Malta officially takes over EU Presidency in style
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