As the EU kicked off its ambitious Conference on the Future of Europe, Malta’s government representative urged the European institutions to get closer to citizens and their aspirations.
“We are conscious that this European project is not something which should be taken for granted or a model that fits all. Just as our forefathers had the vision to foresee a common European project with common values, we should be inspired by that same vigour to work towards a European community which takes into account the different realities and reflects citizens’ aspirations,” Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Carmelo Abela said.
Abela, who is currently facing a police investigation for his alleged involvement in a bank heist in 2010, joined the conference virtually.
In his short speech he also said the Conference should result in a truly effective exercise which implements the citizens’ real concerns and aspirations that guarantees a better quality of life for all and a true sense of belonging to the European project.
“A people-centred approach and institutions that are seen to be closer to the citizens is the way that we can guarantee a future for Europe,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola said the EU must learn from “painful lessons” brought about by the financial, political, environmental, social and health storms member states had weathered together.
“In this process, we must be honest about Europe. Honest about our failings and the frustrations of our processes, but also honest about our successes. And we have had a few. Europe is peace. It is clean air and clean seas. Justice and rule of law. Rights, equality and opportunity. It is vaccines and ventilators. It is jobs and dignity. That is the bigger picture we cannot lose sight of,” Metsola, the First Vice-President of the European Parliament, said.
“But Europe can be more. The weight of the world democratic order now rests more heavily on our shoulders. We need the tools to be able to carry it. That means embracing change. We can lead on digitalisation and new tech. We can create the framework that our businesses need. We can reinforce the social pillar and ensure equal opportunity. And we can do that and respect the diversity that makes the EU so unique. This is our time of opportunity. Let’s think of “what can be” rather than “what is”.”
The conference’s co-chair Guy Verhofstadt compared it to a relay race where citizen-led panels pass the baton to politicians. In fact, today’s plenary session involved a number of non-politicians, and their involvement will increase in months to come.
Malta’s citizen representative was Mandy Falzon, the CEO of Servizzi Ewropej f’Malta (SEM), the agency formerly called MEUSAC.
She said this conference was a unique opportunity to reach out to citizens, “particularly those that usually feel disengaged when hearing about anything related to the EU”.
She said SEM will strive to bring the EU closer to citizens in Malta by collaborating with stakeholders to organise debates, discussions and dialogues to engage citizens from all walks of life, from young children to young people and the elderly.
“Together we want to ensure that this initiative is not another passive listening exercise but one in which every citizen feels that they have a voice in shaping the European future,” she said.
Lovin Malta also spoke to Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar who was chosen by the European Socialists to join today’s plenary.
She reiterated the need for “a much more inclusive and social Europe, as well as a Europe that shows effective solidarity”.
“We need to get closer to our citizens, and we should use the Conference on the Future of Europe as an occasion to listen to our people’s concerns, but also to act. We need a Europe that ensures that no country, region or person falls behind,” Cutajar said.
She added: “Europe must above all be there for those who are being discriminated against, as was the case in Hungary this week, with a discriminatory law targeting the LGBTIQ community.”
Also following the plenary session was Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, MPs Claudette Buttigieg (PN), Rosianne Cutajar (PL), Joseph Ellis (PN) and Jean Claude Micallef (PL), and Member of the European Economic and Social Committee, Stefano Mallia.
Citizens who wish to contribute their ideas for future European policy can submit them on the multilingual digital platform which has attracted some 4,600 contributions so far. These will be discussed during plenary sessions and other fora until a formal report is delivered to the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.
Have you submitted your best idea yet?