If you want to inform yourself about European politics and issues ahead of next year’s MEP elections, you would do well to tune in to next week’s State of the Union debate.
An annual event, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will map out his plans for the EU for the coming year, after which MEPs will get a chance to debate the state of the EU.
With this SOTEU being the last before next year’s widely-anticipated European Parliament elections, Lovin Malta decided to ask some of Malta’s current and prospective MEPs for their take on how the EU should progress in the coming years.
Here are their responses:
David Casa (EPP MEP, PN Malta)
“One of the EU’s most valuable resources is its workforce and workers must be given the opportunity to reach their full potential”
At present the EU’s biggest challenge is the shift to populism. This is prevalent both on an international level as well as within the EU. At a time when our relationship with the US lacks the certainty we once relied on, a strong EU has become more important than ever.
If the EU doesn’t address the concerns of its citizens, it will push the electorate to populist parties that generally foster Eurosceptic ideologies that risk dismantling the EU project from within.
The EU must find a sustainable solution to irregular immigration, primarily by addressing the push factors in countries of departure. But short-term measures are also necessary. The Dublin regulation must be amended and existing asylum application centers in safe third countries should be expanded and more created. The EU needs to work with the international community to ensure the expedient relocation of persons deserving protection.
The EU must address its defence needs and become self-reliant in this area.
Alfred Sant (S&D MEP, PL Malta)
“How can we solve the immigration issue without turning Europe into a fortress and an inhumane building?”
The EU’s most pressing and divisive issue concerns its immigration policies. Absolutely not enough goodwill is being fostered and there will no common agreement on how this topic should be approached. In fact, it is clear that the European Commission’s proposals and the EU Council’s agreements on immigration are often left to gather dust.
It will be an important challenge to solve this issue without turning Europe into a fortress and an inhumane building and while sustaining EU achievements like the Schengen passport-free travel zone.
We must also pave the way for the UK to leave the EU in a manner that is orderly and fair on everyone and strike a deal on how to allocate EU funding among member states for the period between 2020 and 2027.
Ultimately, there’s also the great choice facing Europe, which is partially linked to the immigration issue, namely the choice between liberal democracy and populism. Populism is refuting many of the tenets on which the EU was founded and which is fast gaining ground to the extent that some MEPs fear populist forces could soon enjoy a relative, if not an absolute, majority in the European Parliament.
Roberta Metsola (EPP MEP, PN Malta)
“Europe is peace, Europe is prosperity, Europe is equality and opportunity – and we need to keep proving that to new generations”
The State of the European Union is an opportunity to re-affirm what Europe stands for. I see it as a chance to re-assert our values and remind ourselves and the people we represent why a strong Europe is so essential and why policy based on principle is the only way forward. Europe is peace, Europe is prosperity, Europe is equality and opportunity – and we need to keep proving that to new generations.
I hope that for the last year before the European Parliament elections, we build on what we have done in the last years and see an ambitious EU agenda that outlines initiatives in key areas – boosting jobs and economic growth, tackling migration, strengthening border management, addressing the huge environmental challenges we are facing, protecting civil rights, bolstering flagship education and research programmes like Erasmus, and, crucially, ensuring adherence and respect for the rule of law in all member states.
The Juncker Commission has delivered on a number of important points, but there is still much to be done before May 2019 if we are to ensure that we leave no gap for extremists and populists to exploit.
Miriam Dalli (S&D MEP, PL Malta)
“I want an EU that is more people-centric but this is a struggle that is becoming harder, with the rise of populist movements thriving on the alienation felt by citizens towards the EU”
The EU should look at how best to regenerate itself, with policy ideas coming from the member states. The EU is many a time seen as an increasingly red tape institution. To start addressing this problem it needs to discard its one-size-fits all model.
I want an EU that attempts to address citizens’ needs. An EU that is about job creation, social policy and equal opportunities. This is the time to harness the expertise we have within the EU, to focus more on research and innovation and stop losing out on industries and human resources which could easily thrive in the EU if they are given the right policy direction to do so.
I want an EU that is more people-centric but this is a struggle that is becoming harder, with the rise of populist movements thriving on the alienation felt by citizens towards the EU. This includes also migration, where the EU was too slow to respond in the past and now it is finding it difficult to convince all member states that the way forward is for everyone to do their part.
We need an EU that should take leadership on environmental matters such as the global fight to address climate change and pushing forward an ambitious strategy to radically reduce pollution, waste and harmful toxins.
Cyrus Engerer (PL MEP candidate)
“There must be urgent attention on Europe’s security and on how to tackle illegal online content which leads to terrorism”
While focusing on the achievements of his Commission, Juncker must address a big shift towards Euroscepticism across the continent and his speech must address challenges that have seen member states stuck on a number of issues without moving forward.
Yes, Greece is Juncker’s biggest success and must be applauded, yet urgent attention must be given to a number of areas which have lagged behind. One cannot but mention a focus needed on Europe’s security and a way to tackle illegal online content which leads to terrorism; a realistic plan for Africa, away from the usual Development Aid initiatives and having a more targeted approach in an attempt to grasp the Continent’s opportunities leading to economic growth and prosperity; and finally, a new impetus to further combat money-laundering, which apart from being a threat to the economy in itself is also security threat.
Meanwhile, a sexy topic which the Commission has promoted and which will definitely be mentioned by President Juncker will be the proposal on Summertime, showing that the Commission has listened to its citizens. Having Presided the General Affairs Group in the Council during Malta’s Presidency, it is important and I expect to see the Union address and safeguard the integrity next year’s European elections from threats like those coming from Russia, among others.
Alex Saliba (PL MEP candidate)
“To avoid more Brexits, things that can be decided in Riga, Bucharest, Madrid or anywhere which is closer to citizens, should be decided there”
The EU must be forward looking, it must plan ahead and offer people the promise of a better future. This is what happened in the beginning of the millennium with the so called Erasmus generation and what the Union needs to try to once again become. It can’t be reactionary but has to be proactive.
The Union must embrace the diversity amongst its member states and acknowledge that although it must be united in the face of emerging global threats, it needs to be flexible enough not to disrupt the sensitive balance on which its future rests. To avoid more Brexits, things that can be decided in Riga, Bucharest, Madrid or anywhere which is closer to citizens, should be decided there.
I expect President Juncker to speak on the member states’ failure to find a fair solution to the migration problem after more than a decade of discussions and to present his views on the way forward. Such a solution should be based around the principle of solidarity and fair burden sharing, as was the action with the financial crisis when everyone put their neck on the line and assisted Greece, and as is the assistance being provided to Eastern Europe through cohesion funding.
I also expect Juncker to talk about exploiting new economic niches and about the Union’s positioning in a world where global powers, such as America, are uncharacteristically taking controversial stances and looking inward rather than strengthening ties with their allies.
Frank Psaila (PN MEP candidate)
“The likes of Jean Claude Juncker who, on many an occasion, proved unable to show leadership, do little to help EU citizens believe in the EU and its institutions”
So far we’ve had promises of burden sharing which only led to more people losing their lives at sea and countries like Malta forced to face this challenge alone, with the result being people sleeping in the streets and chaos in localities like Marsa, Gżira and Hamrun.
Suggestions for migrant screening centres outside Europe must be implemented but first the Libya issue needs to be addressed and right now, there is little, if any, willpower to do so.
Despite all talk and promises, the EU is failing its young citizens. Youths are increasingly leaving the educational system at an early age, and those who make it to the tertiary level are being paid a pittance, or have to make do with jobs which fall short of what they, rightly, expect after years of studying.
Pensioners, not least those in Malta, are also going through tough times, with a rising cost of living and an absence of social solidarity to help them out.
Citizens across Europe are also frustrated at the EU institutions for not being tough enough on corruption, many Maltese are understandably disappointed with the EU’s inability to come down strongly on the local administration following grave allegations of corruption and for its nonchalant attitude regrading the sale of Maltese (EU) citizenship
Since I announced my intention to contest the MEP elections, I’ve met thousands of people who told me they expect more from the EU, for which they voted eagerly to join. The likes of Jean Claude Juncker who, on many an occasion, proved unable to show leadership, do little to help EU citizens believe in the EU and its institutions. It’s a pity really, for the EU, if appropriately led, is an excellent guarantee for strong democracies and a healthy standard of living.
Michael Briguglio (PN MEP candidate)
“MEPs should be closer to the people by listening to their everyday concerns and realities and focusing less on rhetoric which people do not associate with”
The asylum/migration challenge shows that the EU needs to reform the Dublin regulation and develop better coordination, while the rule of law challenge shows it needs to develop better mechanisms for compliance with basic checks and balances and rule of law. It is important that Malta’s representatives at Council and Parliamentary level are able contribute on substance for a better EU and Malta.
The European Parliament is a co-decision maker in the EU and its representatives should be closer to the people by listening to their everyday concerns and realities in their respective constituencies and focusing less on rhetoric which people do not associate with. European MEPs should therefore be more present and active in their respective constituencies.
The EU should give more leeway to particular national, regional and local realities within an EU general framework, such as how its climate change policy has different national targets.
On issues where an EU-wide consensus is lacking, such as migration, the EU should promote coalitions of willing countries which are ready to assist each other. The only alternative to this model is institutional paralysis.