Subject: Reported incidents at sea in the dolphinfish fishery
Dear Mr Agius,
Thank you for your recent letter to Commissioner Sinkevičius on the serious incidents that were recently reported in the Mediterranean in the context of the dolphinfish fishery.
As you are aware, the fight against illegal fishing is one of the Commissioner’s priorities, as is the safety of fishermen at sea. In this context I would like to reassure you that the Commission takes the events you referred to very seriously. I also thank you for having communicated with us last year to help raise awareness on this issue.
Firstly, I would like to recall that, as a general matter, the EU supports countries such as Tunisia, through its neighbourhood policy, in fulfilling their international obligations.
As you indicated yourself, these types of incidents are not new. In close cooperation with the Maltese authorities, we have prepared last year GFCM measures, which were eventually adopted and entered into force on 18 April 2020. This is Recommendation GFCM/43/2019/1 on a set of management measures for the use of anchored fish aggregating devices in common dolphinfish fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea. It provides for a framework at international level to address this recurring problem. The adoption of this recommendation is an important development for the management and governance of this fishery. In particular, as you might know, it provides for a prohibition to fish under Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) that have been set up by vessels from another country, as well as the possibility to adopt a code of conduct for this fishery.
We have recently met with the Maltese authorities to discuss how the Commission could further support Malta to address this situation. We are currently exploring with them how to best involve the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) in this matter in support of the control of the GFCM measures, and in particular the prohibition for non-Maltese vessels to fish under Maltese FADs. This would provide added benefits to the patrol means already employed by the Maltese Government. In cooperation with other Member States, notably Italy, we are also considering reinforcing the control of catch certificates for imported dolphinfish, in order to detect possible illegally caught fish on the EU market.
In the longer term, we are reflecting about all other possible actions we could carry out in the future in accordance with the GFCM recommendation.
As you can see, we can congratulate ourselves for the adoption of the GFCM dolphinfish recommendation, which provides us with new and meaningful leverage to address these incidents. We are now working on using this leverage in the interest of improving governance in the dolphinfish fishery and protect Maltese fishermen and their activities.
Lill-Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti
Il-Furjana FRN 1460
Illum is-26 ta’ Settembru 2020, il-Jum Ewropew tal-Lingwi
L-ilsien Malti huwa element ewlieni li jagħmilna min aħna, li jsawwarna f’poplu distint u uniku fost il-ġnus. Għalhekk meta dħalna fl-Unjoni Ewropea insistejna u nnegozjajna, kultant kontra lkurrent, biex il-Malti jkun meqjus lingwa uffiċjali tal-Unjoni.
Minn dik il-kisba twieldu ħafna oħrajn. Industrija tat-traduzzjoni b’bosta kumpanniji Malta u mijiet ta’ impjegati barra. Dan għen ukoll b’mod indirett għall-konsolidament u r-rispett akbar tal-lingwa fostna stess.
Meta fl-2004 l-istituzzjonijiet Ewropej adottaw Deroga għall-ilsien Malti, jien kont iġġelidt biex din ma tiġix estiża. Bħala kandidat MEP u anke bħala funzjonarju Ewropew imbuttajt dejjem lugwaljanza tal-lingwi u l-użu tal-Malti b’mod partikolari, tant li dejjem ktibt lill-Istituzzjonijiet Ewropej bil-Malti u insistejt li jirrisponduni bil-Malti. Mal-President tal-Parlament Ewropew Tajani dejjem insistejt li d-diskorsi ewlenin tiegħu jkunu tradotti u mxerrda bil-Malti wkoll, dan għall-ewwel darba fil-Parlament Ewropew.
Ċert li m’iniex waħdi f’din l-għożża ta’ lsienna. Mijiet jew eluf oħrajn, inkluż intom fuq dan il- Kunsill, iġġibu ’l quddiem il-Malti f’kull aspett tal-ħajja. Huwa għaldaqstant ta’ niket u rabja għalija li nikkostata li l-Gvern Malti, dak li jrid jimplimenta u jħares l-aktar il-kisbiet u d-dinjit. tagħna fl-Ewropa, qiegħed sistematikament iċedi u jirrinunzja għad-dritt tagħna l-Maltin li nitkellmu, niktbu u nirċievu lura risposti bil-Malti.
Dan jidher ċar minn serje ta’ sentenzi tal-Qorti tal-Ġustizzja Ewropea fejn il-Qorti tieħu nota li lkawża tista’ ssir bl-Ingliż għax il-Gvern Malti jirrinunzja għad-dritt li ssir bil-Malti. Fil-fatt minn 21 kawża li involvew lil Malta fl-aħħar snin, kienu biss 8 istanzi fejn il-Gvern Malti uża l-ilsien Malti. Fi 13-il kawża irrinunzja għad-dritt li jressaq il-kawża bil-Malti.
Dik l-istess attitudni ta’ disprezz lejn l-ilsien tagħna issa qed tidher ukoll f’serje sħiħa ta’ deċiżjonijiet u korrispondenza bil-miktub tal-Gvern Malti mal-Kummissjoni Ewropea fejn il- Kummissjoni qed tiddikjara li l-Gvern Malti jirrinunzja għad-dritt li għandu skont l-Artikolu 342 tat-Trattat dwar il-Funzjonament tal-Unjoni Ewropea u skont ir-Regolament 1/1958 li effettivament jikteb u jistenna risposta mill-istituzzjonijiet kollha Ewropej fil-lingwa Maltija, u qiegħed minflok jikteb u jistenna risposta biss fil-lingwa Ingliża. Qed nannetti hawnhekk eżempju wieħed ta’ din il-prattika biss b’xhieda ta’ prattika mifruxa u sistematika (vide paragrafu 2).
Dan huwa assolutament inaċċettabbli. Lanqas nista’ biss nimmaġina pajjiż ieħor fl-Ewropa li jasal li jittratta l-ilsien tiegħu b’dan il-mod. Nixtieq nissottolinea li fl-Ewropa ma nistgħux niġu rispettati jekk ma nafux nirrispettaw lilna nfusna. Mingħajr ma nelabora f’dettall, nemmen li intom konxji wkoll tal-impatt dirett ta’ prattika bħal din fuq il-bżonn ta’ tradutturi, interpreti u qarrejja tal-provi fl-istituzzjonijiet Ewropej kif ukoll tal-ħafna effetti indiretti, fosthom fuq ilqasam kbir tat-tagħlim ta’ lsienna u l-kuraġġ lil dawk kollha involuti fih.
Għalhekk qed nikteb lilkom illum, il-Jum Ewropew tal-Lingwi, bħala l-istituzzjoni Maltija responsabbli mill-promozzjoni u d-difiża tal-ilsien Malti, b’talba biex tikkunsidraw dawn il-fatti hawn fuq u biex tieħdu azzjoni adegwata f’dan ir-rigward bil-ħsieb li l-ħsara li qed issir tiġi indirizzata u kkoreġuta fil-ġejjieni. Qed nikkopja wkoll għall-korrettezza u għall-informazzjoni lill-Ministru għall-Affarijiet Ewropej l-Onorevoli Evarist Bartolo kif ukoll lill-Ministru tal- Edukazzjoni l-Onorevoli Owen Bonnici.
Dispost nelabora aktar jekk meħtieġ.
Kandidat Elezzjoni Ewropea
L-Onorevoli Ministru għall-Affarijiet Ewropej Evarist Bartolo
L-Onorevoli Ministru tal-Edukazzjoni Owen Bonnici
Id-Dipartiment tat-Traduzzjoni u Interpretazzjoni fl-Universit. ta’ Malta
Lil Virginijus Sinkevičius, Kummissarju Ewropew għall-Affarijiet Marittimi u s-Sajd
cc. Charlina Vitcheva Direttriċi Ġenerali għall-Affarijiet Marittimi u s-Sajd
cc. Valerie Laine, Kap tal-Unita
Fis-sittax ta’Jannar 2019 ktibt lis-servizzi tiegħek fejn spjegajt fid-dettall is-sitwazzjoni fl-ibħra Maltin u dawk konfinanti dwar is-sajd għall-lampuki (coryphaena hippurus). Il-Kummissjoni irrispondiet l-ittra tiegħi (Ref. Ares(2019)1566697 – 08/03/2019) u wara ressqet proposti fi ħdan il-GFCM biex jiġu rikonoxxuti u protetti l-kannizzati tas-sajjieda Maltin u Għawdxin. Ta’ dan nirringrazzjak.
L-isfond ta’ din it-talba li qed nagħmel illum jibqa dak deskritt fl-ittra tas-16 ta’ Jannar. Sfortunatment, u minkejja li issa jeżistu disposizzjonijiet aktar ċari tal-GFCM, u minkejja wegħda pubblika mill-awtoritajiet Maltin li jkunu preżenti fl-ibħra konċernati, is-sitwazzjoni ma’ tjiebet xejn, tant li sa din il-ġimgħa stess daħlu rapporti li s-sajjieda Maltin u Għawdxin qed jerġgħu jisfaw misruqa kontinwament mis-sajjieda Tuneżini li qed jaħsdu l-frott li jkunu żergħu u kkultivaw huma – u ċioe, jistadu fuq il-kannizzati li jkunu ġew preparati mis-sajjieda Maltin u f’ħafna każijiet jagħmlu ħsara irreparabbli lill-istess kannizzati.
Jeħtieġ nindirizzaw din il-kwistjoni b’mod aktar dirett mal-awtoritajiet Tuneżini kif ukoll malawtoritajiet Taljani. Nitolbok ġentilment għaldaqstant tikkunsidra dawn id-domandi għal risposta kif ukoll għal azzjoni immedjata (ġialadarba l-istaġun huwa limitat u jagħlaq f’Diċembru) min naħa tiegħek:
1. Tikkonferma li l-Unjoni Ewropea tat fondi lit-Tuneżija biex il-bastimenti Tuneżini jkunu ekwipaġġjati bi tracking system VMS (VesselMonitoring System)?. Jidher li tali fondi jinkludu apparat għal control room, taħriġ għal spetturi Tunezini biex ikunu kompetenti jaħdmu fil-control room kif ukoll VMS tracking systems għal fuq ilbastimenti nfushom li skont ir-rakkomandazzjoni tal-GFCM huma obbligatorji għal kull bastiment akbar minn 15-il-metru. Nitlob ġentilment l-assistenza tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea biex tivverifika jekk it-tali tracking systems hux qed jintużaw kif mistenni mill-bastimenti Tuneżini li jistadu fl-ibħra internazzjonali u jekk dan huwa l-każ, jistgħux l-awtoritajiet Tuneżini jagħtu rapport dettaljat tas-sajd ta’ bastimenti Tuneżini fl-ibħra fil-Lbiċ u fil-Majjistral ta’ Malta fejn is-sajjieda Maltin għandhom it-tagħmir tagħhom.
2. L-Aġenzija Ewropea tal-Kontroll tas-Sajd għandha kompetenza biex tissorvelja losservanza tar-regoli fl-ibħra internazzjonali. Dan diġà qed isir regolarment u b’ċerta effiċjenza fis-sajd għat-tonn. Fil-fehma tiegħek, ikun għaqli li din l-Aġenzija tissorvelja s-sajd għall-lampuki fl-ibħra konċernati u taġixxi b’deterrent għas-sajd illegali fuq skaptu privat?
3. Bħal ma nafu, biex tindirizza sajd illegali trid tindirizza s-suq tiegħu. Jiena infurmat li uħud mill-bastimenti Tuneżini involuti fis-sajd illegali fuq skaptu ta’ sajjieda Maltin u Għawdxin jidħlu f’portijiet Taljani sabiex ibiegħu il-qabda tagħhom. Insaqsi lillKummissjoni Ewropea jekk dina tistax titlob rapport dettaljat, kif suppost isir taħt irregoli viġenti, dwar il-landings ta’ lampuki fil-portijiet Taljani u partikolarment dawk li jsiru minn bastimenti Tuneżini awtorizzati biex iħottu f’portijiet Taljani. Insaqsi wkoll jekk il-Kummissjoni Ewropea flimkien mal-awtoritajiet Taljani hix f’posizzjoni li tidentifika u tindirizza każijiet suspettati ta’ frodi tas-sajd fejn bastimenti mhux awtorizzati jħottu f’portijiet Taljani jkunu qed jittrasferixxu l-qabda tagħhom fuq bastimenti li jkunu hekk awtorizzati. Nitlob ukoll li l-azzjoni taħt dan il-punt tiġi abbinata l-azzjoni taħt punt 1, u ċioe, li jsir monitoraġġ tal-moviment tal-bastimenti Tuneżini mill-ibħra konċernati sal-portijiet Taljani u viċe versa.
4. Teżisti l-possibilita’ li l-bastimenti involuti fis-sajd illegali in kwistjoni jkun qed joperaw mingħajr il-Vessel Monitoring System minkejja li din hija obbligatorja skont id-disposizzjonijiet tal-GFCM. Nitlob f’dan il-kuntest li l-Kummissjoni Ewropea titlob rendikont mill-awtoritajiet Tuneżini u mis-Segretarjat tal-GFCM dwar limplimentazzjoni ta’ dawn l-obbligi u nsaqsi jekk huwiex possibbli għall-Kummiss joni Ewropea u l-GFCM li jsiru spot checks abbażi tar-ritratti ta’ bastimenti Tuneżini meħuda b’mod regolari mis-sajjieda Maltin (3 ritratti reċenti mehmuża għal dan ilgħan).
Nirringrazzjak tal-konsiderazzjoni tiegħek u nistenna mingħandek,
Kandidat għall-Elezzjoni Ewropea
Anness – Ritratti ta’ bastimenti Tuneżini mehmuża:
People need a good reason to vote, that’s always been clear. It may seem to some that the MEP elections is just another day of voting, but the EU can have a massive affect on the everyday lives of Maltese people. We can’t miss the opportunity to elect the best people to represent us in Brussels. We have just 6 of them, as opposed to 60 or 90 for other EU countries… so we really need to pick up the aces.
1.PN candidate against all the odds
I was still working in Brussels with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani when I accepted the call to run for MEP in September, leaving little room for political campaigning in Malta.
My friends told me ‘you don’t need this’ given that I am an established EU official. Those closest to me told me this is the worst time ever to be the foot soldier for the Nationalist Party, and yet, I felt this is the moment where my energy and experience are needed, to keep labour in check and to work towards results for Malta and the Maltese.
2. So why I am running?
I’ve seen first hand how Europe can make a huge difference to sectors of society and am deeply concerned that we took a confrontational relationship with EU and are disregarding many opportunities passing by unnoticed.
My campaign looks to give people a good reason to vote. A reason that goes straight to the heart of their work, values, and everyday lives. I want to communicate this in a frank and direct style, no BS, no frills – but rife with researched ideas and substance.
I am building this campaign on 16 years experience in the EU institutions, and then applying that knowledge to my visits to businesses, workers and campuses all over the islands. From fields to factories to workshops, offices, student cafes and fishing trawlers, I met thousands of ambitious Maltese, Gozitans and Expats with a view to test my proposals to bring European solutions to local problems.
The amazing thing about this is that then I found a big big family ready to endorse my ideas and turn them into policies. That’s what I am doing within the Nationalist Party. My little seeds have found very fertile soil. With the party we presented 6 main proposals so far, from proposals to tap into EU direct funds for small businesses, to measures to strengthen public service, to concrete ways to promote the Maltese product.
This is an amazing opportunity that everyone should consider. The PN is sometimes seen as weak from the outside, but in reality it is a party open to ideas, open to input from all those of good will. It’s true that we need to improve, but I’d rather improve with the open minded than side with arrogant know-it-alls.
3. An MEP can move mountains – We need the best 6
An MEP can move mountains if they can make the most out of the many opportunities available for the country.
Yes, laws can often be drawn up with other realities in mind beyond Malta, but it is up to us to mould EU laws that fit our country better. Like a glove which needs to fit our hands, not too tight.
This is why we need to make sure that we are putting the very best people in Brussels, who can push forward the issues facing our younger generations, workers, and business so we can truly take the next step forward.
4.‘Rebbiegha li jmiss’ – 7 results for Malta
I think former PN leader Eddie Fenech Adami best summed up Malta’s special experience in Europe by saying that our country had entered a ‘New Spring’ through EU membership.
Being part of the EU has certainly yielded its fruit, but more must be done to prolong this season of plenty, a key reason why my campaign motto is ‘Rebbiegha li jmiss’ or ‘The Next Spring’.
This is why I’ve outlined 7 results that we can achieve if I am elected as an MEP. By placing proper emphasis on EU funding, we can provide incredible opportunities to youths, the civil service, business, SMEs and our unique Maltese identity.
5. Let’s treble our ambition on youth opportunities
Only 1 in 20 Maltese youths get to benefit from EU programmes right now. New EU money can treble our participation rate in work placements, traineeships, studies or volunteer experience abroad. Let us seize that opportunity! We need to invest in capacity building and awareness, an MEP can take that process by the hand with interventions from Brussels.
We are too small an island to restrict younger generations to the country, who need to be able to gather crucial experiences abroad to have an invaluable effect on Malta.
6. Putting local farmers and fisherman at the forefront of the agenda
We are what we eat. Right now we import 70% of our food, while our own farmers go bankrupt. We cannot depend so heavily on foreign imports. What happens if there is a food crises abroad?
Since July last year, I have practically forced the serious issues facing farmers onto the national agenda, with Party Leader Adrian Delia and MEPs like Alfred Sant now making Maltese agriculture a key part of their politics.
I also lobbied the European Commission to properly address the concerns facing our fisherman, particularly when it comes to lampuki. This I did as a candidate… imagine as an MEP.
7. The union must respect the diversity of EU Member States
Malta is unique, we all know that. This is why we need a European Union that respects our country’s particular characteristics and become a platform for our culture, language and traditions.
There is really so much more we can do if by using the right approach and work together.
8. My positive politics can help everyone
I’ve always believed that positive politics can make sure that everyone in society benefits, no matter where you come from or whom you vote for.
With the number of disenfranchised or floating voters only growing, I am certain that I can be a representative in the EU for the entire country.
The Labour Party, it seems, has taken note taking me to task on anything imaginable, with One TV even running a segment to mock my cooking abilities …which I’ll admit can improve.
To be honest, I don’t blame them feeling the heat when I am offering the kind of politics that can actually deliver clear solutions that truly affect the everyday lives of people in Malta.
At the end of it all, criticism is always healthy. It is the only way we can strive to go one step further and deliver better results for every person in the entire country.
I’ll be happy to chat on messenger or directly in public comments on FB page PeterAgiusMalta and instagram where you can also follow details on the 7 areas and respective results we can achieve together.
If you are Maltese or passionate about the country, then probably you will never forget where you were on that darkest of days, October 16, 2017, when right after 3pm the news spread that Daphne Caruana Galizia – Malta’s top investigative journalist, leader of opinions in her own right – had been brutally murdered in a car explosion not far from her home in Bidnija.
I remember October 16 as the day I got scolded by Antonio Tajani. I was in my office in Brussels when the news unfolded, and for the next two hours I stood there unable to believe what I was reading.
I continuously refreshed the online news websites, hoping that everyone was getting it wrong, and that, somehow, Daphne was still alive and would soon update her blog, which had by then a readership that dwarfs that of national newspapers.
Incredulous as I was, frozen on that keyboard, it did not cross my mind to inform my boss, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who was in his office a few steps away. It was a foreign MEP who gave him the news some time later and he quickly came to ask me why on earth I had left him in the dark.
Daphne’s murder was a wake-up call for Europe – that it cannot lower its guard on freedom of expression and media freedom.
Side-by-side with Tajani, in the weeks following her murder, we honoured Daphne Caruana Galizia in the proper way, the way she was not here on her motherland.
Tajani took Daphne’s murder personally.
As a journalist himself, he shared the outrage of the Maltese people and the deep sense of loss and anxiety for media freedom in Malta.
He wanted to be here with us on the day of the last farewell at the rotunda in Mosta. He proposed the naming of the main press room of the European Parliament, the heart of European democracy, in her honour. And on that occasion, in front of her family, he called Daphne a soldier of democracy, a warrior of freedom of expression.
It was not the only speech delivered in honour of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
As long as the government keeps sweeping candles and holding back a public inquiry, we are obliged to keep the heat on
He had opened the speech to the leaders of the European Council with a strong message calling on Maltese authorities to come to the end of this killing. On that day, migration, economy, Brexit, all came second-stage.
In the European Parliament it was clear that Europe cannot and must not tolerate such a murder.
Tajani and many others took it to task to lead a truly European response to this dark moment in modern European history.
The European Parliament has since put pressure on the European Commission with a resolution to protect investigative journalism. There are concrete measures in the pipeline to sustain investigative journalists seeking the truth and to push forward an anti-SLAPP EU Directive, to make sure that no Pilatus Bank, no corrupt politician and no criminal in hiding, would ever be able to silence investigative journalists with vexatious lawsuits.
In the next European Parliament we must pursue the change that she triggered.
I would have loved for this to be also a national agenda rather than just a European one, but as long as the government keeps sweeping candles and holding back a public inquiry, we are obliged to keep the heat on to reach to the masterminds of this affront to democracy.
Today, 19 months following that darkest day, we again commit our resolve to never forget what Daphne gave her life for and to pursue the change that she triggered. To never tire to seek the truth, no matter how difficult the task may seem.
Above all, we commit ourselves that we won’t stop before those behind Daphne’s murder are brought to justice.
We don’t only owe that to her and her family. We owe it to our children. We owe it to our national conscience.
Read the full article as published on Times of Malta here.
As a local NGO dedicated to relocating bee colonies out of urban areas raised concerns of starving bees, a number of people have turned their attention towards the bee situation on the Maltese Islands.
Local council candidate Sean Gauci quoted Albert Eistein, who once said that the human race would not survive for four years after bees go extinct. Another person quipped that bees would have more than enough flowers if there was one at every petrol station, making reference to the raging debate that has led up to yesterday’s publication of an updated fuel station policy.
However, PN MEP candidate Peter Agius reached out and told Lovin Malta exactly how difficult it has become for local beekeepers to work effectively with the funding they’re given
According to an EU Law which Agius claims was designed to suit the conditions in France and Poland, eligible beekeepers are given €125.95 per hive per year to support bee communities.
This comes with the condition that each box be moved to a different piece of agricultural land three times a year, for each of the three honey seasons in Malta.
This is where the issue sets in
While other EU countries have ample agricultural land to relocate these boxes, the Maltese Islands are quite limited in this sector, especially with the rise of urbanisation is recent years.
Since bees can travel an average of five kilometres, even with a limit of five boxes per hive, the boxes can still cover Malta and Gozo’s pollination needs “10 times over”. According to Aguis, this means that most beekeepers are ineligible for this subsidy.
How can this be rectified?
Agius argues that the EU law in question needs to be “adapted to our particular situation”, saying that “we must constantly adapt Union to Malta if we want to see its benefits trickling down to society”.
This could give local beekeepers the required funding to effectively pollinate our plants, produce honey, and, of course, feed our own indigenous species of honey bee, creatively called the Maltese Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera Rutneri). Because yes, we apparently have our own species of honey bee.
Tajani speechwriter and MEP candidate Peter Agius says he will not accept inferior status for Maltese language in Brussels.
The Nationalist candidate Peter Agius has said he will stand up the possible ‘demotion’ of the Maltese language inside the European Parliament, as capacity issues may affect translations for the language, as well as for Irish and Croatian.
“The latest news that European Parliament could do without Maltese interpretation in many fora of the institution is of utmost concern. This is unacceptable. We have no shortage of interpreters, we have a shortage of opportunities to become a full-time professional one,” Agius, a speechwriter for EP president Antonio Tajani said.
“There are more than 300 graduates who have read for a Masters in Maltese Translation and Interpretation from the University of Malta. As an MEP I would ensure that European Parliament recruiting policies are adapted to take stock of this reality. This matter affects our status in Brussels, I will not accept an inferior status for Maltese. In the past I contributed to end the derogation for the Maltese language translations. We can win this one as well.”
Read the full article published on Malta Today here.
The Labour government, unlike past PN administrations, does not have the ability to understand how to fit Malta’s priorities into the European Union’s budgetary headings and policies, PN MEP candidate Peter Agius has said.
Now that the end of the programme of EU funds that former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had negotiated is near, it is up to Labour to “sow the red strings” and secure a strong EU funding package for the upcoming period, Agius said.
“From the looks of it so far, Labour is not a good tailor,” he however lamented in an opinion piece published in The Malta Independent today.
“We secured strong EU funding packages in 2007 and 2013 because we understood how to fit Malta’s priorities into the Union’s budgetary headings and policies; That ability is now nowhere in sight”, he said.
Citing various projects such as the gas-fired power station, the Gozo tunnel, the “phantom” metro and the supposed drive for AI and the recently launched National Space Strategy, Agius said that “this government seems to still lack the ability to conjugate Maltese priorities with EU funding possibilities”.
He called for the government to plan ahead so to continue to benefit from EU funds, expertise and cooperation and to look more intensively towards direct funding programmes which award grants to private operators in a quality competition of projects submitted from all member states.
A brief look at statistics for the SME instrument reveals that Malta has the lowest success rate in Europe when it comes to these direct funding projects.
In the upcoming EU budget – which will cater for the period between 2021 and 2027 – more emphasis will be put on these direct funds, Agius said before adding that the government must empower Maltese businesses, civil society and educational establishments to be able to reap more fruit from this section of the next EU budget.
Gozo has a special place in my campaign as a candidate for the European Parliament election. I strive to dedicate a good part of my efforts to visit interest groups on the island, including a Question & Answer event tonight in Marsalforn, and process concerns with research with a view to finding European solutions.
Other MEP candidates are doing the same and rightly so, as Gozo has specific needs which should be brought to the fore with specific attention before we choose our representatives in Europe on May 25.
The Nationalist Party came forward with a game-changing idea for Gozo in recent weeks – a Regional Council elected by Gozitans to truly represent Gozitan aspirations.
To my mind, the main sticking point in Gozo is the lack of autonomy for Gozitans to give strategic direction to the Gozitan economy. The thing is that while EU funds are allocated to Gozo as part of Malta’s EU funding, the projects to be done and their modalities are not decided by Gozitans but by Castille.
We know how Castille tends to decide on Gozo. More than 800 precarious jobs were given at the last minute before the last election putting several Gozitan businesses on their knees while trebling the workforce in government services not needing reinforcement. A tale I heard while touring the island has it that at one particular beach, attendants were increased eight-fold, with the only original beach attendant now refusing to work. The result: a dirty beach.
Back to the PN proposal. The government reacted to our proposal for a representative Regional Council in Gozo through the words of Parliamentary Secretary Aaron Farrugia who retorted that “Gozo as a region would be unable to apply for EU funds”.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary correct?
First of all, we need to define EU funds. Malta’s traditional reading of EU funds relates to money allocated to Malta in the seven-year budgetary period which is then allocated by the government to specific projects. In technical jargon, we call these ‘country allocations’.
If we want to help Gozo to truly catch up with its European aspiration, we can. If we don’t, we just keep on shooting the messenger
We all remember the glorious return of Lawrence Gonzi from Brussels in 2013 with an allocation of €1.128 billion to be used between 2013 and 2019. That kind of money allocated to member states is not however all the EU budget. A good 30 per cent of the EU budget is not allocated to member states but managed centrally by the European Commission to assign to projects submitted directly by civil society, regional authorities, businesses or other entities for projects in the community from educational campaigns to research, innovation and business projects.
This factor alone proves the Parliamentary Secretary 30 per cent wrong. I do not blame him for side-lining this possibility, given that Malta has an abysmal record in tapping into direct funds. That alone points to one possible vocation of a Gozo Regional Council.
Secondly, the Parliamentary Secretary’s statement is based on a formalistic reading of EU funding criteria.
These indeed excluded the possibility of an island with a population of 31,000 to become a NUTS 2 region for EU funding purposes given that the threshold minimum population is of 800,000. Yes, you heard it.
The current threshold would exclude the whole of Malta itself from being a NUTS 2 region, but Malta negotiated an exception before accession. So did Spain with much smaller territories like Ceuta and Melilla that have a NUTS 2 status notwithstanding their population of around 80,000. This demonstrates that a NUTS 2 status would not be, in principle, out of reach for Gozo. The Parliamentary Secretary’s outright rejection of the PN proposal on the basis of EU funding is hence incorrect and rash to begin with.
Sometimes I feel that the sweeping pessimism of Alfred Sant prior to 2003 still pervades this Labour government when it comes to making the EU work for the Maltese people. We did not get into the EU because it was easy or effortless to make it work. We joined because we are convinced in the Maltese and Gozitans’ ability to make the EU work through commitment and constant adaptation.
That adaptation should be the main task of myself and any of my colleagues elected to an MEP seat on 25 May. The Parliamentary Secretary’s rash reaction betrays that this kind of European ethos has not infiltrated Labour deep enough to this very day.
Finally, I am not personally proposing to apply for NUTS 3 status for Gozo.
With that would come particular administrative handling burdens. We need not however capsize the whole government administrative structures to include a significant role for an autonomous Gozitan entity to have a direct say in EU funding.
It would suffice to include a future Gozitan Regional Council in the programmation of the Multiannual Financial Framework with a specific chapter on Gozo and to assign to a subsidiary body under its political guidance the role of handling EU funding for Gozo.
If we want to help Gozo to truly catch up to its European aspiration, we can.
If we don’t, we just keep on shooting the messenger with categorical statements.
Peter Agius is a Nationalist Party candidate for the European elections, former head of the European Parliament Office and cabinet member of the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece. Article published on Times of Malta here.