Prime Minister of Malta

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 28 January 2003

Mr President, members of the Parliamentary Assembly, I am pleased to have been given the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, particularly in view of Malta’s current role as Chair of the Committee of Ministers. I believe that every healthy organisation benefits from a periodic reassessment of the function and the path that it has forged for itself. Today’s session provides the Council with the ideal opportunity to undergo this sort of self-appraisal and to ask, “What are we here for and how can we do it better?”

In Malta, we too are facing some similar soul-searching as we find ourselves at an historic crossroads. After my government’s successful conclusion of accession negotiations with the European Union at the Copenhagen Summit last December, the Maltese people will shortly set the seal, through a referendum, upon whether or not the future of their country lies within the European Union.

Our request for membership of the European Union was inspired by deep-rooted historical and economic factors. Membership of the EU is for Malta a natural continuation, and not a radical shift from its past. Indeed, it will enhance our commitment to those ideals, such as human rights, democracy and rule of law, which we have consistently sought to strengthen and uphold, and that have long inspired our participation in this Council.

In that context, therefore, with the imminent prospect of Malta’s EU membership in mind, I wish today to focus on a vital aspect of the Council of Europe’s role as a dynamic forum for promoting understanding and collaboration between its European Union members and non-members. This immediately provides a very clear reason why accession to the EU does not necessarily imply any lesser commitment to the Council of Europe. The situation is the opposite – Malta’s accession to the EU does not represent any abdication from the tasks willingly entered into many years previously through membership of the Council, but rather strengthens our commitments in this regard.

We intend to continue our contribution to the political construction of what has now come to be known as greater Europe – the Europe of forty-four states – as distinct from the Europe of the fifteen member states that may increase to twenty-five next year.

Nor can we forget the fact that there are areas such as human rights and socio-cultural development in which the action of the European Union is in no way taken to substitute that of the Council of Europe, even with respect to the relatively smaller circle of its members.

I shall address a few brief remarks related mainly to the issues arising out of our Council being the natural locus of co-operation between Europeans. The European vision towards which both the EU and the Council are oriented is neither that of an exclusive fortress, nor is it fuelled by any hegemonic ambition. On the contrary, it is rather that of establishing stepping-stones in an ordered sequence that are directed towards the system of a peaceful and progressive system of world governance.

Both the European Union and the Council of Europe ultimately exist to promote a form of globalisation that is free from any threat to the different and evolving identity of any nation. It is therefore one of our most immediate tasks to ensure that political dialogue takes place between the Council members that are also members of the Union and those that are not, in our effort to make a coherent joint contribution to the genesis of universal human solidarity. The Council of Europe is the ideal, if not the unique, context within which such a strategy needs to be worked out.

In the proposed constitution for the European Union being discussed by the Convention on the Future of Europe, there are references to the need to boost co-operation between the European Union and other countries that, for some reason, are unable to join. Such initiatives could yield some useful additional strength to an enlarged European network, particularly in terms of managing issues that cut across national borders.

The drafters of the EU’s proposed constitution seem to have in mind, particularly, such otherwise insoluble questions as the rational management of the resources of the Mediterranean Sea. Obviously, such matters can be handled only holistically within a wider framework than that of the EU. Perhaps they should also loom larger in our Council’s agenda, in the perspective of co-operative action between all our members and our neighbours.

I shall turn quickly to the socio-cultural dimension that has been the Council’s privileged area of activity ever since its birth. It has been observed that, in the recommendations of the working group on the external relations of the EU submitted at the European Convention, there was no reference to culture at all.

Such neglect is paradoxical in the present world context. All of us rightly reject the thesis of an inevitable clash of civilisations, but we would probably agree that the promotion of cross-cultural dialogue is one of the most urgent needs in international relations. It is central, not only to warding off war and terrorism, but to the development of the many-faceted knowledge society that has become the ideal of our leading economists. Even in the purely materialistic terms of pursuing our worldly interests, cultural exchanges have soared to the top of our priorities, particularly as in today’s economic reality knowledge is widely recognised as a fundamental resource for sustaining growth.

From its inception, culture has been to the Council of Europe what free trade has hitherto been to the European Union. There certainly remains ample room for more collaboration between the Council and the EU in the promotion of multi-cultural and inter-religious dialogue that is basic to the flourishing of all other types of exchange in the area. The Council can claim a relevant degree of expertise which has been built up over the years, despite perennially meagre funding.

The same applies to the social dimension. At the European Convention, a debate is under way on how what many call the European social model is best reflected in the proposed constitution. It is clear that a consensus is guaranteed only in relation to benchmarking, knowledge of best practices, scenario-building and similar matters. It would seem that the Council of Europe, with its years of experience of the European Social Charter as well as its much broader geographical scope and earlier policy of inclusion, could have much to offer in the way of collaboration. Challenges ahead are certainly not lacking – from dramatic migratory inflows to rapidly ageing populations – providing ample openings for dialogue between EU and non-EU Council members.

Thirdly and finally, the Council and the EU have already been engaged in some constructive, albeit sporadic, exchanges on human rights. It is not generally realised that the incorporation of the Nice declaration of fundamental rights in the proposed constitution of the EU will lead to enforcement by the EU courts only in cases of abuse by the European institutions themselves, or by states acting on their behalf. Ways are being studied, however, of enabling the EU to accede, as if it were a state, to the European Convention on Human Rights applied by our hard-working Court in Strasbourg.

Perhaps the biggest challenge presented by the Nice declaration is the wide expansion of social and economic rights that it contains – often, unfortunately formulated in a language that seems to defy enforceability. The whole situation surely demands from all in the EU and the Council a concerted effort to ensure that greater Europe has as coherent a human rights system as possible.

Until now I have concentrated mainly on the potential of the Council as a forum for communication between its EU and non-EU members, partly because the topic has been highlighted for discussion during Malta’s presidency of the Committee of Ministers. As I said earlier, it also inevitably features in the vision of a small country accepted for membership of the EU precisely when it is chairing the Committee of Ministers – as it happens, for the third time in its history and for the second with me as Prime Minister.

At such a juncture, one cannot help thinking that, precisely because of their dimensions, small countries can often contribute more effectively to the resolution of issues of a certain nature. Such issues require not so much give and take in counter-trading mode as the lateral pursuit of win-win situations. “Third ways” can sometimes be carved out in a way that enables them to transcend opposing positions rather than coming between them. It seems to me that on the chosen issue of renewing the EU-Council relationship in the light of the changes of both organisations, we have only just reached the stage of formulating the questions, as opposed to that of giving the answers.

Malta has belonged to the Council of Europe long enough to have an insider’s understanding of its workings, but it is still poised on the threshold of the EU. The process of initiation into a complex organisation inevitably takes time. For instance, ever since 1987, when I first became Prime Minister, Malta has been engaged in the process of really becoming part of the organisation of the Council. We then began incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights fully into Malta’s laws. Over the same period, Malta embarked on another long process to introduce and develop the concept of local government, resulting in the signing of the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 13 July 1993. Malta has also adapted its Criminal Code to introduce the concepts and devices needed to cope with such new phenomena as money-laundering, and, under the guidance of Council of Europe committees, sought to extend the application of the new legal prescriptions of the financing of terrorism.

We are now learning to differentiate between the tools that are needed when the origin of the funds is criminal and those that are needed when their destination is criminal.

Of course, we have not yet garnered such experiences in the context of the EU; but it may not be too early for us to begin forming at least a schematic picture of the EU’s relation to the Council. Essentially, it appears that the European Union is a cluster of nodes with particularly intense exchanges of information in certain respects, within the generally much looser but more extensive network that is the Council. Even such a crude model can provide a useful framework in which we can at least begin our search for answers to the questions that you have given me an opportunity to pose to you today.


Thank you very much for your most interesting statement, Mr Fenech-Adami. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds. I do not propose to allow supplementary questions.

The first question is from Mr Van der Linden.

Mr VAN DER LINDEN (Netherlands)

I thank the Prime Minister for his important speech. He mentioned the importance of culture and human rights. Malta provides a bridge between southern Europe and northern Africa. What role can the Council of Europe – as an organisation creating coherence, stability and prosperity in the whole of Europe – play in northern Africa?

Mr Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta

I really believe that the Council of Europe can be a very useful instrument in developing co-operation not only between European Union member and non-member states, but well beyond the shores of Europe. Malta is in an excellent geographical position and we have played, and I hope we will continue to play, an important role in bridging the two sides of the Mediterranean. On a number of occasions, invitations have been issued to North African countries, in particular, to participate in the work of the Council. That is leading the Council in the right direction.

It has already been decided to hold a round table on migration in April, at which countries from north and south of the Mediterranean will study the implementation of the strategy for managing migratory flows. Invitations to this dialogue have already been issued to representatives from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. I am quite sure that the presence of participants from North Africa at the meeting on migratory flows in the Mediterranean will be very useful. The Council will also adopt a useful and positive role.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Further to that answer, your country, Mr Prime Minister, is the closest member state of the Council of Europe to Libya, so does its foreign policy aim to promote this Organisation and the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law to Libya?

Mr Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta

As active members of the Council of Europe, we consider that to be our role, but not just with regard to Libya. That point also applies to other countries. Malta is the most southern tip of Europe and we have traditionally had good relations with all

North African states, including Libya. Over the years and even in the difficult circumstances, we have managed to maintain a good working relationship with those states, and we have been explicit in expressing our views on the basic principles of human rights of the Council of Europe. We try to promote them as much as possible.

If we consider the relationship between Malta and Libya from a true and objective perspective, we realise that it is useful. It is useful for Malta to have a good economic relationship with Libya, and we have maintained a good relationship over the years.

Mr MIGNON (France)

Prime Minister, on Thursday, in this Chamber, we shall hold an urgent debate on marine pollution. The maritime disasters that pose a constant threat of pollution along France’s coastline, and that of other countries, mean that the French delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly is particularly attentive to the commitments that Malta will enter into to conform to internationally recognised safety standards.

How many ships were removed from the shipping register last year for non-conformity with the regulations? More generally, what supervision measures have the Maltese authorities decided on to prevent ships that are a potential maritime safety hazard from sailing, and what provisions have been adopted to ensure compliance with international and European regulations?

Mr Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta

I can assure you that Malta takes on board all the regulations – particularly those adopted by the European Union – on marine pollution. We have learned our lessons, and the Erika episode is fresh in all our minds. Since then, and also before then, we have taken on board more seriously all the international regulations that exist. Malta is an active member of the International Maritime Organisation and a Maltese has been elected to its council. I assure you that all steps are being taken to review the ships that are registered under the Maltese flag and to make them comply with the regulations. Over the past few years, quite a number have been deregistered from the Maltese flag, and the controls that we have imposed over that time have been much stricter than they were hitherto. I assure you that Malta will abide by all the regulations that are or will be in force.


Malta is one of the countries that will join the EU next year but, as we have heard, Malta has an appendix, or reservation, to the accession treaty. What type of reservation do you have and what is its source? What is the connection between that reservation and the axiological system of the Council of Europe?

Mr Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta

I am sorry, but I did not hear the last part of the question.


What is the connection between that reservation and the axiological system of the Council of Europe?

Mr Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta

Malta has managed to negotiate seventy-seven special arrangements. Some of them relate minutely to the specificity of the Maltese situation. For example, one item that was of concern to the Maltese people has arisen recently because of an EU parliamentary resolution on abortion. We considered what Ireland had obtained when it joined the EU, as it had a specific protocol on the subject. We were put under pressure even in Malta by our episcopal conference and, although we all know that legislation on abortion does not fall within the competence of the EU, we insisted on obtaining a protocol between Malta and the EU which states that Maltese law will be supreme on the issue of abortion.

Several specific items cause some problems. For example, on the freedom of movement of capital, we made the point that our territory is very small and that it has one of the highest population densities in the world. Therefore, we negotiated a special provision on the sale of property in Malta. Of course, the agreement is non-discriminatory, but it provides that Malta can limit the sale of property to EU nationals who are not resident in Malta. The provision does not apply to the primary residences to which they are entitled.

We also insisted on a declaration that took regard of Malta’s neutral status. Our constitution provides for Malta’s neutrality. We have agreed that a statement will be made on the Maltese side of the treaty which makes it clear that Malta’s neutrality does not conflict with the EU’s policies and will be maintained.

Mr LIBICKI (Poland)

Poland and Malta are among the accession countries of the EU, and some moral problems are important to both countries. Can you describe the shape of, and the reasons for, the additional protocol on moral issues that Malta wants to include in the EU accession treaty?

Mr Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta

I have already explained what we have agreed. Abortion suddenly became an issue in Malta. The resolution approved by the European Parliament which encouraged member states to adopt laws providing for abortion caused a hue and cry in Malta. Although the EU does not have competence in such matters, we wanted to allay people’s fears, so we insisted and obtained in negotiations a protocol between Malta and the European Union, which states that Maltese law on abortion is and will remain supreme when Malta becomes a member.

Mr PANGALOS (Greece)

Prime Minister, I am happy to welcome you to this forum at such an interesting time. The present discussions in the European Union are about two issues. The first concerns the future structure of the EU, and whether the president will be elected by the people or whether there will be two presidents, one for the Commission and one elected by the people. The second is about whether the EU has a cultural identity and what it should include. What is your comment on those issues, please?

Mr Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta

We are debating the Convention on the Future of Europe. As regards the institutional set-up, the most important consideration for us is that the principle of equality among member states should be maintained and the principle of subsidiarity should be observed. No one knows what the final conclusion will be. We have been following the arguments over the French- German proposal. I have instructed our members on the Commission to insist that, whatever the outcome, the principle of equality between member states must be fully respected.

I think that we all recognise the cultural identity of the EU. I am one of those who insists that there should be specific reference to the Christian roots of European culture and history. However, we all agree that nothing should distort the lay nature of the Union.

As for how a country qualifies in terms of cultural identity, one particular country comes to mind. It was promised membership when it signed an association agreement in the 1960s. We should not take a narrow view of Europe’s identity. The EU will continue to respect multicultural- ism. We cannot restrict the cultural identity of Europe to narrow definitions. The most basic and important cultural identity of Europe is respect for human rights, based on whatever ideology, and full respect for the rule of law.

Mr MOONEY (Ireland)

Like Malta, Ireland has a constitutional guarantee on the right to life. I am pleased that Malta is learning from the Irish experience in the EU. We also have a certain expertise in holding referendums. All levels of Irish society are involved in the Forum for Europe. Many opposition politicians in Malta have addressed that forum. What steps is the Maltese Government taking to engage all levels of society in the debate on EU membership? Are you confident of success in the forthcoming referendum?

Mr Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta

I am very confident of success in the forthcoming referendum, which will be held on a Saturday in March, so there are only four or five dates available. For years, the Maltese people have participated in that dialogue and have sought information on what the EU stands for and how it would affect their lives. There are strong arguments for and against membership, and that debate has involved all levels of Maltese society. Some of you have no doubt visited Malta. It is amazing how the argument on EU membership has engulfed the whole population. I am not happy that much emphasis is being placed on the negative issues as they affect individuals or groups of individuals. The question of whether to join the EU is definitely a matter of national interest. I have no doubt in my own mind that most Maltese feel that Europe is where we belong. In Malta, there is a sense of belonging to Europe because of our history, our culture and our connections.

The coming campaign will last about five weeks. I shall do my best to stress the national dimension. I have no doubt that people in Malta realise that we have done reasonably well over the past thirty years, because on 5 December 1970 we signed an association agreement with the then EEC, which has brought about investment in Malta and has provided us with jobs. I am quite sure that all the economic players in Malta realise that Malta’s economic development is and will continue to be strongly linked to that of Europe.

Malta should obviously join the EU. Some manufacturing industries that cater for the local market will be hit, but in any case they will have to restructure to enable them to compete. The arguments have been rehearsed time and again. We argue violently about the issues, but I am confident that the basic sense of Malta belonging to Europe will carry the day and the referendum will be approved.


The last speaker should have been Mrs Herczog, but she is a Substitute. I have been informed by the Table Office that she has not been designated by her national delegation to replace the Representative for this sitting, so I cannot give her the floor.

That brings us to the end of the question and answer session. I warmly thank the Prime Minister on behalf of the Assembly for coming here to make a statement and for his kind words and interesting remarks.