Friday, 2 February 2001

At last!!

The Malta Independent

At last!

The nationalist party and the labour party have found some common ground. Last weekend the Prime Minister revealed for the first time that EU referendum may be held after elections.` This was a totally new revelation going against all previous pronouncements which consistently` indicated government`s determination to proceed to EU accession within the term of this legislature in 2003 following a referendum in 2002.

This change of position is in line with a weighty resolution approved by the MLP general conference held over the weekend which clearly underlined Labour`s policy regarding the EU. The resolution also affirmed that a decision by the electorate regarding future relations with the EU can only be sourced from a new electoral mandate and not from a referendum decision which could easily be neutralised in a subsequent general election result due within less than 12 months.

What has led to the Prime Minister`s sudden and substantial` shift in the Government`s position` One cannot be too sure about what goes on in the corridors of a person`s mind but I am positive` the following reasons were not too far from the Prime Minister`s mind when deciding to shift position. `Firstly it is clear that the electoral mood regarding EU membership is drifting away from membership. The more rhetoric propaganda is dished out to support the membership option the less convinced people grow about it and the more willing to consider other alternatives. The Opposition has forcibly won the argument that alternatives to membership do in fact` exist.` The revelation of a document of European Popular Parties recommending an alternative route to membership for certain countries that do not opt for membership, a document subscribed to by the Prime Minister himself, seals the argument in a definite manner.

Secondly the Prime Minister cannot ignore soundings from the EU itself that membership during the current legislature which runs out by November 1993 is becoming an increasingly unlikely scenario.` Realisation is sinking in that the` Nice Treaty makes a poor foundation for enlargement and that further changes are needed through a further IGC called for 2004 to negotiate further treaty changes to simplify the decision making process in an enlarged community.` The EU must be putting pressure on the Prime Minister to seek a fresh electoral mandate so that it can negotiate with the comfort of a full term electoral mandate rather than risk wasting years of negotiations which are then thrown down the drain by the electorate.` The EU must be discreetly warning the Prime Minister that a poor turnout in a referendum unsubscribed by the Opposition will not constitute a sufficient mandate to proceed with membership.

Thirdly there is the worsening economic scenario which makes a poor setting for achieving the result desired by the government in a referendum.

Which leaves open the question:` Now that there is common ground that a referendum has to be preceded by a general election does this mean that we could face early elections or that the whole EU project is to be` postponed by a couple of years Your guess is as good as mine. The EU would prefer early elections so that it can negotiate with a government enjoying a clear mandate for its EU relations and with a term long enough to bring the project to its conclusion.` The economic scenario on the other hand argues against government acceding to EU pressures.

The Prime Minister has clear choices to make. The national interest demands an early election but personal and party interest could demand otherwise. This is not unlike the` position Alfred Sant found himself in summer 1998. Alfred Sant sacrificed himself and the party and history will acknowledge and reward him for it. So far history will judge the Fenech Adami as placing party consistently` before national interest.` To prove the point one need just look at the national debt mountain which artifically financed a feel good factor that` sustained government`s term in power. Will Fenech Adami clinch this one last chance to rise to the national occasion`

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