Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiPhoto: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The Today Public Policy Institute is an autonomous, non-governmental organisation. Its mission is to promote wide understanding of strategic issues of national importance as well as to help in the development and implementation of sound public policies in the fields of public administration, economic development, social development, environmental sustainability and also international relations.

It initiates research, encourages solutions to problems and facilitates public debate on them. It is not affiliated to any political party or movement. It is Malta’s only independent, non-partisan think-tank and has been active for over six years. It has just recently published its report on ‘The Constitution of Malta at 50: rectification or redesign?’

Three months ago, to mark the 10th anniversary of Malta’s accession to the European Union, it presented its 10th report entitled ‘Malta’s EU story: how 10 years of EU membership have changed the country’.

Patrick Tabone was the lead author of this discussion paper, a role for which he was particularly well suited. He was a member of Malta’s Core Negotiating Group during the EU accession negotiations and, subsequently, was appointed head of Cabinet of Malta’s first European Commissioner, Joe Borg.

His choice as lead author was most apt as he had seen at first hand not only how Malta had battled to join the EU over a period of a decade beforehand but also how it had performed once it joined and the effects on the country of the last 10 years since its accession.

What he has written is a most vivid and readable account – warts and all, as objectively and impartially as possible – of Malta’s journey to join the EU and its deep-lasting effects on the country and its people.

It is not a dry academic report filled with statistics and graphs but a lively, exciting description in plain language of what it has meant for all of us in Malta to have lived through the transformation of the last 10 years.

The discussion paper is in three parts. It starts by giving an account of the situation in pre-accession Malta and the somewhat tortuous path to membership. It then examines Malta’s evolution 10 years on in a number of areas – its international profile, its economy and other crucial aspects of Malta’s day to day life – as a member of the Union. And, thirdly, it takes stock of some of the challenges still facing Malta and, indeed, the EU.

Timed to coincide with Malta’s official celebrations of the 10th anniversary of its accession to the EU, this analysis is a reminder of the long road which the island has travelled to achieve membership and the undoubted benefits which it has derived, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.

The changes in the country can be seen from the level of connectedness with Europe felt by Maltese people

Backed up by much research and in-depth interviews with some of the key players who were involved in the process of accession and since (including the Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, and former prime ministers Eddie Fenech Adami, Alfred Sant and Lawrence Gonzi), the document highlights the transformation of Maltese politics from one where membership of the EU was an issue of contention to a position today of broad national consensus and support.

The changes the country went through can be seen from the level of connectedness with Europe felt by Maltese people – one of the highest in Europe – to the improvements in the structure of the economy.

In economic terms, the stability and credibility conferred by EU membership as well as the adoption of the euro have kept Malta safe during the last turbulent six years.

The impact on individuals at every level of Maltese society – schoolchildren, teachers, civil servants, local government officials and many more – all of whom have been exposed to new thinking and a new scale of doing things has been incalculable.

All those people who were interviewed by the lead author for the report highlighted that, as a people, we have become more outward-looking, more open to change and also more receptive to new ideas than we were 10 years ago.

There are two striking quotations at the beginning of the report which probably encapsulate most accurately what Malta’s EU story has been about.

The first, going back to June 1993, is from the European Commission opinion (avis) on Malta’s application for membership: “The reforms… affect so many different areas… and require so many changes in traditional patterns of behaviour that what is effectively involved is a root and branch overhaul of the entire regulatory and operational framework of the Maltese economy.” The second quotation is from Fenech Adami, who was interviewed 21 years later: “The challenge was itself the guarantee of success. It would give us the motivation and the blueprint to reform, to compete.”

As the report highlights: “The discussion paper argues that Malta has found in the EU a community of like-minded states that has provided a coherent set of values, an incentive and a blueprint for development, and systems of benchmarking and ‘peer review’ that have helped the country to develop and prosper during difficult times.

“Like every other member State to varying degrees, we do not always live up to European ideals, standards or even laws; but even where we fall short it is usually a European value that we are aspiring towards, and an EU yardstick that we are measuring ourselves by.

“This clearer sense of who we are and where we want to go has increased our sense of self-assurance and, together with the larger stage offered by EU membership, has changed and enriched the country’s international profile and the way it operates on the world stage.

“For a small island on the periphery of Europe, the most pervasive and far-reaching change has been wrought by the rich exchanges with Europe at every level – schoolchildren, teachers, students, workers, civil servants, diplomats, politicians, local government officials and more. These people have been exposed to new ideas, new thinking, often a new scale of doing things.

“The result is – and this is a positive conclusion shared by all those interviewed for the writing of this paper – that as a people we are far less insular, far more open, and less resistant to change than we were just 10 years ago”.

A joint conference is being held by the Today Public Policy Institute with the Office of the European Parliament in Malta at Europa House (by courtesy of Peter Agius, head of the European Parliament in Malta) on Friday to discuss the issues arising from the report and the lessons for the future.

The opening keynote speech of the joint conference is being given by the leader of the Opposition, Simon Busuttil, while the closing keynote speech will be made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Louis Grech.

Other interventions during the conference are being made by Borg, on the political implications; by Lino Briguglio and Gordon Cordina on the economic impact; and by Carmelo Cacopardo, Simone Borg and Michael Briguglio on the environmental and civic society impacts.

Anybody who wishes to read this comprehensive analysis of ‘Malta’s EU story: how 10 Years of EU membership have changed the country’ is most welcome to access it through the think-tank’s website www.tppi.org.mt.