Sunday, 8 April 2001

Put simply!

The Malta Independent on Sunday

Put simply!

For all the MIC,` Made in Brussels, Viva Malta , Referendum, books, publications,` press releases, press conferences, meetings and a diversity of media bombardment on the subject of Malta`s relations with the EU,` a large chunk of the population is still at a loss of what exactly we are talking about.

Yet this subject is too serious for it to continue being talked about over the heads of most of our nationals. It involves a decision that is practically irreversible. Consequently it needs to be taken by citizens through a referendum on a well-informed basis and with a majority which is more than wafer thin.` For sake of stability such referendum would have to be organised by a government in command of a suitable mandate term long enough to execute the electorate`s decision. Essentially this means that a general election must precede a referendum.

Furthermore both schools of thought have to make an effort to explain their policy in a language which people can understand how their lives would be affected by the different policies. In an effort to make a contribution in this direction I expound my objections to EU membership. These can be classified into three areas:

The imposition of a customs union, which is an integral part of membership. An adjustment programme the speed of which is out of synch with Malta`s current realities and` peculiarities. A fear of an unstoppable process leading to loss of` Malta`s sovereignty and` vocation of neutrality and non-alignment,` rendering us again as a military outpost at Europe`s frontier with the Islamic world.

Customs Union

There can be no membership without customs union.` Customs union means loss of the liberty to buy our food supplies from the most convenient international sources. Instead we have to buy them at the higher internal EU prices with the surcharge going to fund the EU`s central budget.` This is no joke. It could increase the family budget on basic food commodities by an average of Lm10 a week.` Compensatory wage claims to address this inflationary input could weaken our international competitiveness.

All other models outside membership exclude Customs Union. Simple membership to EFTA, more complicated arrangements under EEA or a specially negotiated bilateral relationship on Switzerland`s model exclude Customs Union. They also exclude free trade in agriculture permitting reasonable protection to this strategic segment.

Adjustment programme

The government has lost control of our economic situation.` Its only prescription is raising and enforcing taxes. This is clearly not working, neither in economic nor in electoral terms.

It considers the EU as the indispensable external agent necessary to enforce upon us the discipline we cannot impose on ourselves.` This is unacceptable on a point of principle.` The solution is finding the inner strength and leadership necessary to do what we have to do for ourselves in a strategy and tempo that does not rip apart our social fabric. We did it in the seventies over a seven-year period when the economy was changed from one which was largely military spending dependant into a productive one. We can do it again over similar time scales to rid ourselves of the monstrous deficit that past excesses have burdened us with. But doing it within two or three years within a calendar set by the EU for its own necessity is self-destructing.


And economic self-destruction could force us to link economic survival to abandonment of the policy of neutrality and non-alignment; a policy that has brought so much prosperity since it was adopted in the early seventies; a policy that, as in Switzerland`s case, could be a source of economic growth would be abandoned for adopting a foreign and defence policy suiting much larger members.` And this without even receiving the financial compensation Mintoff extracted in 1972 and used as the seed money to finance the economic restructuring of the time.

So simply put these three major areas of objection to EU membership are all addressed in the alternatives of EFTA. EEA or Swiss model bilateral relations agreement.` We have alternatives to membership, and more than one at that, even though I am excluding altogether the up grading of the present association agreement into a full-scale customs union.

And for the remaining optimists to justify EU membership by the promise of funding bonanza that awaits us, I would well advise them to stop dreaming. Malta as a country, if not on a strict central government to EU basis, would be a net contributor especially if enlargement would include the other East European applicants that will undoubtedly, on the basis of their lower standard of living, have a first claim on EU budgets.` `This may look like a gratuitous assertion. Unfortunately it is a reasonable probability.` Put simply!

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