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Opinion • March 28 2004

Neuter Neutrality

Anna Mallia takes both the Nationalist and the Labour Party to task for not showing enough interest in Malta’s hard-earned neutrality.

There is no doubt that the two major political parties did little or nothing at all to safeguard Malta’s neutrality and non-alignment. The Nationalist Party vowed to get its revenge after being compelled to vote for it in the Constitution in exchange for votes, and the Malta Labour Party after Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici did not give it the importance it deserves, probably because it did not understand its importance.

The Constitution
The principle of neutrality and non-alignment is enshrined in our Constitution. Our Constitution states that we need a two-thirds majority in Parliament for it to be changed. Yet the Government and its top legal adviser the Attorney General - who was recently rewarded the post of judge of the European Court Justice - argued that the principle of neutrality is now obsolete because it referred to the period of the cold war. Needless to say our Constitutional experts followed suit and parroted the Government’s interpretation.
Of course, there was a reason for doing this. They had to justify why they consented to joining the European Union when certain conditions in the treaty run counter to our Constitution. We must not forget that up to two or three years before the referendum, the EU was consistently insisting with Malta that it has to change its Constitution to be able to align itself with the EU. After the Government reminded the EU that it needs the votes of the two-thirds of the members of the House to do this, the EU ceased to make this a condition in its subsequent reports.

A treaty which defies our
We now have a treaty wherein the Government made a unilateral declaration that the EU rules and regulations do not run counter to the Constitutional clause of neutrality, a declaration which we all know is not binding with the EU, unlike the case of abortion. We have a treaty wherein the Government made a commitment that whatever the EU decides on its foreign policy as from 1 of May, it shall abide by it. We have a treaty that says that EU law is superior to our Constitution.
A Constitution which further defies our Constitution
No wonder that the Government is not taking a stand on the EU Constitution regarding foreign and security policy. It is a shame that it is more preoccupied with maintaining the five seats in the European Parliament than in its clauses regarding the supremacy of the EU Constitution over our Constitution, and the right to veto on foreign and policy which has now been toned down to constructive absenteeism. Thank God for the Poles who had the courage to stand up and tell Brussels that they cannot go beyond what they negotiated in the accession treaty.

Our Representatives
Malta was represented in the discussions and debates on the EU Constitution. It hurts to note that none of them touched a finger to highlight in the debate how the provisions of the foreign and security policy run counter to the Maltese Constitution. It hurts more to see that Labour, who should be safeguarding the neutrality that it had worked so hard for, did not give it the priority it deserves. Fr Peter, from the government side, was more concerned with Christianity, the Prime Minister’s worry was on the number of seats in Parliament, and the Opposition in its edition of KullHadd of 15 June 2003 described the draft as a step forward for the EU and its people.

Other countries
The four other countries that are neutral in the EU safeguard their neutrality, notwithstanding that their neutrality is different to ours. Finland led the EU’s neutral or non-aligned countries with a demand that a proposed mutual defense guarantee-akin to Nato, should not apply automatically. The defence pact implies an automatic obligation by member states to help another EU state under attack. Austria stated that the mutual defence clause stands in contradiction to its neutrality. In effect, in December the Austrian delegation had strict instructions not to sign the EU Constituted unless it gets its go-ahead from the parliamentary committee on EU affairs which were left on call round the clock for the duration of the meeting which was held in Rome.

Neutrality is more important than ever
Those who say that neutrality is obsolete or that it needs to be re-defined have a pliable definition of neutrality. They think that neutrality referred strictly to military neutrality and does not pertain to all the other areas of foreign policy. Those who do not support neutrality do not love peace.
Neutrality is very fragile and needs to be constantly nurtured to survive. We cannot remain idle and allow the Government and the EU to ride roughshod on our Constitution and our neutrality and then thank them for it. Labour has a big part to play in this: It must first recognise that the treaty with the EU and the EU Constitution run counter to Article 1 of our Constitution, it must commit itself by words and action to neutrality; it must be clear where it stands on the presence of military ships in Malta; it must not allow its members to participate in receptions on these ships; it must take part in peace manifestations, it must safeguard the neutrality it struggled so hard to obtain. Only when this is done can it look for its allies in the European Parliament from other neutral countries and work together for a neutral European Union.

The biggest shame
The biggest shame is that we will soon have a President of the Republic who flouted the Constitution when he was Prime Minister and who has now been promoted to guardian of the Constitution. How can he and all the members of his Cabinet, because the Cabinet is still his after all, vouch allegiance to the Constitution, when they have made a mess out of it knowing that they do have the two-thirds majority in Parliament to change it and mould it the EU way?
Other countries are holding a referendum on the EU Constitution – Malta does not want to consult its people on such an important issue which is, after all, another treaty which goes beyond what we voted for. It wants us to listen, obey or be damned!



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