Mr. Speaker – Dr. Anglu Farrugia,
Prime Minister – Dr. Joseph Muscat,
President of the EU Council – Mr. Donald Tusk,
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries,
Leader of the Opposition – Dr. Simon Busuttil,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
it is a great honour and pleasure to address you today, in this distinguished House, the heart of Maltese democracy.
At this morally testing period for Europe I am very happy to be here. In a country which has throughout its colourful history been time and again a testament of the beauty of the mingling of peoples and cultures. In a country that is a seasoned veteran for providing material and moral solidarity to the persecuted and those washing up on its shores.
Malta has been a tremendously successful melting pot. The Mediterranean trade routes and the ideas and initiatives of the highly diverse people who made Malta their home turned the country from a barren rock into a thriving community with an incredibly deep history. This was not a destined path, but multi-culturality and an ability to seize what was on offer made it happen.
In the literal sense Malta is also a melting pot like no other. This is a country where Christmas pudding, French inspired stews, Sicilian style sweets, and the Maghrebi spice culture all easily call themselves home. Likewise, the Maltese language is evidence of this cultural mix – it borrows words from Italian and builds the plural through Semitic grammar: FURKETTA becomes FRIEKET, for example.
This country’s history and its success show us so clearly that when we raise our heads up from over the handlebars of the refugee debate we are living, much that makes our societies what they are is because of strong interactions between different cultures.
Certainly, the crisis we are faced with brings with it justified concerns that should not just be waived off by naive idealism. But the moral duty to help and the knowledge that others are an asset not a burden, as Malta has regularly shown us, should move us in the right direction while at the same time addressing people’s worries.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Malta the smallest of EU states is a positive example in today’s Europe too. Both in economic and social terms.
Growth is there and the deficit is down, while unemployment is low including that of youth unemployment.
On the social front, universal childcare is available to all families in Malta – a first in Europe. Malta also legalised civil unions for gay couples as well as one of the most advanced gender equality bills.
It is another reason for it to be a pleasure for me to be among you.
Ladies and gentlemen,
my visits to Malta these past years also enriched me for another reason: I came here to learn first-hand about the challenge migration poses to Malta. During these visits I had the opportunity to speak with politicians and citizens, with civil society representatives and refugees.
Speaking to the refugees, I was deeply touched by the plight and the tragedy of the people, who embarked on rickety vessels to reach our shores, in search of protection and a safer life. Men and women, elderly and young, children and pregnant women.
Who among us can imagine the desperation that must drive parents to embark on such a dangerous journey with their young children?
And I was deeply moved by the generosity and the human decency displayed by the Maltese people.
By the fisherman towing a sinking vessel into the safe harbour.
By the soldier rescuing a family from a rubber boat.
By the nurse tending to a young boy collapsed after days at sea without food or water.
By the volunteers handing out toys to children.
I cannot but commend you, the Maltese people and their elected representatives, for the enormous effort you undertake every day to rescue and accommodate refugees.
Yet, too many die. More than 3.400 people have drowned in the Mediterranean already this year. 3.400 we know of. Many more are buried in this graveyard that our Mare Nostrum has become. 800 perished this April off the coast of Lampedusa – victims of a cynical people smuggling and trafficking industry which makes money out of the misery of people. We cannot stand by and watch idly while more people drown off our coast. Every life counts.
In the wake of the latest Lampedusa tragedy you, Prime Minister Muscat, called for a meeting on migration between European and African countries. This much needed summit will take place over the next two days here in Valletta. This summit is much needed, because nation-states alone will never be able to deal with global phenomena like migration. But together, through cooperation and coordination we can. So Prime Minister Muscat, let me thank you for this initiative.
Ladies and gentlemen,
these days, the attention of the world is focused on the Western Balkan route. Yet, as you all know well, the central Mediterranean route remains the main access for migrants coming from West Africa and the Horn of Africa – and it has proven to be the most dangerous route, responsible for the vast majority of reported fatalities.
The Valetta Summit gives us the chance to address the root causes of the migration crisis jointly with our African partners.
Because, as long as a war continues, people will continue to flee and won’t be able to return home.
As long as people face persecution they will seek protection elsewhere.
As long as people do not have a perspective in their home country they will look for a better life abroad.
Therefore: let us use the opportunity offered by the Valletta Summit wisely, let us stop patching up short-term solutions and instead come up with a comprehensive, long-term migration policy together with our African partners:
By investing in development.
By supporting good governance.
By resolving conflicts.
By boosting local economies through trade.
By creating legal avenues for migration, reinforcing international protection and readmission agreements for those who cannot stay in Europe.
By boosting search and rescue operations and fighting criminal human traffickers and smugglers.
Our strategy can never consist of fighting migrants. Our strategy must consist of fighting the root causes of migration: conflict and poverty.
One instrument of this policy, albeit a short-term one, is the EU Emergency Trust Fund which will help address the crises in the regions of the Sahel, Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa and the North of Africa. The European Union has so far committed 1.8 billion Euros.
I call on the member states to match the EU contribution by the same amount! And I call on those who so far are not contributing to pledge national contributions! This is money well-invested. This is money making the difference in people’s lifes!
Ladies and gentlemen,
one thing is clear from the outset: we will only solve the migration crisis when we address both the outward and the inward dimension of the migration crises at the same time, and we can only achieve this when we as Europeans stick together. One and a half years ago, when I came to Malta, and when I saw that Malta with a population of 419.000 is responsible for coordinating search and rescue operations in a maritime zone of a quarter of a million square miles – a disproportionate duty requiring major resources, which the Armed Forces of Malta and all other services involved, fulfil to their great credit, on a daily basis, when I saw this with my own eyes, I called for a common European approach based on the spirit of loyalty, solidarity and a fair sharing of responsibility.
It pains me, that today, one and a half years later, this lesson still has not been learned. On the contrary, the migration crisis is threatening to tear us apart, we witness beggar thy neighbour policies. You President Tusk even spoke of a risk of a “divide between the East and West of the EU”. We must avoid such a split at all costs.
Because when we stick together we make progress: the European Parliament gave in record time the go-ahead to re-locate 120.000 persons in clear need of international protection from Greece and Italy to other Member States of the EU, on top of the 40.000 to be relocated according to a scheme approved only a few days earlier. Because we know: some communities and countries like Malta are indeed faced with an over-proportionate duty putting a strain on them. But to distribute one million among 507 million in 28 countries should not pose a problem. This is neither a “German problem”, nor a “Greek problem” nor a “Hungarian problem” – it is our common European task.
Last week, I visited the refugee camps and registration center Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos. Greece is on the way of the Western Balkans route and a key entry point for hundreds of thousands of refugees. 218.000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean only this October. On Lesbos people warned me that with several thousand arrivals per day the infrastructure of the island is stretched to its limits. The mayor of Mythilini told me the difficulties and lack of funds which local authorities must overcome to deal with the situation. To compound the problem, winter is coming, meaning that even those arriving safely will be exposed to greater risks. It is therefore key to complete the European registration and processing centers – the so-called hotspots and greatly increase reception capacity. Still existing problems must be solved, because a hotspot only makes sense if decisions taken at the point of entry are immediately implemented.
I was glad to assist at one of the first “relocation flights” of 30 Syrian and Iraqi refugees from Greece to Luxembourg. While it was a symbol of concrete European solidarity, I do have to say: It’s shameful that so far only about 120 refugees have been relocated from Greece and Italy – in the light of the enormous challenge Europe is facing this is really too little too late. It is not acceptable that heads of states and government make commitments in the spirit of solidarity at EU Summits, the EU institutions deliver – in this case the relocation of 160 000 refugees – and then national governments do not implement promptly the decisions they themselves have taken! Therefore, I want to use this opportunity today to call on member states to get their act together, to step up their efforts and fulfill their commitment according to their binding share!
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is really high time that we finally understand that European problems can only be solved through European answers. We learned this lesson the hard way during the financial crisis. Then it became starkly clear that we cannot conceive of our national economies as black boxes; that we are so closely interlinked that what happens in one country can affect all other countries. Once we recognize a problem as a European problem, we must find a European answer. The financial crisis was about money, but today it is about saving human lives and safeguarding our European values. We are faced with an epochal challenge, but one we can overcome – if we stick together and if we act together in a spirit of solidarity.
Thank you for your attention.