Muscat favours 'multi-speed Europe': 'I believe in unity… but not at all costs'

Joseph Muscat believes populist forces are giving citizens a protectionist answer to legitimate cries for protection • Believes that a multi-speed Europe is a viable option

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, flanked by former Italian premier Enrico Letta, addresses a forum on challenges facing the EU's neighbourhood
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, flanked by former Italian premier Enrico Letta, addresses a forum on challenges facing the EU's neighbourhood

People all across Europe are expressing a “genuine need” for protection and this is being met with protectionism on the part of populist forces, according to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

“While people are saying: I want to feel safe in my home, the answer being given is to keep foreigners out. It’s a protectionist answer to a legitimate cry for protection,” he said.

Muscat was delivering a keynote address at the start of a two-day think-thank forum that is discussing increasing instability in the EU’s neighbourhood, with an emphasis on the Mediterranean and the effects of migration.

The Prime Minister said that while there is a sense of “doom and gloom whenever Europe is being discussed,” the union has also been presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity “to say to people that, yes the system is broken, but there is something that can be done about it.”

For this to be possible, he said, it is essential for Europe to deliver “tangible results,” and for there to be a sense of solidarity among member states.

“In the time to come, whatever we are considering, there is a need for a focus on the implementation deficit,” he said.

Claiming that this was an example of “European solidarity”, Muscat cited Malta’s “political decision” to take in asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, even though Malta had been on the receiving end of the migration problem.

According to figures by the International Organisation for Migration, a total of 105 asylum seekers reached Malta by sea during the 12 months of 2015. That same year, the EU agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, to assist them in dealing with the pressures of the refugee crisis. By November 2016, Malta relocated 46 refugees from Italy and 24 from Greece.

In total, the EU relocated 6,975 refugees.

Muscat argued that what Europe needs at the moment is not left and right politics, but mainstream political solutions. “We need strong political leadership that does not shy away from taking decisions when they are required,” he added.

Replying to a question from Vladimir Bartovic, a director at the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, Muscat said that Malta – rather than trying to find convergence on the more contentious internal aspect of migration – the residency will seek to make progress on the external aspect, where more unity can be achieved.

On whether he believes that the solution for the European Union is “more or less Europe”, Muscat said that he now believes that a “multi-speed Europe” could be a viable option.

“I value unity, but not at all costs. If the only way in which we can stay united is by doing nothing, it is better not to be so united and do something,” he said.

Enrico Letta: ‘The successes of Malta’s Presidency’

Former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta noted that during the last ten years, the core of European policy discussions was very “inward looking” focusing mainly on economic policy with “marginal attention” being given to other subjects such as the neighbourhood policy and the Mediterranean.

“One of the reasons the Maltese Presidency is a success is that we are now able to put subjects at the core of the discussion, that were previously on the periphery,” he said.

He underscored challenges brought on by what he described as a changing political landscape across Europe, adding that the issues facing Europe are not coming from the its core but rather from its borders.

He pointed to subjects like security and defence, issues of sovereignty and “taking control,” which have been thrust to the centre of domestic politics and emphasised the fact that solutions to these problems could offer a new legitimacy to the European Union.

“European integration is under attack, and we must find new ways to show the utility of integration and cooperation,” said Letta.

He spoke of the need for a more “cooperative mood” to be present between member states and European institutions and for there to be a “delivery-based roadmap” to tackling problems.

“We must avoid the big mistake that was made during the financial crisis,” he said. “At the beginning, we wasted two or three years using the normal business as usual approach for a crisis that was completely different from the previous crises.”

“We need national leaders capable of being European leaders, and not champions of the scapegoat sport,” he said, adding that it was important for governments to view Europe as an ally, rather than an adversary.

Letta expressed optimism on the situation in France and Germany.

He said the German election is being fought between two pro-European leaders, and while the election of Marine Le Pen in France would be “game-over” for Europe, a pro-European French president would be very good for the EU.

“Following Brexit and Trump’s election, it could be crucial for the EU’s future France interrupts the pattern.”

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