Prime Minister Robert Abela insisted in parliament on Tuesday that the government will protect the economy from rising energy prices in the same way as it had protected it from the fallout of COVID-19.

Abela was giving a statement in parliament about his participation at last week's EU heads of government meeting.

The meeting, in Brussels, discussed energy prices, migration, the pandemic, the digital transformation, trade, external relations and the rule of law situation in Poland.

During the discussion on energy, Malta insisted that member states need to enjoy the flexibility to take whatever measures are needed to protect their people, businesses and economies in a delicate time of recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, Abela said.

The member states, he pointed out, had different circumstances based on size,  the source of their energy, taxation and competition. 

The government, he said, would continue to invest so that local tariffs remained unchanged.  In other places in the EU, prices had risen by as much as a third.

One could not expect to put more costs on consumers. Furthermore, given its size, the government felt there could not be more than one energy provider in Malta.  

During the discussion on migration, Abela said he insisted that Malta would not accept to have EU measures that discriminated against the southern Mediterranean states.

Grech: refund inflated bills

In his reaction, Opposition leader Bernard Grech said the government had an opportunity to lower local energy costs by refunding clients the inflated energy bills they have been receiving.

He asked the prime minister whether he told his EU partners that the current high energy prices in Europe were the sort of prices which Malta has been paying for years to Socar for a supply of gas which it sources from Shell at far lower costs, thus making a profit of many millions? All this was happening because of the Malta government's incompetence, and worse. 

Ryan Callus (PN) observed that Malta has been paying high prices for gas for five years. The Guardian had reported that Malta paid seven times more than other EU countries. Would the agreement with Socar be scrapped? 

Herman Schiavone and Kevin Cutajar (PN) asked what the EU plans are for solving the migration crisis. Robert Cutajar (PN) said more action was needed on climate change, which the prime minister had not listed among the subjects discussed in the summit. 

Joe Ellis (PN) asked what Malta is doing to ease the impact of rising international transport costs. 

Abela: burdens will be shouldered by the state

Replying, the prime minister said the government had not raised fuel and energy prices despite a severe international crisis, as the former PN government had done in a crisis that was far less serious. The government was committed it would not transfer the extraordinary increase in international prices to families and businesses. Burdens would be shouldered by the state. 

On the pandemic, he said he had absolute confidence in the health minister and the health authorities and Malta was being acclaimed internationally for having attained a vaccination rate of 93% of the population. He reiterated his appeal for people to get their vaccine, including the booster dose. 

Abela said he would participate at the global meeting on climate change next week and in related activities.

On migration, Abela said Malta was observing its international commitments and would continue to work to save lives. But the island could not withstand any further arrivals of migrants, given its size.  

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