EU to turn to Mediterranean for energy – PM

Italy, Malta unhappy over exclusion of ‘mutual recognition’ in wording of European Council draft conclusions but Prime Minister welcomes commitment to the principle of solidarity

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat during this morning's meeting of the European Council
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat during this morning's meeting of the European Council

The European Union will be turning to the Mediterranean for its source of energy giving Malta the best opportunity to act as an energy hub, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

Speaking after the end of a lengthy meeting during which the European Council nominated former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission, Muscat said the energy conclusions were very important for Malta.

“The EU’s long-term vision for its energy is to turn to the Mediterranean. This gives Malta the opportunity to become an energy hub, sourcing European countries from Africa,” he said.

In a 26-2 vote, the EU leaders approved Juncker’s nomination and only the United Kingdom’s prime minister David Cameron and Hungarian PM Viktor Orban voted against.

While Junker came from the European People’s Party (EPP) umbrella, he still enjoyed Malta’s support with Muscat insisting this showed “democratic correctness”.

“I had always made it clear that the EU should respect the democratic outcome of the elections. The EPP has won the majority of votes in the European Parliament elections and therefore Juncker should be the President [of the Commission],” the PM said.

Muscat said the UK’s request for a vote created an “unpleasant precedent” as the Council’s decisions were usually unanimous: “After what happened today, the UK and Hungary cannot be isolated and we must see what is exactly irritating the UK.”

He went on to add that the Commission’s programme for the next five years was more important than whoever is nominated. “We must ensure that this new programme changes Europe for the austerity machine it had become. EU citizens have been clear in wanting a new Europe.”

In his brief comments in Brussels, Muscat welcomed the “effective implementation of the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility”.

The EU’s leaders will once again try and commit themselves to effectively implement the principle of solidarity and the fair sharing of responsibility for migrants at the borders.
But much to the dismay of Italy, and Malta, the draft conclusions of the European Council today have excluded the mutual recognition of asylum decisions.

Malta has however welcomed and expressed satisfaction over wording in the conclusions pledging the “effective implementation of the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility”.
“Malta has pushed to see the principle of fair sharing in the wording and it is there. The commitment is now there,” sources in Brussels said.

Countries on Europe’s external borders hope that the EU’s future step will include mutual recognition.

“For the first time the EU accepted fair sharing of responsibility which shows that, for the first time, irregular migration is being considered as a collective problem,” Muscat said.

The Council conclusions will also make reference to enforcing the admission obligations in agreement with third countries.
Italy used this summit to ask the EU to take charge of its life-saving operation to rescue migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.

With its operation Mare Nostrum, Italy, with Malta’s military support, has saved about 40,000 people. Although the conclusion does not effectively say that FRONTEX will be taking over the Italian operations, EU leaders have expressed their agreement to make use of the European external border surveillance system (Eurosur) to support member states on the external border facing strong pressure.

The Maltese Prime Minister also expressed satisfaction that the EU has agreed to start working on a policy that “attracts talented people to Europe”.

“I suggested that Europe should be attracting people with talent, like Malta has done through its citizenship programme. The European Commission has now said it will launch a policy to attract these individuals.”