President Guido de Marco said yesterday that the Malta's membership of the European Union was not an end in itself.

EU membership was the future the Maltese people have decided to embark upon, a future set within the region to which it belongs, politically, culturally and economically, he said.

"This belonging of Malta is not simply the history of our island; it is the anchoring of our future with other European countries, a shared future based on the common foundations that make up our European citizenship: the upholding of fundamental human rights, the vitality of democracy, a culture and a civilisation inspired by Christian principles, solidarity among peoples and a free market based on social values."

Professor de Marco was speaking prior to presenting the Republic Day honours and awards at the Palace in Valletta.

The republic pays tribute to persons who distinguish themselves in various fields by appointing them to the National Order of Merit, the Xirka Gieh ir-Repubblika, or presenting them with the Midalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika.

During the investiture ceremony, five members were appointed to the Order of Merit.

The new MOMs are Simon Busuttil, former head of the Malta-EU Information Centre; Victor Camilleri, ambassador and permanent representative of Malta to the United Nations in New York but, from 1997 until this year, ambassador to Belgium and to the EU; Joseph J.M. Curmi, former director general in the Management and Personnel Office at the Office of the Prime Minister; Lino German, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, secretary of the Medical Association of Malta from 1973 to 1988, and secretary of the Consultative Committee on Bioethics; and Tony S. Mangion, a professional photographer who in 2000 received the Award of Excellence by Master Photographers (UK).

Those awarded the Midalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika (MQR) are Alfred Bezzina, executive director of the National Commission Persons with Disability; Peter Calamatta, an expert in gardening and landscaping architecture; Mario Cappello, founder of the Institute for World Evangelisation (ICPE) Mission in Malta; Tony Drago, the professional snooker and pool player; and Sister Beniamina Portelli, foundress and director of St Monica Choir which was the first local choir to win the Gold Award in the Malta International Choir Festival.

Herbert Michael Gilles was appointed honorary officer of the National Order of Merit.

A physician of international standing, Professor Gilles was professor of tropical medicine at the University of Liverpool for over 20 years where he was head of department until his retirement in 1986.

At the request of the University of Malta, for the past 14 years he has been coming here three times a year as a visiting professor on a voluntary basis to run a Public Health and Infectious Diseases Programme at the Medical School.

An adviser to the World Health Organisation, Professor Gilles is a leading expert on malaria.

Mario Azzopardi was awarded the Midalja ghall-Qlubija for saving the life of a woman who was carried away by treacherous rainwater currents during the flooding last September that swept through Balzan valley.

Continuing his speech, the President added that Malta believed in a Europe that deemed peace not as rhetoric but as an instrument for the progress of peoples.

"In this respect, the words expressed by Pope John Paul II to us Maltese to 'be builders of bridges between the peoples of the Mediterranean, between Africa and Europe' remain fundamental.

"I believe that this message, a political mission statement for our people, should be cast in bronze, fixed on the façade of this Palace as inspiration to us all."

The ceremony was attended by Acting Prime Minster Lawrence Gonzi, Opposition Leader Alfred Sant, former President Censu Tabone, MPs, members of the diplomatic corps and by mayors and other guests.

Earlier, the President reviewed an Armed Forces guard of honour on Palace Square, followed by a march past.

The investiture ceremony is the culmination of a process that started with a public call for nominations last September to which a number of citizens responded by submitting their nominations.

The nominations are vetted by a committee appointed by the prime minister.

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