Friday, 30 March 2001

Moving trees

The Malta Independent

Moving trees

One of my earliest memories of childhood is sitting on a travelling bus on a seat back to back with that of the driver`s and my elder brother pointing out` jokingly that the trees which were lining the road were in fact moving while we were standing still on the bus.

This memory was flashed back to me last Sunday hearing the Prime Minister`s concluding address to the PN`s general assembly. He said that Labour`s Alfred Sant was gradually making a U-turn in its attitude against EU membership. He said Dr Sant`s objections to EU membership were exactly on the same as those areas which his government was negotiating upon. These include such basic matters as free trade in agriculture and free movement of people and capital.

Reality is that the Prime Minister in shifting his position is being illusioned that it is the trees lining the road that are moving rather than himself riding on the` EU bus leading to nowhere.

The EU has been making it crystal clear that whilst it is prepared to make concessions by way of long transition periods in matters related to environment adherence to the` acquis communitaire, it sees no scope for long transition periods on the single market concept, let alone permanent derogations from the four freedoms of trade, services, people and capital which underpin such single market.

As the EU bus starts approaching negotiations on the chapters that matter and as the predictions I had made in a book I published in 1999 on the EU start materialising (that support for the EU will be missing when it really matters as people would equate sharp shock adjustment pain to EU impositions so that EU will be rejected for the wrong reasons) the Prime Minister has found it convenient to make stark revelations as if they were last year`s news.

The fact that the principal areas of Labour`s objections to membership are also government`s own objections so much so that government is seeking permanent derogations therefrom,` would indicate by implication that if the EU refuse to budge the government itself would abandon the EU project. In such a case it would be the Prime Minister moving bus that makes the U-turn rather than Labour`s trees lining the road to a special relationship with the EU.

The Prime Minister`s fatal mistake in this matter is that he has been approaching the EU project as a matter of faith not reason. The ultimate objective is not the type of relationship Malta should have with the EU, membership or special relationship, but that whatever relationship is chosen offers the best prospects for sustainable economic development. Finally we seem to have agreement between our two political schools that this relationship has to cater specifically for Malta`s agriculture sector and also to protect Malta from excessive freedom in the right of foreigners to buy property in Malta and to compete with locals for job opportunities. Presumably the two schools also respect the constitutionally enforced agreement on Malta`s neutrality and non-alignment.

So having finally been forced by the circumstances of the last local elections to this broad agreement, who is the most realistic` Alfred Sant who expects to reach these objectives by negotiating in the framework of a special relationship,` or Dr Fenech Adami who deaf to the EU regular pronouncements that membership is not available a la carte,` is now ordering it in the style of grand buffet.

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