2017 will be a decisive year in the EU’s quest to reunite Europe as it struggles with Brexit and awaits the results of national elections in Germany, France and The Netherlands.
“We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.”
I wonder if Chancellor Adenauer realised, when he uttered these insightful words, that they would still be so relevant today as the European Union struggles with both age-old issues as well as new ones, in a fluid new context.
We all live under the same sky: a sky that has witnessed the worst financial crisis in living memory, a sky that has seen migration flows of unprecedented proportions, a sky that has seen so many unforgettable images - so many atrocities and mindless acts of terrorism.
However, also a sky that has endured 60 years of relative peace, stability, prosperity and a better quality of life for EU citizens.
But, as recent political developments on our continent and beyond have shown, we have ever-increasing and divergent horizons. The horizon of a growing number of the world’s citizens - spurred by feelings of uncertainty, fear and inequality - has shifted.
They, and make no mistake that amongst them are many Europeans, are being persuaded to believe that home-spun national responses are more effective than European solutions.
This has fuelled the re-emergence of extreme nationalism, protectionism, xenophobia and geo-political tensions, leading to citizen detachment.
And it has caused leaders of various countries to disagree among themselves on the best way forward.
European citizens have to be convinced that European Added Value can translate into Citizen Added Value.
The truth is none of us know what the long-term ramifications of recent events will be. The only thing we do know is that this is the scenario we face today and in the foreseeable future.
As Commission President Juncker said in his State of the Union address, 2017 will be a decisive year in the EU’s quest to reunite Europe as it struggles with Brexit and awaits the results of national elections in Germany, France and The Netherlands.
And this is precisely why our Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, has promoted ‘rEUnion’ as the main goal of Malta’s Presidency. rEUnion is about reuniting the European Union with its citizens, and reuniting the member states of the European Union with one another.
We are not talking about a complete re-design of Europe. The EU’s fundamental principles are still highly valid and relevant.
But due to a deficit in the decision-implementation process, our citizens are asking whether it remains a positive and relevant force in their lives. This is a question all of us have to stand up and answer.
Talk of an existential crisis within the EU has become an accepted norm. And it would be a big mistake for the Union to underestimate the size of the challenge that lies before us.
However, it would be an even bigger mistake, to walk blindfolded into a downward spiral. Yes, we are living in extraordinary times. But rather than be disheartened, our duty is to come up with an exceptional reaction.
This year, the Union must commit itself to finding the unity that has lately eluded it. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary efforts.
Schumann once declared that “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity,” one which provides the basis for a re-union amongst member states.
We are under no illusions about how much can be achieved during the next six months. However, from Day One, our Presidency will focus on the issues that matter: the issues that address the hopes, concerns and aspirations of every European citizen.
This will be the focus of the informal meeting of EU leaders in Valletta on the 3rd of February, which is a prelude to the meeting in Rome the following month, which marks the EU’s 60th anniversary.
Because, ultimately, Europe is about the people - the citizens of our respective member states.
We do have hope, and we have said hope because we believe in our youths.
There is an urgent need to make them feel, once again, part of the European project, part of its development and success.
We must re-engage our young people. The opportunity we have before us allows us to define the shape of the Union we want our children and grandchildren to live in.
That Europe which should practise its long-held principle of solidarity - from which many member states have themselves benefitted - with migrants fleeing war-torn regions in search of a better life. Europe should share the responsibilities these mass movements bring.
That Europe, that should be safe and secure, and take action to mitigate security challenges in the face of a constant terrorism threat, while at the same time focusing on a neighbourhood policy that promotes a more stable environment for the troubled regions that surround us. The core values and the rule of law that underpin the EU’s very existence should be upheld.
That Europe should be inclusive, equitable and just, and strive to narrow the gap in financial inequality. It should promote job creation and economic growth, and it should strengthen and complete the single market which is the main motor and catalyst for economic recovery.
That Europe should work harder to create a healthy and sustainable environment, one that promotes measures to combat climate change and promote innovative research and activity in the maritime industry.
These are the priorities of our Presidency. These are the measures we believe will make Europeans feel their citizenship gives them added value, and make them feel the policy agenda is being seen through THEIR perspective.
These are the steps we propose the Union should urgently take to restore trust in the European project and secure its sustainable future.
Time is of the essence. What happens short-term will define the future of Europe.
We cannot hide. We cannot fail. The buck stops right here, with all of us, who must translate hope into action, notwithstanding gigantic obstacles. This is the time to show strength, not weakness; resolve, not doubt; unity, not division.
That is what rEUnion is all about.
In the final analysis it is up to us, all the stakeholders of the EU, to determine our own destiny. As Mahatma Ghandi once said, “we must be the change that we wish to see in our society”
Before I conclude, I would like to thank all those officials who have worked long and hard to make this Presidency a success, both from my Ministry and others.
I am referring to the Prime Minister, my fellow Cabinet Ministers and Ian Borg in particular. I also thank the Presidents and Officers of the Council, Commission and EU Parliament for their valuable and constant support.