European Union borders had to be properly secured before member states could be expected to share responsibility for asylum seekers, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said today.
“Our first priority is to secure EU borders,” Dr Muscat told media gathered at a press conference held jointly with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at the start of Malta's EU Council presidency.
“People who have the right to asylum should be allowed in and get processed. Those who don’t, shouldn’t. Right now that certainty does not exist.”
The Prime Minister made it clear that migration would be at the very top of the EU’s agenda during Malta’s six-month period leading the EU Council, though he sought to temper expectations.
“We don’t have a silver bullet,” he said. “A long-term strategy is needed. But progress is achievable and necessary when it comes to border control, both land and sea.”
Agreeing that migration was a pressing issue that needed addressing, Mr Juncker said he was “quite confident” that Dr Muscat and his team “will allow us to make the progress desperately needed.”
Mr Juncker praised the Maltese government for having prepared for the presidency “in an excellent way” and waxed lyrical about cooperation between the Commission and Castille.
“We are on the same channel, we are swimming in the same direction,” he said, before going on to note that Malta was putting a greater emphasis on the EU’s social dimension that the presidencies that preceded it.
Dr Muscat later linked this concern with social issues to migration, telling a journalist that a surge in popularity for extremist political parties stemmed from a failure to adequately foster economic growth and ensure wealth was fairly distributed.
“I’m a believer in the market economy, but I also see the limitations of the trickle-down approach,” the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister reiterated his position on Brexit negotiations, saying that while he wanted the United Kingdom to get a fair deal, it could not expect to get a deal that was better than full EU membership.
“We can see no situation where what they get is better than what they have,” Dr Muscat said.
He expressed confidence that EU member states would speak with one voice on the issue.
“I’ve rarely discussed a subject in which all other member states have the same position. I simply don’t see it happening,” he said when asked whether Brexit negotiations threatened to divide the EU internally.
With Mr Juncker standing to his right, Dr Muscat said it was imperative that the European Parliament was involved in negotiations from the outset, warning that a failure to do so might put MEPs “in the mood to scuttle a deal”.
Both Mr Juncker and Dr Muscat denied any involvement in the EU Commission’s decision, announced today, that the Maltese government’s decision to pay Electrogas for electricity did not violate state aid rules.
Asked whether the timing of the decision was a coincidence, both men disavowed any knowledge of the matter.
“I never interfere in competition cases,” Mr Juncker said, “so I cannot comment on the timing.
Dr Muscat said much the same. “We definitely don’t interfere [in Commission decisions],” the Prime Minister said, before going on to predict that within seven years Malta would be part of the European gas network, thanks to an eventual gas pipeline running between Italy and Malta.