15th anniversary of Malta’s EU accession

Article written by Neil Portelli – Director, EU Policy and Legislation
Published on The Malta Independent – 01.05.19

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Malta’s EU accession. So much has changed since May 1, 2004 with Malta’s relationship with the EU being nationally endorsed opposed to before Malta joined the EU.

Malta’s European connection officially dates back a few decades with the country signing an Association Agreement with what was then known as the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1970. However, it was in 1990 that Malta took one of its most significant steps when it formally submitted its application to join the European Community. Fast forward 14 years and the country celebrated its accession to the EU following a period that was characterised by a number of political back and forths.

The past 15 years have not only witnessed a shift towards generally accepting and adapting to European values. More has changed, such as our level of connectivity with the outside world, our currency, our infrastructure, the way our civil society operates in terms of decision-making and our geo-political relevance notwithstanding our obvious geographic limitations.

Malta has, to a certain extent, found a community in the EU that has provided a consistent set of standards and values, we as Europeans aspire towards. While differing in opinion on some occasions or falling short on others, Malta is now consistently measuring itself by the EU’s yardstick.

A clearer sense of who we are as a country, participating in the largest trading bloc in the world, has led to an increased sense of self-assurance. From a country on the periphery of Europe, we have now been consistently and actively exposing ourselves to new ideals and ways of thinking. Our way of doing things is quite different.

In economic terms, the stability offered by EU membership, coupled with the adoption of the euro currency, has not only kept the islands ‘safe’ in what was a very turbulent time for the continent but constructed the platform for the country to register significant economic growth which is forecast to persist in the coming years.

Strong flows of foreign investment to a broad range of sectors coupled with the country’s decision to invest EU funds in Malta’s human capital and infrastructure have invigorated Malta’s economy, making it resilient. While other neighbouring economies, especially in Europe’s southern region, have stalled, we have continuous growth. Had Malta not been an EU Member State throughout the global economic crisis that hit in 2008-2009, the consequences for a small and vulnerable national currency would have more likely been catastrophic to say the least.

Being an EU member has also given Malta the opportunity to voice its concerns and opinions on a wide array of political issues facing Europe. While some argue that our voice is not as strong when compared to the voice of much larger Member States, it is still considerably strong when put into perspective. In the Council of the EU, the co-legislating institution, together with the European Parliament, Malta is at par with all other Member States, while Malta has six elected Members of the European Parliament which have helped shape the EU agenda on various issues that also concern Maltese citizens.

EU membership has also provided Maltese civil society with the opportunity to actively participate in decision-making at an EU level. MEUSAC has, for the past decade, facilitated a consultation process on behalf of the government together with civil society on several of the European Commission’s proposed EU policies and legislation. While guaranteeing engagement on all fronts, the country’s position at Council level on a number of key dossiers is now more significant and informed.

The most recent approval in terms of EU membership took place in the early months of 2017 when Malta hosted the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. Tasked with leading discussions between EU governments as well as negotiating draft laws with the European Parliament, Malta, as an unbiased chair, negotiated deals to push through legislation in dozens of policy areas in the midst of the migration crisis and Brexit.

While punching above its weight, Malta still faces a number of challenges as it looks to the future. As a fully fledged EU Member State, the Union’s problems are now its own and with the European Parliament elections taking place in a few weeks’ time, citizens will have the opportunity to exercise their right to participate in this Europe-wide exercise aimed at representing the people at institutional level.

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