Malta Diary: Momentous November for Malta but will it be more Jaw-Jaw leading exactly from nowhere to nowhere?
This month of November will be a momentous one for Malta as it will be in a world highlight that far eclipses its actual geographical size. The islands will host two top-notch meetings, the first scheduled for 11th and 12th November in Valletta, the summit meeting between EU countries and the African nations, followed shortly after by a meeting for the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM), both with a priority agenda highlighting the never-ending immigrant saga, followed closely by ever-increasing world poverty and plans to tackle poverty as per the recent UN General Assembly poverty resolution.
Naturally, Malta and Gozo will be inundated with an influx of many heads of Government, politicians and their official delegations, scores of media journalists and perhaps the most expected visit, that of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip together with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall for CHOGM.
These royal visitors alone will be enough to grab the headlines as they will once more renew their long-standing connections with Malta and for the ageing Queen and her husband, this will perhaps be the last CHOGM meeting she will attend because of the stress and strain of travelling as well as a generally packed and tiring agenda.
In all, over 10,000 people are expected to arrive for these two events including 43 heads of Government and heads of 23 EU Member States. So far only Latvia and Croatia have said their leader will not be present but their country will still have a representative.
Included are 18 African heads of state and from the EU side, Angela Merkel, Francois Holland and David Cameron are expected to attend.
The EU-African summit will be concentrated on Valletta with sessions at the PM’s office in Castile and Fort St Elmo which will serve as a media centre and European Commission President Donald Tusk and President Martin Schulz will address the Malta Parliament on the eve of the Summit’s opening. The African states officially invited are those party to the Khartoum Process, that is Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Tunisia. There will also be 25 other African states party to the Rabat (Morocco) process.
CHOGM will be based mainly mainly at the Radisson Golden Sands, Għajn Tuffieħa but will include several different hotels and venues across Malta and Gozo, including Ħagar Qim and Fort St Angelo.
Meanwhile, over 30 heads of government have confirmed their attendance for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that will be held between November 27 and 29. Over 3,000 official delegates have also confirmed their participation in the different forums that will be organised.
However, first things first as Europe meets Africa. Malta’s Prime Minister Dr Joseph Muscat in fact more or less set the agenda when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York and stressed that piecemeal solutions were getting nowhere but that a world strategy was needed whereby countries worldwide would have fixed a quota of immigrant intake they must absorb. Indeed a logical idea but one with only a very remote chance of succeeding.
Several European countries have already expressed their refusal of a quota system and much of the rest of the world has stood by and allowed problems to accumulate without actually doing anything.
The meeting will have a five-point agenda of priorities that are:
- (1) Addressing the root causes by working to help create peace, stability and economic development;
- (2) Improving work on promoting and organising legal migration channels;
- (3) Enhancing the protection of migrants and asylum seekers, particularly vulnerable groups;
- (4) Tackling more effectively the exploitation and trafficking of migrants;
- (5) Working more closely to improve cooperation on return and re-admission of migrants.
Noble aims indeed which will have as much hope and chance of succeeding as an ice-cream has in a 1,000 degree centigrade oven! A start has not yet even been made on the most point likely to be tackled, that of curbing illegal and pirate trafficking. Miraculously, these inhumane traffickers have never, ever been adequately tracked down and continue to operate freely in countries like Turkey and Libya, an irony that totally deflates the sentiment that with today’s mondial technology anything and everything may be achieved.
However, that is just the end gambit because the real root causes that have prompted and propelled the spectre of hundreds of thousands of people to forsake their homeland and seek pastures new have as much chance of succeeding as our ice-cream in the oven.
When will the war in Syria end? When will the Israel-Palestine conflict issue be resolved? When will African countries stabilise their economies, eliminate rampant corruption and make life bearable for their people?
Maltese Member of the European Parliament Dr Alfred Sant (former Malta Prime Minister) clearly outlined the issues when last week he addressed the Euro-Parliament in Strasbourg in a preparatory debate for the summit meeting. He said that Europe’s vision and European policies have left Europe in a too weak position to request transparency and reciprocal aid from African countries regarding immigrant mass invasions.
Without mincing his words he said it was difficult to express any optimism that discussions between the EU and Africa would lead to greater cooperation in tackling immigration and improving socio-economic relationships.
He explained that since the rise of neo-colonialism the overall situation of the African continent had not improved much. As a result of conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund and other institutions, the West had inflicted neo-liberal development on a lot of African countries.
Privitisation, the removal of protective economic barriers and aid in projects tailored to these countries all aimed at providing the liberalisation of the economy had not succeeded. These measures were more aimed at industrial development in the extraction of coal and oil and agricultural production but these were simply adding value to multinational European and Chinese companies operating far away from African shores.
He also pointed out urbanisation had increased throughout Africa while agricultural communities were shrinking and becoming poorer. Employment in towns and cities had not been sufficiently created to accommodate this urbanisation and within a neo-liberal context, public administration in African countries was still struggling and rampant in corruption.
In a globalised neo-liberal context the free movement of people was not commensurate to the free worldwide movement of goods and services. He said that for many hundreds of thousands of Africans, their only hope remained in their immigration to other shores.
I believe that what Sant said more or less clearly sums up the hopelessness of the situation and naturally, besides Africa we also have to look at the instability throughout the Middle East, particularly Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan together with very fluid situations in North Africa stretching from Egypt to Tunisia, together with Palestine, continue to aggravate the overall situation.
So, we may as well prepare ourselves for loads and loads of Jaw Jaw, comradeship and back-slapping and everybody will have a jolly good time and journalists will have a lot to write about but will anything actually emerge as a concrete and realistic solution or set of solutions?
My conclusion is that this, like all other summits, will progress from nowhere to nowhere – like the ice-cream in our hot, hot oven.