Innocent bystanders who occasionally dip into news reports covering Euro-Maltese politics and who take an interest in what our fine retinue of politico-journalists* are scribbling may have come to the conclusion that European affairs boils down to a series of committee meetings, report writing, strategic voting and the occasional summit.
That is, of course, an important chunk of what does actually go on in these parts and I don’t entirely blame the more vocal of our politico-journalists for drawing attention to bread and butter issues li jolqtu lic-cittadin fil-laham il-haj (from tax on satellite dishes to Frontex missions). After all, a few of our Honourable Members have, not entirely unexpectedly, got well into the swing of things. If you don’t mind waxing lyrical in a very local kind of way, you may even be tempted to claim – with hand on heart and serious expression on face – that one or two of them make you proud to be Maltese.
Having said that, there’s much more to Europe than sticking up for the lads back home. I suspect that presenting things as one big negotiating game in which our valiant representatives engage in a diplomatic battle on behalf of Cikku l-Poplu has considerably diluted the significance of what it means to be part of the community of peoples, states and cultures which we begrudgingly joined in 2004.
Personally, I had hoped that five years down the line, something else would have trickled down. But I must admit that I can’t quite put my finger on what that ‘something else’ actually is. Is it, perhaps, linked to the fact that Maltese politicians still seem to dominate the landscape in an entirely disproportionate manner? Or that discussions on the country’s most popular on-line forums always follow a hackneyed path, pitting good vs. evil in a zero-sum game? Maybe it’s the fact that we have given into the temptation to look at Europe like some sort of glorified Lidl store where BBQs go at bargain prices (for free, if you’re really damn lucky). Or perhaps it’s the realisation that it’s still ultimately a choice between blue – red on one side and a total intellectual vacuum on the other.
Whatever. I’ll let you figure that one out for yourselves.
This week I’ll leave you with a couple of points I jotted down during an interesting talk in the European Parliament given by former Greek Socialist MEP and professor of constitutional law Dimitris Tsatsos who has just published his book The European Sympolity – Towards a New Democratic Discourse (Bruylant, 2009).
A warning though. This is hardly the stuff infotainment TV is made of, so please bear with me before zapping to Smash.
1. Europe would stand to gain if national political parties stopped impeding European political groupings from gaining influence.
2. Is it fair to criticize ‘Europe’ for being absent or for not taking action in areas where Europe has no competence to act, where it shares that competence with Member States or where unanimity is required for action to be taken?
3. When we say that Europe acts slowly, what comparators are we using to make that judgment? Would single states acting alone move any faster? If they did, would they act in a better way?
4. We need people who believe in the history and the idea of Europe and whose optimism and belief in the future are not solely tied to their own narrow ambitions.
5. Klaus Haensch, former President of the European Parliament, hoped that some would-be MEPs would actually bother to read Dimitris Tsatsos’ book before, I quote, “ranting on about what Europe is and is not”.
(*) The term politico-journalist does not denote a journalist who covers political affairs but rather a politician who also doubles as a journalist.