Monday, 19 March 2001

Lavish Buffet

The Times of Malta

No prizes for your memory skills if you remember that just over a month ago EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunther Verheugen had visited us and made it clear that we cannot have membership a` la carte. He reminded us that EU membership entailed adoption of the entire corps of the Acquis Communitaire with requests for transitory arrangements being restricted to exceptional situations.

The pro-EU lobby immediately interpreted this to be criticism of Labour`s Switzerland in the Med policy. But this could hardly be the case as Labour was not seeking membership, set menu or a la carte, Verheugen could not have been addressing those remarks towards Dr. Alfred Sant whom he had already met and expressed that the EU would respect the people`s verdict if Labour gets elected with a mandate to seek special bilateral relationship with the EU.

Verheugen had stated that he could not simultaneously conduct membership negotiations with the government and special relationship negotiations with the opposition. The EU always negotiates with the government in accordance with its electoral mandate.

Recent pronouncements by the Prime Minister during a TV debate with the Leader of the Opposition throws new light as to whom Verheugen`s remarks were probably addressed. Still bruised by the local electoral defeat and seeking to give new meaning to its backbone policy of early accession into the EU,` the Prime Minister has made quite a few surprising revelations. Firstly he accepted that Malta should have alternatives to EU membership as he is not willing to seek accession whatever the conditions. Secondly he stated that the benefits which Labour was seeking to obtain from its Swiss Med policy can be obtained through derogations in the negotiations for EU membership.

When pressed the Prime Minister explained that he expects the EU to concede that Malta can maintain protection for its agricultural sector blocking imports of competing EU produce; that Malta would be able to import basic food at international prices not at higher internal EU prices;` that freedom of movement of foreign labour in Malta could be restricted; that foreign EU nationals would not be allowed freedom to buy property in Malta; that seven year run off for Drydocks subsidies will be allowed; that Malta will be allowed to keep its neutrality and will not be asked to participate in any common foreign or defence policy initiatives; so on and so forth.

So the Prime Minister revealed that he can cleanse his EU accession project from all the disadvantages which motivate Labour to opt for a special relationship type of approach so that we can enjoy the benefits of both EU membership as well as Swiss Med policy.

So suddenly the Prime Minister who until last month was criticising the Leader of the Opposition as unrealistic in expecting to negotiate a la carte with the EU rather than accept their set menu, has now been inspired by a local elections defeat that not only we will reject the set menu but we will insist on the EU to serve us a lavish buffet from which we could pick and choose at leisure.

Must this country continue to be punished through such mediocre leadership Mr Verheugen can you please repeat that the EU cannot offer us membership a la carte`

After being so critical of it the Prime Minister has now discovered the beauty of a la carte but unrealistically wants to frame it within a membership structure. One further small step (may be one more local election disappointment) and we might gain consensus on Switzerland in the Mediterranean specially negotiated relationship outside the membership structure.

Alfred Mifsud

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