The Prime Minister has firmly stated that through Malta’s presi­dency of the European Council he wants to bring the EU closer to its citizens.

I believe communication is an essential aspect in this regard. I’ve spent most of my week in Brussels, and the more familiar I become with my new role as president of the Agrifish Council, the more I understand the importance of this task, and the benefits it can bring to local citizens.

I have presented Malta’s priori­ties both at Council and the European Parliament. These were very well received in both institutions. My presentation in Parliament generated particular interest and I must admit I was humbled by the support and good reception.

Our work on Mediterranean fisheries attracted much attention and support. The president of the Parliament’s PECH committee also accepted my invitation to a major event we are hosting on March 29 and 30.

This work is related to the Medfish4ever strategy. Intensive preparatory work has been ongoing for a number of years and we are now getting closer to a re­markable turning point. Commissioner Karmenu Vella, Alain Cadec, EP PECH president, and all Mediterranean ministers, including those from third countries, will be in Malta for a conference and the signing of the ‘Malta Medfish4ever declaration’.

We are building on the Venice declaration and I expect to have a clear road map towards the common goal of attaining healthy fish stocks and to support a thriving fisheries sector, in particular small-scale fishermen.

This is what I mean by bringing the presidency closer to our citizens. For years I have heard arguments from the fisheries sector that EU regulations alone are not sufficient to guarantee the de­sired conservation outcomes. I have explained to my colleagues in Brussels that third countries are crucial partners and cannot be excluded from the table where the big decisions are taken.

This is what we are doing now. We will together agree on a level playing field and on a set of principles that will hopefully guide Mediterranean fisheries for generations to come.

We are also currently working on a very large number of files and one of them in particular has great potential to move away from the top-down approach Brussels has been repeatedly accused of.

On the Technical Measures Regulation we are building on a very good Commission proposal that will allow regionalisation to flourish. Fishermen will be able to fully participate in the decision-making process by having the opportunity to substantiate their ideas with scientific advice and get them enacted into EU law through a fast-track procedure. In simpler words, respective regions will be able to devise more adequate technical measures, including fishing gear characteristics.

Discussions are already ad­vanced and we hope to start negotiating with the European Parliament as soon as we seal a Council position. But cooperation with the European Parliament is already very encouraging.

I was also delighted to close my week in Brussels with the first ever agreement with the European Parliament under the Maltese presidency, with my Brussels team successfully concluding negotiations on standards related to fishing vessels.

I closed my address to the European Parliament by insisting that we need healthy fish stocks for a thriving EU sector and a strong sector to be in a position to exploit resources as they reach their Maximum Sustainable Yield. I insisted that balance and long-term vision are essential.

All these thoughts were very well received, but my insistence that small-scale and artisanal fishermen need a special place in EU legislation was the most supported idea.

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