EU member states need to show concrete solidarity with Malta because the illegal migration problem here needs to be seen to urgently, the European Commission president’s head of Cabinet said yesterday. Joao Vale de Almeida said the problem being faced by Malta with influx after influx of illegal migrants was not Malta’s alone but Europe’s problem too.

Addressing a conference on Malta’s first five years as an EU member state, Mr Vale de Almeida said: “The message I will be relaying in Brussels after my short visit here is one of great urgency. We need the engagement of all member states to find solutions. This is not a Maltese problem but a European one. On this issue, we need an appropriate response from all other member states. I am confident that we will find ways of helping Malta deal with the problem.”
Mr Vale de Almeida is the right hand man of EU Commission President Josè Manuel Barroso. He represents him at high-level meetings, including at the G8 and the G20.

He said the European Commission was acting on three levels to try and solve the immigration problem affecting Malta. Firstly it was directly supporting Malta with financial assistance, the Frontex patrols and the expertise to help Malta deal with the problem. Secondly, it was actively engaging on the external front with countries of origin and countries of transit, like Libya for example. “We cannot solve the problem if we do not address these two aspects of the chain,” he said.

Lastly, he said, the Commission was seeking to implement the principle of solidarity. “You cannot be in a union without sharing the burden of problems affecting other union members. This is the spirit of the EU. We need to translate this expression of solidarity in concrete terms. “The idea of a mandatory burden sharing mechanism is attractive but we have to create the right conditions for that to materialise. We have to find effective and pragmatic solutions in the short term,” he said.

On Malta’s five-year experience as an EU member state, Mr Vale de Almeida said the impression of the country in Brussels was “extremely positive”. “What we get from Malta is always a high-quality contribution”.

Earlier, President George Abela said EU membership was in the country’s long-term interest. He said the last five years were historic and important to the island. “This milestone after just 40 years of independence was a remarkable achievement which showed us how with sacrifice, optimism, determination and courage, great things can be achieved even by a small country like ours,” he said.

Dr Abela said Maltese values formed the very foundation of the EU. It had joined a union which complemented its values and ideals. The adoption of the euro sheltered the Maltese economy in the present financial crisis and brought about fiscal discipline.

His speech echoed that of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi who spoke on the reconstitution of Meusac which, he said, gave civil society a stronger voice which now had to be maximised. Dr Gonzi said fear of change had been the main obstacle to Malta’s EU membership bid but looking back, one could now see that such fear was unfounded. He said he was proud that Malta was now a successful EU state.

On the introduction of the euro, Dr Gonzi said that a year after Malta introduced the euro, this had sheltered the Maltese economy and the Maltese managed to shift from one currency to another in a smooth way.

Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat stressed that May 1, 2004 was not a destination but a starting point for Malta. “Now we have to look beyond the here and now. We have to work hard to ensure the financial crisis passes with the least possible affect on Malta,” he said. Dr Muscat said that due to broken promises and bad decisions all over Europe, Europeans were blaming the EU for being passive in the face of what was happening. Malta needed to be a leader not a follower, with civil society not feeling like outsiders in the decision-making process, he stressed.