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Editorial • May 16 2004

A secular Europe all the way

Coming to terms with Europe’s secular nature is understandably difficult for the Maltese.
Thursday’s clarification by Irish Premier Bertie Ahern when visiting Malta, confirming that there would be no compromise on the inclusion of Christianity clause in the New Europe Constitution was a slap in the face for the government.
Those who have constructed this notion of European unity are very much aware that the roots of division and strife in Europe have for centuries been fuelled by religious conflicts apart from the totalitarian regimes and regressive monarchies that have ruled countless peoples. There is a general reluctance to institutionalise religions.
Europeans today do not consider the adherence to a religion to to be central to the development of a just and moral society. Yet this Godlessness is not exhibited in a passionate way as was in the communist regimes of yesteryear or the new totalitarian states of the former Soviet Union.
Religions in Europe are respected, supported and given all the space required, but they are not encouraged and increasingly they are becoming more and more distant from society in general.
To add to this reality, Europe is the home to a diversity of different religions, and it is no secret that the fastest growing religions in Europe are not the Christian religions but Islam. Malta is unique in this respect.
This should come as no surprise to Europeans, but comes as an unpleasant surprise to many Maltese Europhiles who have been digesting the wrong impression s that Europe is a bedrock of Christianity.
It is not.

The fiscal dilemma

The Prime Minister now acting as Malta’s Finance Minister has faced the first flak by the European Commission on our burgeoning and growing deficit.
At over 9 percent - Dr insists it is less - the Commission is clearly worried that Malta’s deficit control is not in control.
Lawrence Gonzi has some tough decisions to make.
His social welfare reform programme cannot wait very much longer, even though it is abundantly clear that the deadlines he has set are unrealistic.
Pension reform is not enough.
The Premier must combat tax evasion, the middle class cannot be burdened with more taxes. The professionals and self-employed who have traditionally avoided tax must also do their part.
This newspaper is not advocating more taxation but rather a regularisation of tax flows. If one looks at the percentage contribution of tax from companies, professionals, self-employed and salaried workers one can confirm the disparity that exists.
The other segment requiring some serious surgery is the large number of so called unemployed many of which are deeply involved in the black economy.
The new Nationalist leader looking forward to the end of his first 100 days faces a gargantuan task. The one thing he will thinking of is a revision of taxation to collect more revenues.
At this rate, with no new incentives to collect monies and no real trimming in the bloated government civil service, the only option left for the Prime Minister is to seriously tackle the welfare system and put an end to tax evasion.
Albeit, if the Premier fails to attain success in these two fields, he will have to turn to increasing taxes and social security contributions to rake in more money. Contrary to popular belief, Malta’s income tax regime and social security contribution remain the lowest in Europe.
Increasing taxes will only lead to more discontent and discomfort from a restless and impatient public. But Lawrence Gonzi is in no position to promise that he will not be increasing taxes.





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