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Europemag• May 09 2004



The day Europe became one

Kurt Sansone recalls the day in Copenhagen when the EU of 25 finally became a reality

It was a cool morning in Copenhagen and I was about to embark on a tour of the city centre when I received a call from my editor enquiring about the financial package negotiated by the other accession countries alongside Malta.
It was Saturday, 14 December 2002, the day after the Danish EU presidency, governments of the 15 EU member states and the Commission had concluded marathon last-minute negotiations with the 10 accession states, including Malta. Agreement was officially announced after midnight with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen sporting a broad smile. His was a brief message: “Europe is one.”
For Malta 13 December had been a watershed day. Our negotiators, along with the Poles had stretched the whole process down to the wire in a bid to obtain a better financial package.
Occasionally, somebody from the negotiating team would come up to us journalists in the news centre and give us a hint on how negotiations were progressing. I can recall vividly the anger of Malta’s head negotiator, Richard Cachia Caruana when Alternattiva’s Arnold Cassola had revealed a day earlier the paltry sum offered to Malta by the Danish presidency. Cachia Caruana would not confirm Cassola’s figures, which eventually turned out to be true.
The negotiating team gave up the request for the sixth parliamentary seat and eventually hammered out an Lm81 million financial package, which was upped from the initial Lm54 million offered to the island. It was deemed a success. We were also lucky that the Poles had dug their heels and demanded more cash.
The largest and the smallest of the EU entrants had stalled the final agreement. When Malta announced it had reached agreement, it was up to the Poles to conclude.
The intervention of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on behalf of Poland was the turning point. Despite all the discourse that enlargement would still go ahead even if not all countries reached an agreement, it was evident that Germany was not ready to accept a situation whereby Poland would be left out of enlargement.
The final press conference was delayed for one hour, then two and finally indefinitely. At around 7pm the Poles announced that they would be delivering a press conference.
It turned out that they had already reached agreement but wanted to wait up to 7.30pm to officially announce they were satisfied with the outcome of negotiations. And Polish Prime Minister Lazask Miller delivered the message live to the Polish people in a pre-arranged transmission to coincide with Poland’s prime time news bulletin.
The Copenhagen summit came to a successful close in the early hours of 14 December paving the way for the gruelling political campaigns that would characterise 2003.
Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami was visibly tired but a satisfied man when he delivered a final press conference giving brief details of Malta’s negotiated package.
After submitting our news reports, the Maltese press corps was summoned for drinks in the hotel where the Prime Minister and the negotiating team were staying. Satisfaction was evident among the members of Malta’s negotiating team. They managed to hammer out a protocol on abortion, a declaration on neutrality, Lm81 million in funds over three years and a concession on the retention of zero rating of VAT on medicine and food until 2010.
But on that Saturday morning when the press centre was closed and us journalists were having a few hours of free time my editor called. He was preparing the pages for the following day’s issue of MaltaToday. He asked me for information on the funds negotiated by the other accession countries to be able to draw a comparison with Malta’s position.
The information was not available and I asked him to give me an hour. In Copenhagen’s city centre I found the headquarters of a leading newspaper. The journalist who greeted me inside understood my request. He tapped his sources but to no avail. All of Denmark’s newspapers focussed on the historical meaning of enlargement. There was absolutely no hint at what had been negotiated the night before.
Indeed, all major European newspapers splashed maps of pre-war and post-war Europe alongside a map of the newly enlarged EU of 25 on their front pages. No other Europe-wide project had succeeded in bringing so many nations together in a peaceful and voluntary way. This was not the Roman Empire, Napoleon’s Europe or Hitler’s Reich. It was a new Europe built on peace, freedom and prosperity.
Within this context the funds negotiated the night before were irrelevant. I rang back my editor and told him about the situation.
14 December 2002 seems a long time ago now. Since then we had a referendum and an election. The smiles that appeared on the faces of Maltese negotiators have long vanished as reality started to bite. I still believe that joining the EU was and is a good thing for Malta. We could not have stayed out of this historic development happening on our doorstep. But making it work for us is going to take a lot of energy. The sooner the champagne uncorked yesterday is put away the better.
Government has to roll up its sleeves and chart out a vision of where it wants to see this country in 10 years time. The same holds water for other political forces, private industry and civil society. Membership has opened a door and the road has only just begun.





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