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Liberalism and progressive attitude

D&T
July 11, 2017

“There are positive relations between Malta and Hungary, and we intend to progress these relations through maintaining an open dialogue between the nations," the Prime Minister of the Mediterranean island country, Joseph Muscat tells Diplomacy&Trade.

This June, the Labour Party
won the general elections in Malta with 55% of the popular vote. On election
night, after being given a mandate to head the government for a second term,
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said "it is clear that the people have chosen
to stay the course." As to what the ‘course’ is that Maltese voters have
approved, the Prime Minister explains to Diplomacy&Trade that “at the start
of the last legislature, we presented a roadmap to the Maltese people. This was
a plan through which we aimed to build strong foundations for our economy to
flourish, providing it a sound footing for prolonged and sustained success. We
have managed to do this – exceeding expectations in many cases. In just four
years, we saw Malta going from a sluggish economy to a vibrant one, growing at
double the rate of the Euro zone. Malta’s economy has become one of the best
performing economies in Europe, seeing unprecedented job creation and career
opportunities, halving the rate of people living in materially deprived
conditions and attracting the highest levels of foreign direct investment in
recent decades.”

He adds that staying the
course for the next legislature means that “the Maltese want us to sustain that
growth. As a re-elected government, we pledge to do this via further tax reform
providing all a tax bonus, and by ambitiously upgrading the country's
infrastructure. We will also carry forward, into this legislature, our pro-business
attitude and continue to distribute the wealth of our economic success where it
is needed most, whilst ensuring our workers and families maintain a positive
work life balance.

Presidency priorities

The apropos for
Diplomacy&Trade publishing a special section on Maltese-Hungarian relations
is that Malta held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the
first half of this year. According to PM Muscat, the overall priority of the Presidency was to unify members,
to bring citizens and the EU closer together, through pre-determined priorities
of six areas that the Maltese felt were important to the citizens they
represent. These areas included migration, social inclusion, security, the
single market, maritime policy and stabilizing Europe’s neighborhood.

“The
thought process behind these priorities was that the EU cannot afford to be
complacent in terms of migration, thus, during these six months, the agreements
made at the Valletta Summit (in November 2015) were followed up with a declaration
by the EU Council at the Malta Summit (in February, 2017). Solidarity underpins
the very existence of the Union and thus the security of our citizens was
another priority for the Maltese Presidency,” he points out.

He adds that the Maltese Presidency listened to
citizens and made advances in the digital single market by abolishing roaming
charges and extending subscriptions to online content within the EU. Other
areas of importance included pushing social policy to advance gender equality
and rights of minorities and vulnerable groups; ocean governance and the
sustainability of our oceans; and engagement and stabilization of Europe’s neighborhood
to ensure Europe remains prosperous in the face of the conflict and political
instability that affects Malta’s neighbors.

There have been several
meetings and other events under the auspices of the Maltese EU Presidency. Of
these, Joseph Muscat highlights the Malta Summit which was held in February as
“it was praised both for its efficiency but more importantly for genuinely
advancing the issue of migration which has been the cause of much consternation
in parts of the Union. Whilst progress is never commensurate to the urgency of
the matter, the Summit went a long way in finding common grounds of understanding
and giving the issue the prominence it deserves.”

Up to the challenge

In summary of the work and
achievements of the Maltese EU Presidency, the Prime Minister says “we stepped
up to the challenge and, in my opinion, as well as that of other EU leaders, we
seem to have succeeded. We simultaneously held a general election which,
contrary to the warnings we received, had no negative impact on the running of
the Presidency. The work of the EU Presidency was aimed at initiating a new
approach to how we execute our work within the EU, and how the Union functions
and interacts with its citizens. It focused on putting the citizens at the
heart of the Union, and it is intended to start a project that will reap results
in the next five or ten years, not by the end of the Maltese Presidency. 
On the other hand, there were also many tangible achievements of the
Presidency, including abolishing roaming charges within the EU and systematic
checks at external borders.”

Illegal migration

Perhaps, the gravest problem
the European Union has faced in the past few years is that of illegal
migration. When asked the question of how much this has affected Malta and
whether he is satisfied with the assistance EU member countries provided Malta
in tackling this problem, the Prime Minister agrees that the immigration remains an important issue for the EU and Malta,
“but we have started to tackle it better in Malta over the last four years.
However, that being said, we do believe this is a European issue that merits a
European solution. The Union must recognize the unique position of member
states at the borders, and their special stints with regards to migrant flows.
The Union must ensure that in this case, the principle of solidarity remains
strong between member states and is not selectively applied. There is a
disappointment that not all member states have met expectations on promises
made by themselves, nevertheless, progress has still been made.”

As regards the way this
problem should be handled to prevent new waves of illegal migration in the
future, the Maltese PM highlights that the European Council made a bold and
ambitious declaration during the Summit in February. “Whilst we have no false
delusions that the issue of migration can have any easy solutions, we believe
that we can achieve small, yet tangible practical solutions, which would go a
long way in alleviating the hardships that immigration inherently brings with
it. These solutions include training and equipment for Libyan coastguards, and
keeping track of the routes used for smuggler’s activities as well as possible
diversions and alternative routes.”

He adds that the Partnership
Framework and the Valletta Action Plan have allowed the EU to deepen
cooperation with a number of partner countries to ensure a sustainable
management of migration flows that is humane and where all stakeholders commit
to sharing the responsibility in terms of the principle of solidarity.

Malta and Hungary

Malta and Hungary are both members of the European Union.
Regarding bilateral ties, PM Muscat is of the view that “there are positive
relations between Malta and Hungary, and we intend to progress these relations
through maintaining an open dialogue between the nations. In a bilateral
meeting with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, we had discussed
increasing visitor numbers between Malta and Hungary via new flight routes and
commercial ventures. As for issues that the two governments have similar views
or disagree on, he stresses that “Hungary and Malta both have very liberal
attitudes towards the economy and employment, though Malta carries that
liberalism and progressive attitude to social matters, as well. Our national
positions towards migration are very different although there is a mutual
understanding of each other's position.”

D&T

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