Sunday, 11 March 2001

Manipulation and abuse

The Malta Independent on Sunday

Manipulation and abuse

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 peripheral 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.

Whilst misguidedly criticising other for choosing a la carte solutions the Prime Minister quoted me a la carte to back-up his argument that Switzerland in the Mediterranean slogan is meaningless. He clearly disregarded the first part more relevant to governments policies and in the run up to local elections started re-promising EU funds for local councils. Easy promises for hard deliverables!

This is typical of how it is difficult to hold a sensible discussion on almost any subject touching the political field in Malta. `Everything gets manipulated and abused. Facts are presented as opinions and opinions depicted as facts until the two different concepts are mingled interchangeably.

Whilst the government avoids bringing its pro-EU argumentation down to a level which the people can understand and embrace, whilst it refuses to publish reports paid for by tax payers funds for openly admitted fear that such reports could strengthen the case of those who doubt the validity of the EU model for Malta`s particular circumstances, it has no compunction in instigating the opposition to be more concrete about its Swiss model. It does this at the same time that it denies to` the Opposition fair` access to public funds for dissemination of information on the opposition`s EU policies whilst lavishly splashing the same public funds to push government`s` own EU membership case with high level rhetoric and strong unsupported conviction about the absence of real alternatives.

Regarding the Swiss model I find enlightening the following communication I received from` a level-headed Swiss friend.

QUOTE In a referendum vote on Sunday 4.3.01, the Swiss people massively (with 77 percent of the votes and a "no" majority in all cantons) rejected a "people's initiative" requesting that the Federal Government immediately start negotiations on EU membership.

Throughout Europe, main stream mass media have reacted to the Swiss vote either by briefly mentioning it as a minor issue buried behind loads of information on mad cows and the mouth and foot disease, or by depicting Switzerland as a bizarre alpine dwarf state, whose selfish, xenophobic and backward inhabitants are being manipulated by a populist far-right politician and industrialist, Christoph Blocher.` This picture has little to do with the truth. As a matter of fact, the large majority of Swiss (including myself) who voted against starting membership negotiations with the EU are firmly opposed to Mr Blocher's right-wing populism. These voters, who can be found throughout the political spectrum of Switzerland, firmly oppose EU-membership on one, several or all of the following grounds:

We do not want to give up a policy of genuine neutrality that has kept Switzerland out of two world wars, has allowed the country to act as a mediator in many conflicts. We do not want our army to operate outside our national territory. We do not want to see Swiss soldiers "enforcing peace" in Kosovo, Iraq or elsewhere.` Our credibility as a sovereign ,neutral and peaceful country is based on the existence of a people's militia, a force designed and equipped only to defend the country in the event of foreign aggression, and not to intervene in foreign conflicts. Only with such an army, technically and structurally incapable of participating in foreign military operations, can the credibility of Switzerlands policy of strict neutrality be maintained and can the country remain a reliable international partner in building peace. We believe in the efficiency of the Swiss model of direct democracy and strong local government which effectively prevents the "classe politique" in government and parliament from developing policies not backed by the people. UNQUOTE

If the Swiss model would serve only to free us from the permanent election campaign which the local elections model has landed us into than I would go for the Swiss model for that reason alone. It will help to bring about a sensible discussion free from abuse or manipulation on matters which are dividing us unnecessarily.

Then just think about it. The Swiss model gives its people the opportunity to express themselves quite regularly on the EU model they prefer. That they consistently choose to stay out in spite of being often falsely threatened with impoverishment shows the foresight and the jealousy with which they preserve their identity. Who knows if the citizens of Austria, Sweden,` UK, Ireland` and Denmark were to be given another chance to choose`

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