On July 31, 2018, MEUSAC organised the first in a series of public consultations that are being held around 27 Member States of the EU, with the exception of the United Kingdom. The theme for the citizens’ consultations is ‘Għid tiegħek dwar l-Ewropa’. The citizens’ consultations were initially proposed by French President Emanuel Macron who stated the need to listen more to Europeans in order to reconnect citizens to the European project. ‘Għid tiegħek dwar l-Ewropa’ reflects the idea promoted by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for such a dialogue on the EU and its future to be widened to include citizens who feel excluded or who have different ideas to bring to the table on where they want the EU to go. A final report based on the summaries to be drawn up by each participating Member State will be drafted and forwarded to the EU Heads of State and Government for consideration and discussion starting from the December 2018 European Council. The final outcome of the EU-wide consultation process will be presented as an input to the discussions of EU heads of State and Government at the summit to be held in May 2019 in Sibiu, Romania, the first to be held after the UK’s exit from the EU.
Addressing those present at the Auberge d’Aragon, MEUSAC Head Vanni Xuereb emphasised that the aim of these events was not to have long speeches, nor to defend the EU or its institutions, but to have an open dialogue with citizens who would not normally be involved in the institutional decision-making process.
The Minister for European Affairs and Equality, Dr Helena Dalli, delivered the opening address in which she referred to the many challenges the EU is facing these days. She highlighted Brexit and immigration. With reference to the latter, she described how the current flow of thousands of persons attempting to reach Europe crossing the Mediterranean Sea is creating tensions between Member States and is also a major concern for both citizens and governments. To this end, Minister Dalli raised the importance of reforming the Dublin regulation in a spirit of solidarity, one of the values on which the EU is founded.
The Minister for European Affairs also stressed the importance of structured social dialogue, and the positive results this has yielded as can be witnessed by the strong support for the EU in Malta in which MEUSAC plays a vital part as it encompasses various avenues for public consultation on EU related matters.
Ms Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs of France, also addressed participants via a pre-recorded video message in which she expressed her satisfaction that the consultations were being held in Malta. Madame Loiseau advocated a bottom-up approach, highlighting the fact that all European citizens are stakeholders in the European project.
A panel composed of the Parliamentary Secretary for Social Dialogue and EU Funds Dr Aaron Farrugia, Members of the European Parliament Dr Alfred Sant (S&D), and Dr Francis Zammit Dimech (EPP), and the Head of the European Commission Representation in Malta Dr Elena Grech assisted in the debate.
Dr Xuereb moderated the event and solicited interventions by members of the panel and the audience on the future of Europe, the contribution that Malta can give to the EU and the challenges that lie ahead.
Parliamentary Secretary Aaron Farrugia mentioned the rise of populism in Europe and the need to be more pragmatic when it comes to managing an EU where all 27 Member States agree that we respect the four fundamental freedoms and strengthen the single market. Beyond that, in Dr Farrugia’s view, the EU has to look for a system of coalitions of the willing – which is to an extent already in place in certain areas such as PESCO (the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defence), Schengen and the common currency. Recently this approach was also adopted to deal with the influx of illegal migrants into the EU.
With the European Parliament elections approaching, MEP Francis Zammit Dimech referred to the issue of voter participation. While noting that the turnout in Malta is very high, he emphasised the need to focus on topics related to the environment, labour conditions, health and youth, rather than the campaign being hijacked by national issues.
MEP Alfred Sant noted that the EU is a democratic institution but is also a Europe of nation states, with each and every one of the EU28 having their own interests and inclinations. He stressed on the importance of not comparing one Member State to the other, citing divergence and cohesion issues as examples.
The Head of the European Commission Representation in Malta, Elena Grech, noted that the Juncker Commission has been more political than merely an administrative one. Referring to recent events, such as the signature of trade deals with Japan and Canada, Dr Grech said this shows the EU is trying to expand its borders to provide more value to the EU’s economy, and ultimately the citizens.
Issues raised by citizens present for the consultation focused on poverty, the EU decision making process, women’s rights and gender equality, transparency in tax collection and red tape in EU governance, the ecological and social dimension of Europe and natural heritage protection. Brexit and irregular migration were recurring topics during the discussion, not least because they pose a major challenge on the national front. was Another recurring point was that the EU needs to communicate better with its citizens in a language they understand.
Minister Dalli concluded the event by thanking all those present for their time and valid contributions, and hoped to see more fruitful outcomes from the public consultations which MEUSAC will be organising in the coming months. Themed consultations in the pipeline will focus on agriculture, migration, social solidarity and innovative industries.