Malta and France are “averse to EU Treaty change”
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In a joint statement today, Malta and France said that they agree that whilst every effort should be made to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union, “any agreement reached with the British Government on its proposals for reform of the Union should be accommodated within the existing Treaty.”
Malta and France reaffirmed their reluctance to contemplate further Treaty change at this stage, when the Minister of State for European Affairs of France Harlem Désir paid a call on the Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech this week.
The Deputy Prime Minister said Malta looked favourably upon certain demands being made by the UK Government and said it was important that the member states show flexibility, but warned that “further Treaty change would open a Pandora’s Box as different member states could make new demands.”
Minister Désir agreed that this would usher in a long period of uncertainty during the many years the Union could spend discussing such demands, which was unwelcome. He added that the functions and institutions could improve and be made more citizen-centred, but warned that certain principles like freedom of movement could not be put in question.
Minister Désir shared Louis Grech’s concerns about the situation in Libya and the grave risks that the Union could run if the country did not return to stability. He too believed that the Libyan situation and irregular migration flows were closely inter-linked, but he also highlighted the aspects of terrorism and human trafficking.
Mr Grech said that now that the EU had started listening to what Malta had long been saying, it was important that Libya, migration, security threats and trafficking gangs remain at the top of the EU’s policy agenda.
The Deputy Prime Minister said any long-lasting solution should include a kind of Marshall Plan for the underdeveloped or developing countries at the source of irregular migration in sub-Saharan Africa, a strong fight against smuggling and criminal networks, and a mechanism whereby there was collective responsibility by the member states to accommodate irregular migrants according to size of the country, population and GDP.
Harlem Désir congratulated Malta on its economic performance. He added that the French Government was also making various structural reforms, and was now happy to see a resumption of economic growth that was necessary to create thousands of jobs per year.
The Deputy Prime Minister replied that Malta’s good economic performance combined a marked improvement in public finances with healthy economic growth. This had been achieved through a mix of tax cuts, fiscal and labour incentives, and reduced utility charges on consumers and businesses. Lower-income and middle-income families would feature even more prominently in the next Budget.
Mr Grech referred to discussions in the EU about pension reform. He said that the Maltese Government believed that the Maltese pension system could remain sustainable in the long term without the drastic changes being contemplated elsewhere.
“The Government was working on the way forward on this issue, building on the existing pension system, including the recent changes in the Budget, and would be submitting its proposals to the European Commission.”
Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg, who was present for the meeting, briefed Minister Désir on Malta’s preparations for the EU Presidency in 2017.
He said that Malta and the other members of the Trio, Netherlands and Slovakia, agreed that the agenda for their Presidency should be more focused, rather than an unrealistically broad one. Though the agenda was still a work-in-progress, there would certainly be an emphasis on migration, the Energy Union and maritime affairs.
He welcomed France’s offer to cooperate with Malta, particularly with the secondment of diplomats.
Other matter discussed by Mr Grech and Minister Désir included the further strengthening of the Single Market and giving it a social dimension, the Digital Agenda that could spur economic growth, and a renewed emphasis on measures being tailored to the specificities of particular member states. In this context, Mr Grech said that tax harmonisation was not welcomed by Malta.
Mr Grech and Minister Désir augured that the Eurogroup and Greece would find a solution to the issue of Greece’s debt repayments, but agreed that more effort was required by Greece to overcome the outstanding sticking points. A Grexit was not on the cards, however.
The two Ministers also talked about the excellent bilateral relations that exist between the two countries which could, however, be further reinforced. Minister Désir said that a suitable occasion for this would be when Valletta becomes the European Capital of Culture in 2018.