Dr Michaela Muscat says that Malta’s 2017 Presidency of the Council of the European Union is making Maritime Affairs a priority
Over a year after Malta’s Prime Minister, Dr Joseph Muscat, assumed the role of Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth, Malta is continuing to further its role in international relations. This January, it is Malta’s turn to hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, a first ever for Malta, the smallest of 28 member states.
The ‘rEUnion’ theme chosen for the Maltese presidency is meant to keep in focus the real concerns of European citizens, and the need for the EU to reconnect with the man on the street. As Malta’s Prime Minister explained during the official inauguration ceremony in Valletta, the main challenge for the Presidency is to remain realistic and pragmatic, offering small solutions for large problems, conscious of the fact that the work started in these six months would have an impact on the generations to come. “We must first understand the reality that the European citizens are facing today,” he said.
Malta’s Presidency will follow on the excellent work of Slovakia and the Netherlands, its trio partners. The trio sets long-term goals and a common agenda for the 18-month period, as the Presidency rotates among the EU member states every six months. During this period, the Presidency is responsible for driving the work of the Council of the European Union, including the chairing of meetings across all levels of Council, ensuring the continuity of the EU’s functioning. Each country also sets detailed priorities that are specific to its Presidency. Malta’s six key areas include: migration, the single market, security, social inclusion, European neighbourhood and the maritime sector.
As befits an island nation that has been at the centre of maritime activity in the Mediterranean for centuries, we will use the Presidency as an opportunity to evaluate the potential of the seas and oceans. Malta will be looking to the waters to ensure the sustainability of our oceans and also effective governance to promote growth in areas such as maritime tourism. Emphasis will also be made on maritime transport. With over 80 per cent of world cargo being carried by sea, maritime transport remains the backbone supporting international trade and globalisation. For the EU, which continues to be the leading exporter at world level and the second largest importer, maritime transport and all related shipping services are essential to allow European companies to compete globally. Besides making a significant contribution to the EU and global economy, shipping also remains the most environmentally sustainable means of moving large quantities of cargo.
Malta’s Minister for Transport, the Hon. Joe Mizzi, will be hosting the first-ever Ministerial Stakeholders Maritime Conference in Valletta. Together, participants will set the EU’s priorities for the shipping industry. Stakeholders, including industry and key strategic partners from other regions, will be invited to join EU member states to discuss the opportunities and challenges faced by the maritime industries.
In view of the EU and Malta’s commitment to ensure a global and level- playing-field for shipping, as well as maintaining dialogue with all of the EU’s shipping and trading partners, the Presidency will not be limited to Valletta and Brussels. London will also provide an important stage. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN specialised agency that sets global standards for shipping, is responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. At the IMO, partners meet to engage in political collaboration to set the international standards that underpin the stability of the world seaborne trade system. The Presidency is tasked with coordinating relevant aspects of the EU member states positions prior to negotiations in international fora such as the IMO. As Chair, the Presidency acts as an intermediary. Facilitating the exchange of views regarding member state concerns and interests is our main task.
Malta can provide strong leadership and act as an honest broker. Flowing from its geostrategic location and its unique history, Malta is ideally placed to build bridges amongst its partners and valued friends within the EU, Commonwealth and beyond. We will also strive toward inclusive dialogue with key strategic partners from other regions. To this end, the implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development across EU policies, including maritime, will be a primary concern during Malta’s Presidency. Particular attention will be paid to ensuring that this is reflected in the EU’s external policies, including the IMO, as together with our regional and international partners, we sail together towards a more sustainable future.