MALTA DIARY: On the periphery of a European earthquake and feeling the rumblings
Malta and the Central, Eastern and Western Mediterranean are accustomed to earthquakes and earth tremors but few could have anticipated waking up on Friday, 24th June 2016 to an earthquake-tsunami that quickly spread throughout the whole of Europe and the rest of the world!
Few harboured any thoughts of waking up in sunny Malta in late June to a day of thunder, lightning, rain and considerable flooding but that is how the day progressed on 24th June, certainly a rarity to have this weather in the Central Mediterranean in late June and hence the beginning of summer. The world indeed has turned topsy-turvey.
But then the world is changing and not just weather-wise.
The Brits are not newcomers to shaking the world – and they have done it yet again as the Rule Britannia spirit swept across Europe and left many stunned and dumbfounded. Thursday, 23rd June had long been billed as D-Day for the UK and Europe, but there were many who felt the referendum was a mere formality and the “IN” brigade appeared destined to triumph.
This was a total misjudgement, an underestimation of the strength and resolve of the majority who had had enough of 43 years of EU membership. Such a resolve, that more people voted in the Referendum than they did during the last British General Election, and indeed most British General Elections.
“The will of the British people must be respected” said British Prime Minister David Cameron in his first speech after the decisive “OUT” referendum result while announcing his intended hara-kiri resignation in three months’ time.
So be it.
UKIP’s Nigel Farage was elated with the astounding result when earlier he had all but conceded defeat. Farage was in Malta recently and it was pointed out to him that his surname Farage could well be an abbreviation of the Maltese surname Farrugia – was he of Maltese descent? “Could well be” he replied.
Our predicament in these small islands now is to try and figure out how the waves of this tsunami are going to impact us.
EU or no EU, Malta has been linked to Great Britain for over 200 years. We threw out Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the French and invited Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson and the British navy to take matters in hand, a decision the vast majority of Maltese have never regretted despite some periods of political turbulence. Eventually we became a “colony” but very much a participative one, providing human resource and facilities in two World Wars and as a nation earning a George Cross Medal from Britain for Bravery in 1942.
In the mid-1950s, then Maltese PM, the late Dom Mintoff (himself married to an English woman as well as being a former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University), wanted an even closer but more equal relationship when he proposed “Integration” whereby Malta and Gozo would become “part” of Britain with Maltese MPs elected to Westminster but strictly on the understanding that Malta and Gozo be treated equally in everything on a par with Britain and no longer remain a “colony”.
That eventually fell through and despite turbulence in the late 50s and early 60s with now a call for Independence replacing Integration, the relationship remained close, a tight-knit family really with Britain being a second home for the Maltese and Malta a second home for the British.
That is how it has remained down to today. A third of Malta’s annual tourist inflow is from Britain; Britain has remained a major destination for Maltese holiday makers. To many Maltese, Oxford Street and Regent Street in London are as familiar as Valletta’s Republic Street.
Thousands of Brits live in Malta and own properties and vice versa. Supermarket shelves are stacked with British goods. Inter-marriages mean that most of us have British relatives. Although a dwindling number, many hundreds still receive British services pensions from Britain.
The relationship is almost incestuous and was further strengthened when Malta became an EU Member 12 years ago, a membership very much backed by the British Government as well as facilitating greater communication between the two countries and the rest of Europe.
What happens next?
Much elated as the British majority who voted “OUT” feel, the majority of Maltese feel pessimistic and despondent as to what may eventually happen. We are small and vulnerable, on the frontline of immigrant invasions and although the economy is presently throbbing it is equally prone and fragile. We need to be in a “big organisation” to feel more safe and secure.
Within minutes of the announcement of the Brexit result, current Maltese PM Joseph Muscat appeared on local television to inform the Maltese public there would never be such a referendum in Malta. “I will not allow our country to commit suicide”. Our choice is a Hobson’s Choice.
My own take is hoorah for the Brits for giving Brussels the two-fingered sign. Germany and France have lorded it over the rest of Europe for too many years and need to be cut down to size and given a kick in the teeth. Brussels needs to wake up and listen to what the people are saying and not to the closeted politicians and bureaucrats drawing fantastic salaries and allowances.
On the other hand, I fear for our Islands and Europe in general. Our PM Joseph Muscat tried to put a brave face on the result saying Malta will face disadvantages but must also take the opportunities that may be presented.
One wonders what is to follow?
Is Donald Trump in line as next US President? On the day of the result, Trump was piped in by Scottish pipers as he arrived in Scotland to review his business interests! Scotland itself immediately presented an enigma. The Scots decisively voted to remain IN the EU but on the announcement of the result immediately demanded a second referendum on Scottish independence.
A confounded Scotsman summed it all up by saying “it does not make sense. We vote solidly to remain within a bloc, the EU, but immediately now want to break up a bloc, the United Kingdom”.
Are people bored stiff with political correctness and being dictated to as “We decide what is best for you”? Are gut emotions and People Power coming to the fore?
In a typical show of Brussels-bred sheer arrogance, EU President Donald Tusk immediately went on air to treat the result with a shrug of indifference and a “life goes on” attitude while calling on Britain to leave “as soon as possible”.
He would have been better off doing some intense soul-searching in the line of “where are we in Brussels ‘fff….ing’ things up because this is a disaster”.
Indeed, interesting – if even more turbulent – times lie ahead.