Necessity is the mother of invention. And in the current scenario with all the disruptions it has caused our daily lives, there is no doubt that Malta, and the world, will be a very different place once we emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic.

But significant aspects of our lives have already changed. The most obvious and visible shift is that many people are working remotely.

Meetings have been replaced with video-conferences, banking is being done online, as is shopping for necessities like groceries.

We are also staying in-touch with friends and family, getting diagnosed by doctors, celebrating mass, and working out using web-based platforms. And students, like my children, are currently being taught online.

These changes did much more than just keep enterprises afloat. They show us, and are proof, that what was moving at a very slow pace can actually happen. Although the future was always going to be digital, it has been fast forwarded. Now, the challenge is to make the most of this difficult situation and grasp the many opportunities presented to us.

For instance, without so many of us driving to work and getting stuck in traffic, it is already evident that our air is cleaner. This will not only save our health and the planet, but also money and time. This shows that remote working works, and is the way forward even when restrictions begin to ease.

One must also acknowledge that not all work can be done remotely, particularly when it comes to care and health services. I would like to thank all employees who due to their very nature of work must be physically present at their work stations.

In this regard, I believe the momentum we have gathered must be sustained. We have to think local and act global to ensure that we do, potentially also leading efforts at an EU level.

We must change the way we look at policymaking

As one of the first countries in the world to embrace the principles of e-Government, and having significantly invested in the digitalisation of our economy, we had a seamless shift to remote working compared to other countries – so we have a lot to share with our European partners on the way forward.

In this context, there are two particular reflections I would like to make. The first regards our internet accessibility and its importance.

In Malta, the reliability of our access to the internet has been key to our success. At an EU level we must ensure we move quickly on the deployment of 5G to improve our competitiveness as a Union globally.

Secondly, we must change the way we look at policymaking and quickly orient our decisions to fit the digital age. These efforts must be streamlined across all policy areas from transport to trade, education to healthcare.

In all this, our small size can be used to our advantage. It means we can be agile in adopting the necessary legal framework for our vision to materialise. And just like we did when we used our EU funding to provide e-commerce training for our companies, tablets for our students, and helped tech entrepreneurs in the blockchain and AI sectors, we must also incentivise people to embrace these changes in all areas.

Obviously this is not without risks, so we need to strengthen cooperation with international bodies and the EU to have safe cyberspaces. At a national level, we also have to ensure we have the right infrastructure – be it legal, physical, or otherwise.  

Organisations who invested both in technology and in developing their employees found it much easier to ride the crest of the wave. Forward planning yields results in times of challenges.

To sum up, we, the tech-generation brought up with laptops, smartphones and an array of other communication tools, must be the ones to exploit their benefits to the full.

To do so, we have to be creative to ensure our businesses and lives make the most of this.

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi is Parliamentary Secretary for EU Funds

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