Malta’s EU Presidency is taking place during a defining moment for all of us. It is happening at a time when we are surrounded by political turmoil and uncertainty which is questioning most of our long standing values chief amongst which are our belief in the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of life, the common good, solidarity towards those who are the weakest in our society, the fair distribution of wealth – all of which are at the core of the political agenda embraced by populist politicians across the globe.
From an international perspective, we are at the start of a new American Presidency which promises to be challenging on a number of important issues such as the United States’ relationship with Europe and Russia especially on matters dealing with security, globalisation and the implementation of international trade agreements and climate change.
It is also taking place at a time when the European Union faces its umpteenth crisis. After having survived the catastrophic impact of the global financial and economic crisis, it now faces the reality of a divorce forced upon it by the British people in a plebiscite that has shocked the Union to its very core. Losing such an important member sent shockwaves throughout the whole EU including Malta who unfortunately loses a precious partner who was most of the time on the same side of our arguments.
Our presidency is also happening at the beginning of a year during which we will witness important political events taking place in some major European countries : Germany, France, Holland and perhaps Italy. The uncertainty linked to all these four exercises in democracy emanates from the potential impact of populist leaders such as Le Pen in France, AfD in Germany, Wilders in Holland and Grillo in Italy. In all four instances, there is an evident common denominator : a deep ante establishment feeling by electorates that feel disillusioned with the fare delivered by governments led by traditional centre left or centre right parties.
The Maltese presidency must continue to face the reality of an unsettled North African coast with Libya still unable to find a politically acceptable unifying factor that would bring stability to this part of the region. It is also having to face the fallout of the worst human tragedy since the second world war : Syria and the atrocities we have witnessed happening in places which – for those who care – are now imprinted in our psyche : Homs, Idlib, Aleppo.
All of this has continued to push the migration issue to the forefront of the list of challenges facing Europe and the rest of the world.
How do we respond to this ? How should we, as European citizens and as Maltese, respond to each one of these challenges in a manner that re-ignites our belief in the institutions that govern us all ?
Of course, as the Prime Minister of Malta stated in his address during the opening ceremony of Malta’s EU Presidency a few days ago, we must keep our feet firmly on the ground and understand that none of us will be able to provide the recipe for solutions to all of these problems. But the Maltese fingerprint must be present in all agenda items that are and will be handled during the six month Presidency.
Notwithstanding the negative comments which we sometimes come across in some blogs, commentaries and opinion pieces, I insist that Malta is a unique and special example of what in essence is a success story against all odds. Our size, our population density, our vulnerability, our economies of scale, our history as a colony – all these are ingredients that should have broken us. They have not. Not by coincidence but because of inspired Maltese politicians who believed in our collective ability to overcome the odds against us – the “yes we can mentality” that allowed us to seek independence and succeed, that allowed us to seek political reconciliation and succeed, that allowed us to seek European Union membership and succeed.
The evident successful track record of the Maltese could not be the orphan son or daughter of an unknown parent. It could not be the unintended result of forces of coincidence. Neither could it be the result of wrong policies or half-witted leaders.
It was the result of a value based vision that guided us along the difficult and tortuous path of a very young democracy that has managed to learn both from its mistakes and from its successes. And it is precisely this “value” based approach which today seems to be at risk and which therefore requires leadership that re-ignites the vision.
Specifically, I would argue that the “common good” must remain a guiding precept for each decision that is taken. This contradicts those who – in today’s political reality check – believe that it is now no longer a matter of “common good” but a matter of “personal good”. As a result we are faced with decisions that inevitably create unfair distribution of wealth, marginalisation of the weak and vulnerable in our society, and the weakening of what is crucial for our social stability : our families, our children, our work environment and our mutual respect as human beings whose chief characteristic is our diversity.
I am confident that embracing this value based attitude will bring our politicians closer to what our European and Maltese electorates expect from our leaders. The ante-establishment, fake news, populist agenda will not be defeated if our politicians decide to clone this approach thinking that this will be a vote catcher. It will only be defeated if our electorates see a genuine policy that is aimed at improving the society in which we live, the schools where we send our children, the safety of the environments in which we live, the fairness of the workplace where we are employed, the cleanliness of the seas in which we swim, and the fairness by which each one of us is treated – including the child of a migrant from Somalia who arrived on our shores after a nightmare journey escaping from the horrors of war, famine, torture and injustice.
In a very recent article dealing with the uncertainty we are facing (published in the Financial Times 17th January 2017) Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, stated that “…all responsible politicians, civil society and business leaders must stand firm and reassert our basic, common values of dignity for all”. She is right.
16th January 2017