Malta, the small island state of 420,000 inhabitants, is undertaking its first EU presidency since joining the union in 2004.
On the first day of 2017, Malta took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. Malta is the concluding partner of the current Trio Programme, which began with the Netherlands and was continued by Slovakia over the course of 2016. For the six months between January and July 2017, the island will play a key role in setting the EU agenda, finding compromises, and addressing a range of challenges covering migration, the single market, security, social inclusion, the European neighbourhood policy, and the maritime sector, all of which are indicated in Malta’s official agenda (2017 Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union Priorities).
Malta has decided to approach its presidency with the main theme of rEUnion – a concept that aims to reunite EU citizens at individual, corporate, and state levels. Parliamentary Secretary for the Presidency 2017 and EU funds, Dr. Ian Borg, explained Malta’s approach with reference to the logo emblem – which combines Maltese cultural traditions like grain windmills, luzzu, tile making and the traditional Maltese door knob – that will accompany the presidency, saying it represents “our nation and recalls the courage, loyalty and perseverance of our people”.
Malta will face one of the most difficult and turbulent periods in the history of the united Europe. Europe is going through drastic changes, which will undoubtedly affect the work of the presidency. Among other things, representatives of the Maltese government will have to seek consensus on intricate issues such as sanctions against Russia, agreement on immigration with Turkey, negotiations on Turkish accession to the EU, and relations with the new US administration. Moreover, Valetta will have to deal with election results in the Netherlands and France, which may lead to painful surprises if power is won by politicians skeptical towards the idea of Europe as a unified political force.
Additionally, by a quirk of fate, a country which gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 will be involved in negotiations on UK withdrawal from the European Union. Brexit promises to be a tricky process, since the is going to bargain for maximum benefits. “We want a fair deal for the UK but that sort of fair deal can’t translate itself into a superior deal,” –Malta’s Prime Minister, Mr. Joseph Muscat told the BBC.
There are also two issues that for quite a while have already been on Malta’s agenda, and represent the country’s most vital interests: migration and the Mediterranean space. Malta will hopefully make a positive impact in these areas by implementing a holistic approach of effective border protection alongside an equitable distribution of responsibility for refugee reception, and by developing cooperation between actors to the north and the south of the Mediterranean, in dealing with challenges like armed conflict, terrorism, political instability, and radicalisation.
All eyes will be on Malta for the remaining months of the presidency, which is a good opportunity for the country and its citizens to prove that even the smallest member state can contribute to prosperity, peace, and security on the continent.