EU should speak the language of the people, Muscat insists

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says the European project could be saved from the rise of populism and extreme nationalism, if only the EU started answering the questions asked of it

Muscat insisted the EU needed to understand the realities faced by the man on the street
Muscat insisted the EU needed to understand the realities faced by the man on the street

The EU needs to start speaking the same language its citizens use as they battle to overcome issues that matter to them, and stop providing answers to questions that are not being asked of it, Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the official inauguration ceremony of Malta’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, held at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta, Muscat said that the main challenge for the presidency would be to remain realistic and pragmatic, offering small solutions for large problems, cognizant of the fact the work started in these six months would carry over for generations.

“We must first understand the reality that the European citizens are facing today,” he said.

People do not care about politicians to the extent that bureaucrats do, they do not sit at home discussing EU directives or the migration crises, but they do talk about issues affecting them directly, on a smaller scale.

When EU citizens watch politicans answering questions that are foreign to the man on the street, they immediately realise that the politicians are detached from reality and that they do not provide an answer to the citizens’ concerns.

Donald Tusk (left), President of the European Council and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission arriving at the Mediterranean Conference Centre • Photo: Jeremy Wonnacott, DOI
Donald Tusk (left), President of the European Council and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission arriving at the Mediterranean Conference Centre • Photo: Jeremy Wonnacott, DOI

“The rise of more populist and nationalist feeling across Europe is due to these people addressing the issues that are affecting the citizens everyday,” he said. “And people start turning to them because there alone are they finding answers to their questions and concerns.”

Let us not allow others give wrong answers to the questions being asked by the people, because that could kill the political, economic and social project that was the European Union.

“Brexit, immigration, terrorism, economic problems, unemployment and inequality are merely some of the issues that EU needs to tackle if it is to remain relevant for the people,” Muscat said.

He said that he hoped that in six months’ time, the EU would have started addressing citizens’ concerns.

“The European project has been through a lot, has been through tough times, and it is important to keep it alive and relevant,” he said.

Muscat acknowledged former prime ministers Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi, who, he said, were crucial for Malta getting to this point.

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said it was fortunate that Malta took over the presidency of the EU in these hard times, as the EU would be celebrating its 60 years in Rome in June while at the same time entering negotiations with the UK for its exit from the bloc.

“Few countries have a better understanding of Italy and few have a better understanding of the British,” he said. “And even fewer countries have a better understanding of the migration tragedy that is taking place in the Mediterranean.”

BAHR - ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble / Trailer from ŻfinMalta on Vimeo.

Tusk said that he was very confident in Malta’s presidency, as Malta – 2,000 years after welcoming the shipwrecked St Paul with open hearts – continued to welcome foreigners without exception.

Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech said that the European citizens to be reassured that they would share in the European added value.

The “Reunion” theme chosen for the presidency was meant to keep in focus the real concerns of European citizens, and the need for the EU to reconnect with the man on the street.

“Difficult times call for difficult measures,” Grech said. “The EU must change to find, once again, the unity it displayed in the past.”

Grech said that the EU should – while protecting itself from the constant threat of terrorism – promote a better relationship with the regions on its borders.

The EU, he said, could not hide from the challenges and it absolutely could not fail in its goals. And Malta remained hopeful of a bright future for the EU, encouraged by the character of today’s youth, he said.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, said Malta was prepared in the best possible way for the Council presidency and that it would prove, once again, that the EU’s smaller countries were very often the ones that took their presidencies more seriously.

He encouraged Malta to pursue its goals to focus on core issues like migration, which was very close to the island state, but of equal importance to all member states.

Juncker said it was proper that the ceremony was held in a building that had served Malta for centuries, being one Europe’s finest hospitals under the Knights of St John and gaining equal importance under the French and the British.

“I will be back to Malta in 2018 as Valletta celebrates being the European Cultural Capital of the year,” he said.

“Viva Malta, Viva l-Ewropa!” he said, while extending his best wishes for the next six months.

Ian Borg, parliamentary secretary for Malta’s EU presidency, said that the relationship between the government and the European Commissioner had grown stronger over the past three years.

“While aware of the limitations on what can be achieved in a mere six months, Malta is ready for the challenge, because Malta is not only about sun and sea but is home to a people that can – and have – achieved great things.”

The dignitaries' speeches were followed by a riveting dance routine, entitled 'BAHR', which brought to life the human nature of immigration, the hope, the journey and the acceptance.

'BAHR' is a 50-minute dance work choreographed by ŻfinMalta's artistic director Mavin Khoo in collaboration with internationally acclaimed lighting designer Fabiana Piccioli and young Maltese composer Albert Garzia with his newly commissioned score for the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.

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