Ernest Michael, 65, could have never dreamed that he would be asked to discuss the future of Europe at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
With a background in tourism and having worked in a freeport, the now-public accountant was surprised when he received a call asking him to attend the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Last weekend, 200 citizens from all over the EU gathered in Strasbourg to discuss European values and rights, democracy, rule of law, and security. One of them was Ernest Michael, who was representing Malta together with Lenise.
Citizens are in the spotlight at the conference, and it was ensured they were representative of Europe in age, gender, and educational background to reflect the EU’s demographic and social diversity.
Their ideas and recommendations on the future direction they want for Europe will be taken into account by the European Parliament as well as the other EU institutions and advisory bodies in future decision-making.
Lovin Malta made its way to Strasbourg to cover the event and spoke to Ernest Michael, one of the two Maltese citizens representing Malta at the European Citizens’ Panels.
About the EU, he said that everyone at the conference agreed that citizens lack a lot of information.
“The EU to me is a shadow,” Ernest said. “It’s in the background, you don’t know what’s going on. When something hits, thankfully they are there.”
At first, Ernest was sceptical about travelling to France, as he hadn’t travelled for a year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “But on the whole it was good, the Parliament and Strasbourg are very strict about keeping it COVID-19-free,” he said.
His overall experience was great. “At first I didn’t know how to put on the microphone and change the languages. But soon I met many people of different ages, backgrounds and education. Everyone was very excited to be there. I really enjoyed it!”
“I made a lot of friends from Slovenia, Sweden, Germany… From everywhere! For lunch, everyone wanted to sit at the same table.”
And speaking to so many Europeans, he realised Malta “doesn’t do too badly… Although we could do better.”
“There were lots of differences with other countries. Many are not very happy and against their governments, especially the Hungarians I met.”
The topics discussed in his workshops were rights and non-discrimination, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, protecting human rights and nature, data, privacy, and cyber security.
His main concern for the future of the EU is the union’s relations with Russia and China. He was also disappointed with how the EU tackled COVID-19. “It took too long to get their act in order.”
And with all the workshops, plenary sessions and discussions, there was little time to enjoy Strasbourg. “I would have preferred to have some glasses of wine. But all in all, it was quite an experience!”
His next panel will be online, in November, and for the final panel, he will travel and meet the others again in Florence.
This article forms part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. These articles reflect only the authors’ views. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information these articles contain.
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