore the fact that the proposed reform of the Common European Asylum System falls short in offering a fair, transparent and efficient asylum system based on high protection standards.

It however recognised that burden sharing and the reform of the Dublin Regulation are the two issues that have divided the EU and which exert most pressure on the Maltese presidency.

A meeting was held this morning at Auberge de Castille, between the government and the representatives from the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, including the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Charles J. Scicluna, and the Bishop of Gozo, Mgr Mario Grech.

The Church stated that the Maltese were proud of this six-month event, wishing the government that it finds the cooperation needed to carry out its responsibilities “to the best of its abilities”.

The Catholic Church and European Christian Churches (CEC) are calling on the EU to return to the values of its founding fathers, “by solving common problems together building on their shared history, and to consider the European project as more than just a common market”.

Malta took over the Presidency for a six-month stint at the start of 2017, at very challenging times for the bloc: migration, Brexit, security, economic growth and elections in a number of states that may drastically change the political scenario.

Prioritising three sectors – single market, energy and migration – the Church warned that many children in Europe are at most risk of poverty and young people are affected by high unemployment. “The EU needs to at quickly to rescue the poor and the weak,” it warned.

The Maltese Church argued that national elections scheduled in key EU countries may lead to a change of political leadership and strengthen the parliamentary representation of Eurosceptic and populist parties raising more difficulties to internal EU dialogue and solidarity particularly on priority policies such as migration.

“Shifts in trans-Atlantic relations, European security, instability in many parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, Britain’s decision to leave the EU as well as doubts surrounding the implementation, in the coming years, of the climate change mitigation targets as agreed in the Paris Agreement (COP21), are all a source of uncertainty,” it added.

Arguing that the single market was essential for economic growth, it insisted that this could not be pursed separately from social inclusion: “Market forces alone cannot achieve integral human development and social inclusion.”

In its Presidency programme, Malta pledged to give priority to “the extension in time and financial capacity of the European Fund for Strategic Investment help mobilise private investment while making smart use of scarce budgetary resources with the objective of encouraging growth and jobs”. For the Church, this was a positive step, but it “would be more effective in a broader strategy of social inclusion based on solidarity and respect for what Pope Francis has called the sacredness of every human life”.

On energy security and climate change, the Church said that the security of supply and access to it must be combined with the production and use of energy in a sustainable way.

During its presidency, Malta will review the Energy Efficiency package aimed at reducing energy consumption in residential buildings and industry through improved efficiency whilst seeking to strengthen security of energy supply for all EU citizens, especially in times of crises.

“Meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change provides a strong opportunity for integrating security of energy supply and accessibility, and sustainability,” the Church has argued.

“In the midst of uncertainties in the domain of climate change, the Maltese Presidency needs to actively urge all states to maintain the course towards achieving the post-2020 national climate action plans as submitted by the EU before the Paris Agreement and to keep up the momentum of COP 21 and COP 22. The EU has a duty to maintain global leadership on climate change to ensure that the Paris targets are eventually met.”

The Church suggested that Malta should consider promoting the setting up of “an ombudsperson structure” to protect the interests of future generations.

Noting that Malta wanted to keep migration at the top of its agenda, the Church admitted that burden sharing, the reform of the Dublin regulation and border control will constitute the most challenging matters in migration policy, testing the solidarity of member states.

“Stronger external border controls do not free Europe from its obligation to save lives,” it said, quoting UNHCR reports placing the number of deaths in the Mediterranean at 5,011 during 2016, up from 3,771 the year before.

“The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 7,189 migrants lost their lives world- wide in 2016, which means that the Mediterranean death-toll amounted to 69.7% of all deaths world-wide.”

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