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Opinion • 11 July 2007

Lessons from abroad

Reno Borg

A recent visit to Slovenia and Croatia taught me how deceptive or naïve our media can be. We were led to believe that our membership of the European Union has been paying the highest possible dividends. The truth is otherwise.
The problem is not our membership of the Union. The real problem is the government’s lack of initiative or know-how when it comes to attracting European foreign investments. In Slovenia, I witnessed a frenetic drive to attract industry and expand the tourism industry. By European standards Slovenia is a small country, with just two million inhabitants. But it is bubbling with activity. Development is conducted in a civilised way, keeping the environment clean. In Ljubljana, huge supermarkets reveal consumer confidence and demand. There is no shortage of work and the standard of living is improving day after day. Since the introduction of the Euro, prices have gone up but the Slovenians have every right to believe that they fare better within the Union.
As soon as you start approaching Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, you are bound to face huge skyscrapers under construction. Foreign investment in a country not yet part of the European Union suggests that the authorities concerned are making life easy for those interested in creating wealth in that country. Although Croatia seems to be lagging behind Slovenia for the moment, the amount of investment in Zagreb and elsewhere in Croatia suggests that in a few years’ time, Croatia would be better off than other countries within the European Union.
Once again, Croatia is a small country of just four million inhabitants. Being much smaller, we cannot expect the same amount of investment from European entrepreneurs. But new European investment in Malta seems to be invisible. What certain “investigative journalists” should tell us is the extent of European investment in Malta since we have joined the European Union. The problem is not that we have become members of the European Union but the lack of vision and involvement of our government. The only substantive foreign investment has come from Dubai which to my knowledge is not a European Union member.
The real problem is that Malta has a government which led it into the European Union without having the stamina and knowledge about what membership is really about. Local politics is still wrapped up in medieval fashion with our politicians still depending on favours to their constituents. After 20 years in office, the PN government is still pinning its future to old wine in apparently new bottles. The recent massive propaganda was geared towards an in-looking mentality.
It is no wonder that Labour MEPs have achieved much more for Malta and the European Union than their political counterparts.
While Louis Grech was busy in Strasbourg, Joseph Muscat could spare some time showing us on the spot how the European Parliament works in practice and what our MEPs are doing. It was good news to me listening how they have managed to assert themselves and how they join other political forces to foster both the national and the EU’s agenda.
Coming from such a small state, Louis has done a good job in preparing and advising on the EU’s budget. It is a privileged task to a member coming from such a small State.
Joseph Muscat was trusted with various aspects dealing with the internal market. He took great interest during the World Cup games, insisting that the viewer had every right to receive events of major importance on a free-to-air basis. Recently, he was instrumental in bridging conflicting interests and guaranteeing for the consumer cheaper roaming rates when abroad. He also insisted on implementing in Malta the Union’s stand on part-timers’ rights.
But most of all, I was thrilled by his declaration that Labour MEPs work in close collaboration with other Maltese MEPs in Malta’s interest. We are too small to be fragmented abroad.
What I discovered in my short stay in Brussels contrasts a great deal with what David Casa wanted us to believe that a change in government would prejudice our position within the European Union. He based his arguments on the assertion that the MLP did not militate in favour of Union membership. This is another card that the PN wants to play as part of its propaganda ploy.
However, Labour MEPs seem to have the upper hand in Europe and have managed to win trust and confidence in a difficult ambience.
They are a true indication that in the Labour fold there is talent, which, given the chance, would bring about a change in a fossilised political arena.



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