Interview with head of Coreper II – Marlene Bonnici

Migration: Valletta Action Plan implementation to be assessed, identify bottle necks

Malta’s Permanent Representative to the EU Marlene Bonnici on her experience so far since Malta assumed the Presidency of the EU Council, on the root causes of migration and the dossiers which may be approved during the presidency.

What has been your experience so far since Malta took over the Presidency?

So far it has been quite a positive experience. Preparations for the Presidency have been going on for around three-and-a-half years. The staff at the Permanent Representation has been working very hard.

We have prepared well for the presidency and although you can never prepare enough, the work we did in the last year and especially in the last months, is paying off. Feedback is also positive – both from the institutions as well as the Member States. We have also discovered a new side to the EU. I am pretty confident that Malta’s Presidency will be successful.

What does a country gain by taking over the rotating Presidency of the Council?

All EU Member States are required to take over the Presidency for six months in rotation. The presidency not only gives us the chance to add our own flavour to the agenda, but also provides an excellent opportunity, especially for a country as small as ours, to gain a higher profile on the European and international scenes. This is also a period where Malta can reap the benefits of the exposure we get during the presidency. There are around 300 meetings taking place in Malta – including the informal summit of Heads of State and Government, which took place on February 3.

The role of the Presidency requires us to continuously negotiate with Member States and with the other institutions, in particular with the European Parliament.  We also work closely with the European Commission  and the European External Action Service (EEAS) as well as with the General Secretariat of the Council, the latter being our Secretariat for the period of the presidency.  Therefore, while most of us know a lot of these people well, the presidency provides an additional opportunity for our teams to get to know the different institutions from a different angle. This experience is not only important for the period of the Presidency but also beyond it.

Which sectors falling under the council configurations within your remit do you predict will make significant progress in terms of getting dossiers approved?

We are working to make significant progress in a number of policy areas.  We hope to achieve results on migration, particularly the external side but also working hard on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). On the external side, we want to try and focus, in particular, on the Central Mediterranean route which is very difficult.  Regarding the CEAS, there are a number of legislative files on which we hope to achieve progress, including the EASO dossier, which is quite important as it will turn Malta-based EASO into a fully-fledged agency.  Security is also an area where we are going to be ambitious. We are working hard on the entry/exit system and the proposal concerning the European Travel and Information System – which are both very complex but we are not shying away from the challenge.

There are then the dossiers that fall under ECOFIN that are also a priority for us. We expect political agreement on the Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship files (EUVECA & EUSEF) which are important in the context of access to finance for our companies. We are also hoping to conclude a number of financial services files, including the one on Securitisation.

The General Affairs Council will have the difficult task of preparing the normal meetings of the European Council but will also be the Council formation tasked with dealing with Brexit. We hope to be able to approve the negotiating directives during our presidency. The Council will also adopt conclusions as a response to the European Commission’s Communication entitled ‘Next Steps for a Sustainable European Future: European Action for Sustainability’. The Communication is the Union’s follow-up to the adoption by the United Nations of the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, a comprehensive plan of action meant to address all the dimensions of sustainable development namely, poverty eradication and the social, economic and environmental aspects of development. The Sustainable Development Goals will be mainstreamed into EU policies and initiatives.

The GAC is also responsible also for EU enlargement and we hope to see one or two Inter-Governmental Conferences held with the candidate countries to open negotiations on further chapters. We still remember how we felt when we opened chapters during our accession negotiations and, therefore, we work to support the candidate countries. Finally, we are also hoping to close the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) review, the GAC being the responsible Council formation.

We should not forget trade. There are some exciting files coming up and on which we are working hard, including the trade agreement with Japan and the modernisation of the Customs Union with Turkey.

Finally, we also hope to seek an agreement on the Consensus for Development – which is the EU’s blueprint for the next 10 years in terms of development policy.

What kind of approach is needed to achieve a comprehensive and balanced approach that addresses the root causes of migration and forced displacement?

Malta is working on a comprehensive approach. We are putting a lot of work into the external dimension – working with partners and stakeholders to try and avoid further loss of life in the Mediterranean.  We also believe that addressing the root causes of migration requires stronger engagement with our partners and that is why we hosted the summit on February 3.  We are also following up on the 2015 Valletta Summit with a meeting of senior officials to look at the Valletta Action Plan, assess its implementation and identify bottle necks. Malta will also continue to support the good work of the European External Action Service (EEAS) through the Partnership Framework which are already rendering results in a number of critical countries, including Niger.

On the other migratory routes, we will ensure that the Council continues to monitor the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement.

Moreover, the EU is putting measures in place, like, for instance, through the European Investment Bank (EIB). The Maltese Presidency will be working on the EIB’s External Lending Mandate and the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) files, both aimed at facilitating and providing investment in neighbourhood countries to assist in their social and economic development.

At the same time, Malta has always advocated solidarity and continues to do so. Solidarity is one of the fundamental principles of the EU. We acknowledge that some countries have their own legitimate concerns, but it is also not sustainable to let front line Member States manage the migration burden alone.  Therefore, we will continue to work on this matter to try and achieve a broad consensus on the main principles.

The migration phenomenon is very complex and multi-dimensional and we believe that we have to work on several tracks in parallel. We also believe that results on the external side will facilitate agreement on the more difficult internal files.

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