Talking Point by Mario Spiteri, President Malta Business Bureau
Preparations for Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union are already well underway. In 2017, Malta will lead the Council for six months from January to July, setting the Council’s agenda in line with an official ‘trio’ work programme, which would have been set in partnership with the Netherlands and Slovakia.
The success of this work programme would be determined on its achievements in various areas of EU legislation. Malta will have the opportunity of being in a key position to ensure that competitiveness remains on top of the agenda, and that the position of business in the EU is strengthened.
Bearing this in mind, the preparations for Malta’s Presidency, should be viewed as the pathway towards continuing the safeguarding and improving of European competitiveness. However, at the same time, we need to be mindful of the fact that unpredictable twists, often of political and security nature, often get in the way of even the best laid plans.
The latest presidencies, held by Greece, Italy, and currently Latvia, would probably have planned to focus upon solidifying the good work that has been done in creating a deeper and more comprehensive single market. Yet, their tenures have been understandably dominated by the crisis in Ukraine. More recently, focus has shifted to the Mediterranean, specifically Libya, where a concoction of militia, tribal sectarianism, and Islamic extremists have turned the country into a melting pot of violence and instability.
This will no doubt give the Maltese Government the legitimate basis upon which to deliver a new impetus to Euro Mediterranean politics, thereby putting stability in the Mediterranean region as a priority when our turn arrives in 2017. The Government should focus on using its new (albeit temporary) agenda-setting powers to ensure that the EU focuses on the Mediterranean and push for lasting peace and stability in the MENA region.
We should not underestimate the importance of safeguarding Europe’s significant business interests in North Africa. To promote such interests, the Government should look towards reinvigorating the EU’s Mediterranean policy and political structures, focused around the security of the Mediterranean region, the preservation of the maritime environment and the development of employment opportunities on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Through this strategy, the foundation of a Euro-Mediterranean Business Forum could boost business networks and linkages through Southern Europe and North Africa. The ultimate aim of this strategy would be enshrining peace and stability in the region through political and economic cooperation, not too dissimilar in fact to how the European project initially started in the post-war era.
Such a strategy could be further solidified through the possible commencement of an EU – Libya bilateral dialogue, separate and independent to the regional approach that has been preferred by the EU and so far in place with Middle Eastern and North African countries alike. This would protect business interests in the area, whilst boosting investment to the country thanks to the enhanced security in the region.
Business certainly has a role to place in Mediterranean cooperation. This can and should be Government’s priority during Malta’s Presidency. Business and civil society can pool efforts to assist Government in setting the agenda for this crucial six month period. For both Government and the private sector this opportunity can be politically and economically highly rewarding.
Mario Spiteri is the President of the Malta Business Bureau. The MBB is the EU-business advisory office for the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry, and the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association.
Mr Spiteri can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org