EU, ADDRESS BY MUSCAT IN STRASBOURG
The Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat implied without being specific that it is his intention to seize the bull by its horns with the support of the member states in facing two major challenges during the six months of the European Council Presidency. Muscat was referring to the immigration problem and warned Europe that it will yet face a greater crisis in the coming months if immediate action is not taken and to the exit process of the United Kingdom from the European Union as on Tuesday, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May listed the political roadmap and what she is aspiring to achieve in the final agreement with the European Union.
Joseph Muscat, former Member of the Parliament himself, was addressing the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg listing the priorities of the Maltese Presidency. During the assembly the Italian Antonio Tajani assumed his role as the new President of the European Parliament following his triumph in the elections held on Tuesday.
PROPOSED AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE EU AND LIBYA AS INFLUX OF IMMIGRANTS IS EXPECTED
The Maltese Prime Minister said that Malta’s proposal to the European Union to reach an agreement with Libya to curb illegal trafficking of migrants in the Mediterranean is crucial. He stated that another crisis like that of 2016 when the European Union was caught unawares must be avoided at all costs.
Malta is proposing a similar agreement reached last year between the European Union and Turkey. “The agreement is not perfect and is not a long-term solution, but it has indeed made a difference”, said the Maltese Prime Minister. He insisted, “Europe cannot afford to be caught up in this problem once again. In Spring, Europe will definitely face an influx of dangerous crossings in central Mediterranean and the reasons behind these perilous journeys highly differ from those of the Syrian refugees crossing the Aegean Sea”.
The Maltese Prime Minister went even further than this as he recommended that in the eventuality of an agreement with Libya, the European Union must subsequently intervene to assure safe access to those immigrants who have a legitimate right to apply for asylum and break the business model of the criminal gangs raking millions of euros out of this inhumane business.
“If we manage to get such an agreement, we should then as the European Union, organize humanitarian safe passages and corridors, that would get recognized asylum seekers to Europe safely,” pointed out Prime Minister Muscat.
Nevertheless the Maltese Government is aware that an agreement with Libya will not be an easy feat due to the soaring instability there is in this North African country located 1,099 km away from Malta and only 296 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Whilst the Maltese Prime Minister in Strasbourg stressed on the urgency of an agreement between the EU and Libya, the Maltese Minister of Foreign Affairs George Vella addressing local media last week showed he is skeptical due to Libya’s instability, which is unlike the situation in Turkey. As a matter of fact notwithstanding the Turkey’s troubles and predicament it still remains a relatively stable country.
This reasoning was echoed by Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian co-President of the Greens in the European Parliament in today’s session and never presented to the European Parliament for approval but was bypassed and approved by the Council of Ministers of the European Union.
Libya continues to suffer as three different governments wage war against each other as all crave power to control the Libyan territory.
Moreover the government recognized by the United Nations under the leadership of Fayez Sarraj is weak and defenseless against this instability. In addition to all this unrest the country is plagued with the presence of militia fighters bringing dread to the already hopeless situation.
Despite this grave situation, the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is still insisting on the urgency of an immediate agreement with Libya so as to avoid experiencing another crisis like 2016. He suggested that the existing immigration agreement between Italy and Libya should serve as a foundation to extend it to the European Union.
The Italian MEP Fabio Castaldo who declared that the agreement with Turkey was illegal, heavily criticized the proposal by the Maltese Prime Minister.
Joseph Muscat, the Maltese Prime Minister stated in his official address that he is determined that the Maltese Presidency will work hand in hand with the European Parliament to address the common challenge of immigration.
On the other hand, the Government of Malta has already submitted a proposal for joint patrols with the Libyan naval power in an attempt to stop the influx of immigrants in the Central Mediterranean route.
In an aide-memoire that was presented to the member states of the European Union, Malta is suggesting guard patrols off the Libyan coast led by European countries together with the Libyans. Intercepted migrant boats are to be returned to Libya. However it is still unsure whether it will be the European naval power or the Libyan forces that will assume the responsibility to patrol back to Libya these boats.
With just a couple of days gone in 2017, dozens of desperate souls have already been claimed by the unforgiving sea with only 700 immigrants making it and brought to Sicily’s shores seeking asylum. Such tragedy has brought once again the Mediterranean route high on Europe’s agenda.
INFERIOR DEAL FROM EU MEMBERSHIP FOR THE UK
Coincidentally the address by the Maltese Prime Minister in Strasbourg took place a day after the British Prime Minister Therese May introduced the political roadmap on which the United Kingdom will be basing its negotiations to exit the European bloc. The Maltese Prime Minister stated that is indeed an ironic situation that in March when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is activated to allow the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, it will be Malta an ex-British colony for two centuries but currently running the Presidency of the Council of the European Union that will be leading the negotiations.
The Maltese Prime Minister reiterated that the European Union must reach a fair but inferior agreement with the UK than that guaranteed through full membership. “This should not come as a surprise to anyone otherwise it means they are detached from reality”. Last Tuesday, the British Prime Minister Therese May listed the English government priorities for the negotiations that are yet to start with the European Union and that are expected to take two years. She declared that she is seeking the creation of a new agreement and not a replica of something that is already in existence. She said that it is not possible for her country to remain part of the European common market, explaining that British presence in the common market would mean that the United Kingdom “has not ended its membership with the EU”.
She promised that following the process of Brexit, the United Kingdom would have the “greatest possible access” to the common market. Addressing the rest of the 27 States of the European Union, Therese May declared that the United Kingdom will remain “a faithful friend, partner and an ally that can be relied on”.
Therese May called for a new and equal collaboration with the EU rather than a partial membership that would leave the United Kingdom in an uncertain position.
Whilst addressing the plenary session of the European Parliament, the Maltese Prime Minister took the opportunity to confirm that there is a univocal agreement within the Council of Ministers regarding the free movement of people and access to a common market. “As stated by the 27 Heads of States and Government after the Brexit referendum result, which we respect as a sovereign decision, the freedom of movement of persons, goods, services and capital cannot be decoupled. Put simply, the four freedoms are indivisible. Indeed, the fact that the British Prime Minister declared that she will take her country out of the Single Market because of the political choice to limit freedom of movement of persons, confirms the position of the EU27, that the four freedoms are one package. That in itself is a somewhat positive development”. Negotiations between the UK and the EU are expected to commence once Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is initiated by the end of March. The British Prime Minister has made it clear that she has no intention to ‘weaken’ the EU or the common market. Nevertheless, the British Government has so far revealed few details about what it is expecting from the Brexit talks and is holding back from fully revealing what the British government is anticipating stating that this would tamper negotiations with Brussels.
MEETING OF THE HEADS OF STATE AND GOVERNMENT IN MALTA NEXT MONTH
The Maltese Prime Minister’s key message on illegal immigration at the plenary session of the European Parliament confirms what was said at the official inauguration of the Maltese Presidency – that immediate decisions on how illegal immigration must be confronted must be an absolute priority before another major crisis explodes. Reacting to the remarks made during the plenary session, the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat urged the European Union countries to take decisions now and show solidarity to avoid having to make much harsher decisions. “Unless we are ready to take such bold moves, we would be made to take even bolder ones in the months to come, and these decisions would be led by people who do not have progress of the European project at heart. This is a matter which we intended tackling directly during the meeting of the Heads of State and Government in Malta next month”.
Photo credit: Department of Information Malta