Malta of­fi­cially takes over EU Pres­i­dency in style

Malta Independent - - NEWS - He­lena Grech

Malta of­fi­cially as­sumed the Pres­i­dency of the Euro­pean Union yes­ter­day evening in a daz­zling cer­e­mony at the Mediter­ranean Con­fer­ence Cen­tre with per­for­mances by ZfinMalta and the Malta Phil­har­monic Orches­tra.

But be­fore the show, Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter for Euro­pean Af­fairs Louis Grech, Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for the EU Pres­i­dency and for EU funds Ian Borg, Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk and Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker all made their own in­tro­duc­tory re­marks to Malta’s six-month stint at the helm of the EU.

Mus­cat: We must of­fer small, use­ful so­lu­tions that make a dif­fer­ence

Ac­cord­ing to Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat, the big­gest chal­lenge for the Pres­i­dency and for all EU in­sti­tu­tions is to be re­al­is­tic and prag­matic.

“One can­not ex­pect to solve the world’s prob­lems in six months. We must of­fer small, use­ful so­lu­tions that make a dif­fer­ence,” he said.

He stressed the per­sis­tent dis­con­nect that can be felt by politicians and or­di­nary cit­i­zens: “We re­spond to ques­tions that no­body is ask­ing at the work­place, around the din­ner ta­ble or while gro­cery shop­ping. This makes peo­ple say that politicians have such a lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of me and my life, how can I ex­pect them to rep­re­sent me?

“Our first job is not a mas­sive one. We have to iden­tify the ques­tions that the pub­lic want us to an­swer. If we man­age to do this, if we achieve this, we would be closer than ever be­fore and this would al­low for mean­ing­ful change. It would gen­er­ate val­ues that squash pop­ulist sen­ti­ment, and would show a uni­fied front.”

Dr Mus­cat spoke about the most com­plex prob­lems plagu­ing not just the EU but the whole world, such as se­cu­rity, ter­ror­ism, mi­gra­tion and a stalling econ­omy.

He spoke of his wishes to solve is­sues such as re­mov­ing mobile roam­ing charges, en­sur­ing that no one is dis­crim­i­nated against when mak­ing on­line pur­chase and a num­ber of other prac­ti­cal is­sues. He said that while not ev­ery­thing can be solved, be­ing re­al­is­tic will al­low for some mean­ing­ful change.

“We have an op­por­tu­nity to send a strong sig­nal, the mes­sage that we are plac­ing peo­ple at the cen­tre of our work. This is a ‘re­union’ – al­low­ing for ef­forts to get back to the peo­ple.”

Juncker: Malta will take a peren­nial role in the EU’s de­vel­op­ment

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker said that the beauty and his­toric value of last night’s con­cert was sym­bolic of Malta.

He ex­pressed his ex­cite­ment over Val­letta hav­ing been made the Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture for 2018, and praised the beauty of the cap­i­tal city.

“Malta will take a peren­nial role in the EU’s de­vel­op­ment. Malta may be a small coun­try, but it has great am­bi­tions. Com­ing from Lux­em­bourg, I am well aware of what it means to come from a small state. Malta is pre­pared in the best pos­si­ble way for the Coun­cil pres­i­dency. We must show unity and forge ahead with the pri­or­i­ties set out. The Val­letta Sum­mit on 3 Fe­bru­ary will pro­vide a valu­able op­por­tu­nity to dis­play the achieve­ments and to carry on with our pri­or­i­ties.”

Mr Juncker made a hu­mor­ous and com­mend­able ef­fort to say Awguri ghas-sena tajba (Best wishes for the up­com­ing year), to loud ap­plause.

Grech: These are ex­tra­or­di­nary times that merit ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­tion

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Louis Grech cau­tioned the rise of ex­treme na­tion­al­ist, anti-EU sen­ti­ment that is tak­ing hold over Europe. He cited the stalling econ­omy and a num­ber of other fac­tors that have con­trib­uted to this.

He called for the up­com­ing year to be a “de­ci­sive” one for the whole EU in the light of elections in France, the UK trig­ger­ing its exit clause from the EU (Brexit) and the per­sis­tent chal­lenges of mi­gra­tion.

“Cit­i­zens are ask­ing whether the EU is a pos­i­tive and rel­a­tive force to­day. We must stand up and re­spond to such sen­ti­ment. It would be a big mis­take to al­low for a down­ward spi­ral, our duty is to come out with an ex­cep­tional re­sponse to such think­ing. These are ex­tra­or­di­nary times that merit ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­tion.

He con­cluded by quot­ing Ma­hatma Ghandi by say­ing “be the change you want to see in the world”.

Tusk: We were lucky that this dif­fi­cult role fell on Malta

Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk in his re­marks said that this Pres­i­dency comes at a chal­leng­ing time, after a se­ries of un­fore­seen events have taken place.

“We were lucky that this dif­fi­cult role fell on Malta. Few have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Ital­ians, who will host cel­e­bra­tions of the an­niver­sary of the Treaty of Rome, few have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the Bri­tish, who will be ne­go­ti­at­ing their exit, and lastly few have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of mi­gra­tion.”

He said that Malta is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the his­tory of Euro­pean cul­ture through a lens.

Borg: Malta is small but op­ti­mistic that we can make a dif­fer­ence

Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary Ian Borg thanked all the in­di­vid­u­als be­hind the scenes who have worked tire­lessly for Malta’s Pres­i­dency.

“This is your (the pub­lic’s) Pres­i­dency. We will work for you, with­out dis­tinc­tion, to make a tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence in your lives. We will work for our ef­forts to be com­mu­ni­cated with the pub­lic, and ac­knowl­edge the need for bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“We must put cit­i­zens at the heart of Europe, Malta is small but we are op­ti­mistic that we can make a dif­fer­ence.

“Let us let noth­ing and no­body spoil the ef­forts we are mak­ing to im­prove the lives for all. I am con­vinced that Malta will leave a last­ing mark on the his­tory of the EU,” he con­cluded.

Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat ad­dress­ing last night’s cer­e­mony. Be­hind him is Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk (right), Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker (cen­tre) and Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for the EU Pres­i­dency Ian Borg.

Photo: Jonathan Borg

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