The Chargé D´Affairs at Embassy of Malta in Portugal, Walter Mallia, talk about the presidency of Malta in the European Council in a interview to “The Democrat”. The diplomat also explains how relations between Portugal and Malta have lasted in time.

What are the main priorities of this presidency?

Malta’s main priorities during the Presidency are Migration, The Single Market, Security, Social Inclusion, Europe’s Neighborhood and Maritime.

The main problems are inside the European Union or outside?

The European Union is presently not very popular with many of its member states, which shows clearly that the benefits of membership are not being felt by these states. We should focus on deeper and fairer strategies which create jobs, promote productivity and ensure an attractive climate for investment and innovation. On the other hand we should be aware that Europe and its Citizens must feel safe and not under threat. The EU must remain vigilant to ensure the security of its citizens and terror must not be allowed to reign. On migration we should strengthen the Common Asylum System, revise the Dublin Regulation and transform the European Asylum System Office (EASO) into a fully-fledged Agency.

This presidency will be influenced by the results of French election in April?

 All elections, whenever they happen, will leave an impact on the European Union.

The elections in France, Germany, Netherlands and Italy during this year are crucial for the unity inside the EU?

The Netherlands France and Germany   all founding nations of the EU head to the polls in 2017 with issues of security, migration and sovereignty.  The EU has accomplished a great deal and many hurdles must still be crossed before true European unity can be achieved.  There are significant obstacles in the way of further strengthening of the EU, especially in political matters; the continued enhancement of economic ties, binding members is likely to increase the political unity of EU members over time. It is very encouraging to see that our Heads of Government seem to agree that the EU is the best possible platform to address common challenges that our continent is facing. This reinforces the message that European solutions are needed to European problems. Looking ahead, the European Union must work on implementation. This is crucial for the EU’s credibility, both with our citizens and the rest of the world. The EU has made a lot of progress and achievements as a unifying force and, again, elections affect the Union in different ways.

Which event could break the unity inside European Union? Brexit or the election of Donald Trump?

There is no clear cut and single factor that affects the Union’s cohesion. Sometimes the EU goes throe a period of sclerosis (e.g. 1980´s) but then it found ways to renew itself.

What are the interests of Malta in Portugal?

Very few people know that it was a Portuguese Admiral who first came to our rescue during the uprising against the French in 1798. At a crucial time of this historic event, Lord Nelson sent word to Admiral Marquis de Nisa that he would not make it in time to Malta, and the latter promptly entered Maltese shores with some 3000 able-bodied seamen and bolstered the fighting power of the local insurgents with some 400 muskets.

But our links with Portugal go even further back in time. There were no less than three natives of Portugal who were elected Grandmasters to the Order of St. John: Luis Mendes de Vasconcellos, Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, and Manuel Pinto de Fonseca. It was Antonio Manoel who, among other notable endeavors, laid the plans for the building of Floriana and erected a theater in Valletta which still bears his name.

Direct diplomatic relations between Malta and Portugal were established in 1968. Since then, they have remained stable, friendly and fruitful. More recently, and aside from the closer and elaborate contacts within the EU and other international and regional organisations, both countries have worked closely in the 5+5 Group which held its last Summit here in Malta in October, 2012 and which welcomed, among other eminent chief politicians, the Portuguese Prime and the then Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Among a number of sectors that may well lend themselves to potential business ventures, by way of example, include the tourism industry and the teaching of English to Portuguese students in one of our reputable schools. Unfortunately, the lack of direct flights between the two countries seriously hampers the realization of a continuing and healthy opening in both areas. Our Embassy has been constantly trying to attract a reliable airline company to take up the challenge and offer this new route. There is much more to Portugal for Maltese tourists then a fleeting visit to Fatima and its immediate surroundings as a pilgrim, whilst our English Language schools have a lot to offer to Portuguese students by way of quality in the level of teaching, competitive prices and a safe, friendly and attractive environment..

The need to spur a better understanding of each other in the business sector called for a more tangible and pro-active interaction. To this end, the idea to set up a viable venture in the shape of a Portuguese-Maltese Chamber of Commerce was mooted among a number of interested stakeholders with the help and unstinting efforts of the Malta Mission. The Malta-Portugal Chamber of Commerce ( www.mpcc.org.mt) aims to play a pivotal role in the promotion of trade and commercial relations between the Maltese and Portuguese business communities. Throughout history, these two countries have crossed paths in many ways and on many levels and a great deal of potential exists for enhanced commercial relations which can benefit all.

Malta and Portugal could be part of a group with the same interests in European Union?The two countries have various areas of convergence in the EU mainly in the Med 7 group. The Med 7 (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece and Cyprus) is  a group  like Visegrad  and other EU groups where Governments feel more comfortable to discuss their problems and ambitions with other Governments that are situated in the same geographic areas  and  who  have similar cultures. An example is the Southern EU countries  Summit which was held in February, 2017 in Portugal.

Which role has the small countries inside European Union?

Malta, being the smallest EU country can influence the European Union on various issues, mostly on Migration, where Malta has been facing this issue for more than ten years. At the last EU summit held in Malta in February, 2017 to the leaders of the 28 EU Member States, irregular migration was discussed with a special emphasis on the Central Mediterranean route. An agreement was reached on a number of immediate and concrete measures aimed to stem migratory flows, break the business model of smugglers, and save lives at sea. A joint communication by the Commission “Migration on the Central Mediterranean Route- Managing flows, saving lives” will mobilize as a first step an additional 200 million Euros for these actions.  The European Council will review progress in June on the basis of a report from the Maltese Presidency.