Malta Diary 14: The Ten-Year Hitch
The newspaper’s online version registered 70,000 hits in a few minutes accompanied by enraged comments telling the EU to “butt off” and mind its own business. Manufacturers contacted each other urged by the need to unite and form an association and several facebook “Save Our Pastizzi” pages were launched.
The sigh of relief matched that thrown up by the Relief of Mafeking announcement when it was announced the story was nothing more than an April Fool hoax on 1st April 2014. People publicly hugged each other and laughed hysterically at having been taken in by it all.
However, public outrage was of a more concerted and serious nature when at the height of illegal boat immigrant arrivals in August 2013, Ms Anna Cecilia Malmstrom, a Swedish politician currently EU Commissioner for Home Affairs in the Barroso Commission Administration, told the Maltese people to belt up and stop moaning – in other words grin and bear it.
The public outburst was staggering. Malmstrom’s facebook page and EU pages were inundated by a barrage of extreme obscenities in the crudest form, so vehement that Malmstrom was obliged to announce a much softened version of her message and a commitment to urge the EU to offer more help for Malta. That however, did not prevent her from being further roundly abused.
Despite these hiccups, Malta celebrates ten years of EU Membership on 1st May 2014 with a full programme of celebrations, including a gigantic musically-synchronised fireworks display and laser show over the Grand Harbour on the anniversary eve.
After years of intensive negotiations, Malta signed on the dotted line on 1st May 2004 when the then Prime Minister Dr Eddie Fenech Adami – later President of Malta and now a President Emeritus – put his signature to the necessary documents in Brussels making Malta a full EU Member and also a full-member of the Eurozone.
A prior referendum returned a decisive “yes” vote in favour of membership and I dare say that a snap referendum today would also yield the same result, largely influenced by Malta’s geographic position as the southernmost tip of EU frontiers as well as the miniscule area size of Malta and Gozo. The prospect of standing alone in a hostile Mediterranean Sea was certainly not an option.
As with all relationships, the ten-year hitch has had its ups and downs. In view of the general indiscipline of Mediterranean peoples, the majority of EU health and safety regulations as well as financial criteria have been thankfully absorbed. Malta has also fared well in its share of EU funding for education, heritage, the preservation of monuments etc.
Indeed, Malta will assume its six-month term of EU Presidency in 2017 and the capital city Valletta will be Europe’s Capital for Culture in 2018. The two forthcoming events have already triggered a flurry of activity.
The downsides of membership are mostly concentrated in two main camps. The first and certainly the most vehement reaction has been the arrival of thousands of illegal boat immigrants from Africa and although a poll has never been taken it is beyond doubt that an overwhelming majority feel that Malta has been abandoned to its own fate by the northern EU members which have continually expressed total indifference to Malta’s logistic problems.
When in August last year Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that Malta’s only recourse now was to start turning back illegal arrivals it caused an outburst in Brussels with Malmstrom wading in and raising Maltese ire to decibel levels. Since then the EU has made noises it intends to be more cooperative.
Bird-hunting and song-bird trapping are a fervent passion of many Maltese males, Malta and Gozo’s geographic locations making the islands a favoured regional route for migrating birds to and from Africa. Successive government administrations even prior to EU Membership engage in ongoing battles with this lobby which numbers thousands of votes to influence General Election results.
Stiff EU regulations have been enforced to regulate this “passion” with resultant ongoing outbursts, making the issue a very hot political football.
Other than these, and occasional moans regarding the effect of the euro on domestic budgets and the imbroglio of having to contribute to bail outs for Greece, I believe a general survey would establish that today, the ten-year hitch has NOT become a ten-year itch – yet.