Prime Minister invites Opposition to nominate member to Brexit taskforce

Muscat emphasised that the taskforce was not a political one but accepted that the Opposition could be represented on the taskforce if it was willing to work with the government

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has invited the Opposition to nominate a person that it was comfortable with to the Brexit taskforce set up by the government to seek opportunities for the country arising from Brexit.

Muscat was speaking in parliament in reply to criticism by the Opposition over it being omitted from the taskforce after a ministerial statement he gave on his participation in an informal meeting of the EU’s 27 heads of state last week.

“If the Opposition is willing to work with the government to bring employment to Malta then I am happy to ask the leader of the Opposition to nominate a person that he is comfortable with,” said Muscat.

In his ministerial statement Muscat said that one subject that was discussed during the informal meeting, was the EU’s post-2020 budget, which he said would be a complicated process, especially given that it would also coincide with the UK’s exit from the union.

He said the Commission had not yet put forward concrete proposals, adding that the process was likely to be a long one.

“It is obvious that in negotiations like this every country tries to say as little as possible, watches other countries, and positions itself in the best possible way,” said Muscat, adding that Malta was doing the same.

He said member states were divided on a number of issues, including the EU’s maximum budget, with some countries believing that it would be problematic to increase funding above the 1% of GDP threshold, while others, including the Commission believed contributions needed to increase, especially when considering Brexit.

Secondly, he said that as with all budget negotiations, there was also debate about where funds should go with some arguing that priority areas should remain the same, with other countries arguing that areas like security and integration should be given greater priority.

A third point of contention was on whether the EU should have its own autonomous source of funding, in the form of a new tax, while a forth point of disagreement was on how long negotiations should discussions should take.

Malta’s position, said the Prime Minister, remained that the “sensitivity of every member state” needed to be kept in mind, and that reforms should take place gradually.

“Malta believes that EU should be financed in the same way as it is today and that all the necessary time should be taken to conclude negotiations,” added the Prime Minister.

He stressed that funds allocated to Malta would inevitably reduce given that the economy had made significant steps forward.

The Prime Minister explained that while there was no issue with so-called cohesion funds, there was one when it came to structural funds.

He said that EU regions that had a GDP below 75% of the EU average qualified for such funds, while those that had a GDP greater than 90% could under no circumstances qualify.

“In 2012 there was the realisation that Malta was not below 75%, but had not reached 90%, and was it was classified as being in a transitional stage,” said Muscat.

Furthermore, he said that since then, countries poorer than Malta had joined the EU, while the union also set to lose its third largest economy. This he said would also influence Malta’s position when it came to the next budget.

Despite this, he said that the government had a clear strategy which it hoped and would be doing the best it could, adding that it would be better if both side of the House worked together to get the best possible package for Malta.

Opposition will help Malta get the best possible package

Opposition leader Adrian Delia assured the Prime Minister that the Opposition would be doing everything it could to help Malta get the best possible financial package.

He said the Opposition appreciated that such talks were never easy.

“I want to thank those who came before us, and who managed to get the best financial packages to our country,” said Delia.

Turning to the latest Eurobarometer survey, the Delia noted that immigration and crime were of greatest concern to the Maltese. He insisted that Malta needed to emphasise the importance of such issues on a European level.

Opposition MP David Stellini, asked the Prime Minister whether local authorities had advised the roughly 30,00 Maltese people living in the UK that they needed to apply for ‘settled status’, as well as details on when it was decided that the Triton border mission would be replaced by Themis, the terms of reference of which could see Malta receive larger numbers of migrants that it has in recent years.

‘No taxation without representation’

Finally Stellini asked the Prime Minister whether he believed the EU should have autonomous income.

Muscat explained that as things stood, the EU was funded through a number of financial instruments and that discussions on autonomous income had been ongoing for a long time. One suggestion, he said, was the introduction of a Europe-wide tax, such as a tax on financial services or plastics, for example.

The Prime Minister insisted that he had an issue with this, insisting that there could not be taxation without representation, and that it should be left to governments, that could be voted out of government by their people, to decide which taxes could be imposed.

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