Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi this morning hit out at the Labour Party for not having convinced the socialist group in the European Parliament to block new Frontex regulations which are viewed as being harmful to Malta.

The regulations provide that migrants rescued by Frontex patrols should be taken to the country hosting the Frontex operation.

Malta insists that, as at present, the migrants should be taken to the nearest harbour.

Dr Gonzi said the leader of the socialist group had, in the past, promised to help Malta in the immigration issue, but in a statement issued yesterday, the Socialist Group had even criticised the Maltese position. (See statement below)

"This is a major disappointment...our position is that the new rule does not make sense and unless this rule is amended, Malta will not participate in Frontex operations. However, if the rule if changed, we will take part," Dr Gonzi said when speaking in Senglea.

The Maltese position, he said, was based on what made sense for the people concerned and for the country.

Dr Gonzi said that at the European Council, Malta had argued that if this proposal was to be made, individual countries should still have a right to decide on the Frontex operational rules on an ad hoc basis. The European Parliament, however, approved rules which did not clearly include this proviso.

Therefore if the new regulation was to be enforced, Malta would not host Frontex operations.

MATERNITY LEAVE

Asked whether the government agreed on extending maternity leave, as proposed in the Eurpean Parliament, Dr Gonzi said Malta agreed with this proposal in principle, but only as long as there was a level playing field, thus ensuring that competitiveness was not lost.

There were countries, he said, which gave 20 weeks of maternity leave, but only gave the mothers half pay. In Malta, maternity leave was shorter, but mothers received their full salary.

Asked whether people could live with just the minimum wage, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech said that very few workers received a minimum wage, some 10,000 from a workforce of 152,000.

One should consider whether raising the minimum wage would create new problems instead of solving the current one.

It could be that raising the minimum wage benchmark would endanger jobs since employers would not afford the higher salaries.

The minimum wage was not frozen, the minister said, but was adjusted every year on the basis of the cost of living.

Raising the minimum wage would not encourage more people to work instead of relying on benefits, since the benefits were linked to the minimum wage.

EUROPEAN SOCIALISTS' STATEMENT

The following is the statement by the European Socialists, issued today by the PN after being referred to by the Prime Minister:

European Socialists and Democrats today in Brussels foiled an attempt by conservative political forces to oppose a Commission proposal aimed at putting to an end Member states' passing the buck on sea rescue operations of refugees.

As from April, EU countries will have to stick to international maritime provisions on assistance at sea and disembarking of individuals to avoid being taken before the European Court of Justice.

Michael Cashman, EP rapporteur on the dossier, said:

"Member states interpret differently the international law of the sea when rescuing/searching people/boats at sea. In the recent years, many dramatic events demonstrated to our citizens, third countries and the United Nations that there was an absence of common framework at the EU level. This has been criticised by the EP as well as NGOs. We have always called for an obligation of mutual cooperation between Member States.

"The draft Council decision proposed by the Commission seeks to ensure a prompt and fair European intervention by ironing out these different interpretations. We need certainty and Member States need to meet their obligations!"

Claude Moraes, S&D Spokesperson on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, said:

"Every year 1500-2000 people die at sea at EU borders.

"A large number of these casualties could be avoided by reinforcing cooperation between neighbouring countries, by improving sea surveillance and providing quick assistance to refugees.

"On the contrary, too often in the past we have seen EU Governments wasting time while disputing over their respective obligations to respond to distress calls from boatpeople.

"Today's vote puts to an end any further misinterpretations and stops the passing of the buck among EU Governments".

PL REACTION ON IMMIGRATION VOTE

The Labour Party said the government had shown itself to be ineffective in the European Council when it abstained over the new Frontex regulations instead of voting against.

The criticism against the European Socialists was only an attempt to hide such ineffectiveness.

Furthermore, the PL said, Dr Gonzi needed to explain why MEP Simon Busuttil had declared in the European Parliament that both the PN delegation to the European Parliament and the government agreed with the regulations, saying that: “We definitely want these rules, I myself come from a country that wants these rules, but we do not want the European Commission to exceed its powers and that’s why we should support this resolution."

It published documents showing how Malta had abstained when the new rules were discussed in the Council

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us