The Malta Independent
Suzanne Askelof , a former head of the Swedish Secretariat for European Affairs, the Swedish equivalent to the local Malta EU Information Centre (MIC), was recently invited to Malta to explain the Swedish experience regarding dissemination of information leading to the referendum which decided in favour of Sweden`s accession to EU membership.
I quote here what she said` when questioned about the impartiality of the Swedish MIC. After stating that she always made it clear that her Secretariat was not a mouthpiece` of the Swedish Government that was pushing in favour of accession and that the Secretariat was not working in the interest of those in favour of membership, she said:
`We always gave the facts.` We did this not by distributing glossy brochures. We made contact, without much publicity, with influential journalists and columnists to ensure that they get their facts right, immaterial of whether or not they were in favour or against membership.`
Is this what MIC is doing locally` Clearly the function of disseminating factual information is being done.` But is the recipient of that information` confident that the MIC is not just another organ pushing in favour of EU membership.
I firmly believe that the decision about EU membership belongs to the people. It does not belong to the government or the opposition. It is one of those decisions the consequences of which go far beyond a single legislature and therefore the people have the right to have the final say on the specific issue when they have enough information upon which to base an intelligent decision.
I also believe that such information is as yet not available. We do not know as yet if Malta will have the right to nominate a commissioner. We do not know what decisions we will have the right to veto. We have no idea what voting power we will have to really be in a position to influence decisions in the Council of Ministers. We still have no idea whether we will be allowed to opt out of the defence and` common foreign policy arrangements which the EU is aiming to adopt on a uniform basis across all member countries.
So far the MIC has been active in giving information, and correct one at that, on those aspects which depict the EU in a positive manner. In doing so it is failing its duty to help the nation make` a conscious decision on an informed basis.
It is therefore time that the MIC starts addressing all aspects of EU membership. It is the duty of MIC to inform what would be the effect of EU agricultural policies on the cost of living of basic food essentials. To inform whether Malta would be able to continue offering fiscal incentives to attract new foreign investment in industry and in financial services including back office processing.` To inform whether Malta would be able to opt out of defence arrangement in order not to allow Maltese territory to be used against neighbouring countries if the EU is involved in belligerent action against a Mediterranean neighbour. To inform whether Malta would be able to manage its own economy with its own fiscal, monetary, rate of exchange and other demand management policies. Or whether all these would rendered subsidiary to central EU decisions leaving as the only economic` variable the mobility of labour which would be expected to go and look for work in bigger countries that can adapt better to manage their economy within` the EU rules.
It is high time for MIC to take the Swedish line` and start dishing out all the information in a factual unbiased manner.
Friday, 27 October 2000
The Malta Independent