Back in July, to mark the beginning of the German Presidency, MEUSAC and the German Embassy in Malta had organised an online discussion with the same theme. The discussion during this meeting held on Tuesday, December 15 was more focused on the work done throughout the Presidency also keeping a close eye on the work to be conducted in the following two Presidencies, to be held by Portugal and Slovenia respectively.
2020 was an eventful year on many fronts and posed significant challenges worldwide. The Presidency’s work throughout the past six months revolved around addressing issues related to combating the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, reaching an agreement on the new Multiannual Financial Framework, the European Green Deal, digitalisation, the rule of law, shaping the future relationship with the United Kingdom, and Neighbourhood Policy, especially in the context of Migration.
The online discussion was moderated by Ms Mandy Falzon, Head of MEUSAC.
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Malta, H.E. Walter Haßmann said that during this Presidency a lot was achieved in favour of European citizens. He said that he is very pleased that the rule of law, a constituent held in very high regards by all Member States, has been given due consideration. The Ambassador said that he is pleased to note that in terms of climate, each Member State will be given due consideration, also in terms of production of energy especially in countries with specific needs such as Malta.
When discussing the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the Ambassador compared it to a huge stress test for all the world. He acknowledged that all governments are doing their best to keep the economy afloat, notwithstanding all the limitations. He also said that we should not limit ourselves to restarting the economy. In parallel, he said we should use the pandemic as an opportunity especially with issues such as the digitalisation.
Regarding rule of law coupled with future EU funding streams, the Ambassador said rule of law is very close to the concept of human rights. He said that one single characteristic that binds us all as EU Member States is rule of law. He explained that as a Presidency, rule of law was one of the major stumbling blocks that needed to be overcome. He insisted that all future Presidencies will be called to uphold this right.
During the discussion, Ambassador Haßmann and Ms Falzon were also joined by the Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Hon. Carmelo Abela, and the Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, Hon. Evarist Bartolo.
Minister Carmelo Abela, in his introductory remarks, recalled the challenges that were discussed at the beginning of this Presidency including the landmark decisions the European Union had set to achieve. Minister Abela explained that all that has been achieved, has been done during a worldwide pandemic.
Minister Abela augured that we must avoid ending up in a political crisis apart from a health crisis. He hinted that at this moment in time, a European Union that is dealing with an unprecedented crisis needs to stow away from a potential political crisis. Minister Abela spoke of challenges such as Brexit and said he hoped that a deal should be struck in the best interests of everyone involved.
Speaking of sustainability, Minister Abela referred to the recent agreement related to the 55% reduction of carbon emissions by 2030. He said that the agreement is an extremely ambitious one which should factor in the limitations of every Member State. On issues of climate, the Minister said, that this is a global matter and not just a European Union one. He said that taking the issue of climate as an opportunity will ultimately benefit everyone through the introduction of new jobs, better health, higher standards as a result of more innovation in various sectors and a general increase in ambition. The Minister said that another challenge will be that of convincing those who may be sceptical in relation to climate change that implications and considerable investment required for a shift towards a more sustainable future are important.
Minister Abela, speaking of a potential minimum wage for all, felt the need to explain that all Member States were given considerable leeway in the manner they spend money during the pandemic to keep the economy going. He continued by saying that once the European Union starts exiting the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, everything will hopefully start falling in-line again also in terms of how funds are spent by Member States. The Minister said that the citizens who were most affected were those who were most in need. Minister Abela mentioned that the Work-Life Balance Directive automatically implies that every Member State needs to spend more to bring it into force. Moving on to the current proposal on the Minimum Wage Directive, the Minister said that in principle, Malta is not against a minimum wage for every Member State, of course keeping in mind the specificities of all Member States. In-terms of decent living, Minister Abela said that having an agreed upon minimum wage set-up will guarantee an adequate wage for all, contribute towards the reduction of inequalities, help sustain domestic demands and strengthen incentives within a competitive work environment.
On a lesser level, Minister Abela said minimum wages can help reduce the gender pay-gap as more women than men earn a minimum wage.
Minister Bartolo speaking of the new Pact on Migration said that there seems to be no indication of what the European Union will do to resolve the over-arching issue, that is, addressing the first ports of contact, Malta included. He said that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has now made it even more difficult to reach some form of agreement on the matter. Minister Bartolo said that migration has unfortunately sometimes been transformed into an ideological matter. He explained that the numbers nowadays are much more manageable than what they were a few years ago. He said that turning migration into an ideological crusade threatens to lessen rational debates on migration. Solidarity on matters such as migration, he said, is a nice word, but putting it into practice is difficult.
Joining virtually to this event were the Ambassadors for Portugal and Slovenia, the upcoming two Presidencies of the Council of the European Union.
Ambassador of the Republic of Portugal to Malta, H.E. Pedro Nuno de Abreu e Melo Bártolo, said that the next six months will first and foremost be dedicated to combating the virus whilst building on the sound basis set out by the German Presidency in terms of a recovery for all.
Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to Malta, H.E. Tomaž Kunstelj, said that the pandemic has changed our everyday lives. He congratulated the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union for its work during the past six months and said that the Republic of Slovenia is looking forward to its second presidency. The Ambassador said that the Presidency intends to strengthen the notion of rule of law and restore a stronger and more resilient European Union for the future. He explained that Slovenia would like to focus on a comprehensive approach to dealing with such unprecedented situations such as the current pandemic. He reminded everyone of the importance of ethically based Artificial Intelligence, stating that it is becoming increasingly important in everyday life. He spoke of the Conference of the Future of Europe and said that Slovenia is looking forward to it and that he hopes this will yield positive results for all.
The discussion was followed virtually by several representatives of diplomatic missions in Malta and abroad, civil society representatives and government officials and members of the public.