Sunday, 25 February 2001

High noon high temperature

The Malta Independent on Sunday

High noon - high temperatures

Isn`t life in Malta strange Just when society is getting more secular we are about to see three of our` nationals beatified by the Catholic Church. In two thousand years of ultra Catholicism we never got one beatification. Now it seems as we get more secular we are getting three.` Similarly as public opinion is moving away from EU membership we are getting increasing intensity of foreign dignitaries pouring EU wisdom on us.

EU is the best thing to happen to Luxembourg informed us Luxembourg`s Deputy Prime Minister Polfer. Can anyone dispute that` Luxembourg in 1958 was an economy dependant on the steel industry and it has emerged as the `offshore` financial centre in the heart of Europe. But how can this be relevant to Malta`s situation in 2001 Luxembourg is under pressure to harmonise its tax practices to EU norms and Malta has been informed, as have other applicant countries, that it will not be allowed any special privileges as Luxembourg was allowed in the past So how can Luxembourg past successes within the EU be indicative of what awaits Malta should it become a member` Also whilst the size of the two countries` is quite similar the geo-political realities could not be more contrasting. Luxembourg runs borders with Germany, Belgium, and France right in the heart of the European mainland. Malta is what it is.

The Dutch Secretary of State Benschop kindly reminded us that Social Democrats see EU as their home and feel comfortable within the EU.` But seriously, can these be real arguments to support flagging enthusiasm for EU membership The EU is not founded on a political ideology which distinguishes Social Democrats from Liberals or Conservatives.` Within the EU there` feels comfortable whoever`s geo-political realities` match the centralisation force of the EU project. So clearly Luxembourg, Belgium, France,` Germany, Netherlands, Northern Italians feel comfortable in the EU immaterial of which side of the political divide they come from. So do Spain, Portugal and` Greece who compare the` progress under their` EU membership to former stagnation under autocratic dictators. Peripheral countries with strong democratic traditions like Denmark, Sweden, UK, Ireland and Austria feel much less comfortable within the EU. Their people, much more than their politicians,` feel trapped inside and have to make the most of it.` Finland is quite an exception to the mood of peripheral countries but Finland is probably too close to Russia to feel comfortable outside the EU.

This week, members of the media were invited to the EU Directorate to meet Mr.` Patrick Brooks` who has been hired as a Consultant by the Commission to advise on the communication strategy it should adopt to ensure that the Commission does not get disappointed by Malta`s referendum decision.` Do I smell undue pressure to prejudice our sovereign right for a` free choice`

Making a free choice is the basis of democracy.` Recently we witnessed unappetising attempts for restriction of individual free choice.` The first attempt was made by the Drydocks section of the GWU. Putting on the unfitting mantel of constitutional lawyers and in the face of declaration by the Opposition for prudence even if in disagreement with the government`s view on the constitutionality of the La Salle contract, this particular Union section tried clearly to prejudice not only the workers` right to choose but also the Union`s higher organs right` to make a rational decision.

This attempt was reciprocated in kind by the Prime Minister who served each and every Drydocks worker with a stark choice. Either work on La Salle or kiss your job good-bye.

The Prime Minister and the Drydocks section of the GWU were like two western cowboys ready to shoot each other on high noon. In their firing line there were 3000 odd Drydocks employees.` Employees who in their vast majority would prefer to form part of an organisation which is efficiently run and managed` so that they give a fair day`s work for a fair day`s wage without being a burden on our tax payments. Employees who in their vast majority aspire for corporate` leadership with vision which could re-channel the vast millions mentioned by the Prime Minister to sensible re-structuring of the organisation rather than see more million continue being flushed down the subsidy drain.

Workers who detest whoever decided on that infamous Thursday to put them in the firing lines of our two newest cowboys.` It was thanks to the cool-headedness of Toni Zarb and the gentle footwork of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici that the workers were extracted from their high noon stakes and allowed to live a normal life at work and at home without expecting a policeman knocking on the door forcing them to make the no choice decision.

Which brings me back to my initial argument. We do not need emissaries to brain-wash us how juicy life is inside of the EU.` We need arguments, hard facts and concrete realities to help us envision what life inside the EU consists of for a peripherical island in the Mediterranean under EU rules as would be applicable in 2005. It is high time for government to come down from its head in clouds approach depicting` EU membership like a religious mission to be followed with faith not reason. It is time for the Opposition to fleshen up its Switzerland in Mediterranean model and frame it within the context of existing structures like EFTA or EEA to package it` in a more understandable manner.

Such choices need to be made in an election.` The next election would be the final word on the matter.` In the national interest, not to continue giving this country more sterile leadership a general election is needed sooner not later.` People must choose between EU membership or Switzerland in the Mediterranean frame-worked on EFTA or EEA models. Then whatever we choose must be followed with unity and determination. There is life after whatever the choice.`

On the other hand in a referendum we` will be made to choose between membership and` non-membership which with assistance of EU funds could be made to look as splendid isolation. That would be as much as a choice as that offered to Drydocks workers by our high noon cowboys.

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