As one of the founding principles of the European Union, the freedom of movement allowing EU citizens to move to, live in, and in certain circumstances access the welfare system of the EU country to which they move, is – with the single market issue – perhaps one of the most discussed topics in the present Brexit scenario. Many consider the Schengen Agreement – where internal border checks have been abolished – as one of the greatest achievements of the European Union. Set against the background of a prevailing threat from international terrorism, it is an obvious choice of target practice for both critics of and adherents to the European ideal. The Maltese element in it inevitably displays the same hue-and-cry characteristics whenever it crops up.
So it is always with this in mind that most of us bring the issue up inside the EU’s various institutions. While everyone is inclined to give it the “local” touch, there is no hiding the need to treat it at pan-European level by way of not only retaining the many benefits and rights free movement brings with it, but also ensuring the system works in a way that enhances the prospects of greater social mobility. This in turn offers different generations of EU citizens the chance to obtain better access to job opportunities, to experience cultural and intellectual enrichment, and to gain a better social status for themselves and their families.
In the relatively short time that Malta has been an EU member, its citizens have shown they are ready, willing and able to be a part of this massive movement of people, with many of them establishing themselves as reliable, high-ranking and innovative players on the field of play that currently holds no less than 14 million other contenders.
Maltese young men and women today seek and successfully exploit opportunities to study and work in various EU member states regardless of the old adage that traditionally says “there’s no better place than home”. With practically the whole of Europe as their home, this new generation of Maltese continues to distance itself from the insularity and inhibitions of islander mentality. Of course they do so without prejudice to the idea of finding work and accepting other social commitments within Malta’s own thriving economy.
Freedom of movement is a concept which, sadly, is often misinterpreted and misconstrued to instil fear and to foment rupture in light of the overwhelming influx of immigrants and refugees – from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe – that the Continent is presently facing. The dilemma for all EU countries is to find a balance between keeping their avenues wide open for their citizens while still making sure border controls are optimised against the entry of dangerous elements that could threaten their security.
The EU has to find the answers. This is what our citizens expect from us. They rightly clamour for new ideas and better solutions. In fairness, most EU institutions are now geared towards ensuring that attainment, however difficult and complicated it continues to be.
Freedom of movement is sacrosanct to our everyday business as MEPs. I know from first hand how eager and enterprising our students and workers can be. It is a success story that we need to perpetrate as we create a level playing-field for all those interested in forging ahead into an ever-changing world where it is not the colour of your skin or the tongue that you speak which provide you with job/study opportunities and a better social status, but your talents, your aptitude, your self-belief and your spirit of enterprise.
It may sometimes all sound like a pipedream, but it in fact is a generational challenge, one that we won’t deny our citizens at both national and European levels. It is a process that has shown it is working. Fine-tuning it to fit actual needs and priming it for further future success have to be our targets. The Maltese experience thus far spurs us on.
“” The EU has to find the answers