Much has been and will continue to be said and written about the unjustified and illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. Malta is right in standing with the international community, alongside our European partners, in taking the necessary actions. While we value our neutrality, we cannot take this to mean indifference.
I do not need to venture into adding yet another geopolitical analysis to the plenty already in circulation. Rather, I would like to underscore two points that so far seem to have attracted only marginal attention.
The first is the stark reality that the human tragedy we are witnessing has confirmed. Namely that the European tools to deal with a humanitarian and migratory crisis are inadequate and outdated. It is something that only Malta and a handful of European states have been consistently saying for over a decade. The European Commission found little or no support from elsewhere to reform the directives and regulations that govern such situations.
The stereotype that set in was that these were the usual complaints by Mediterranean countries which were not capable of handling what was seen as a problem of the south. Ironically, and sadly, most of these arguments were floated by European partners that are now suffering the brunt of a humanitarian crisis at their borders.
The attitude demonstrated by these same countries and the solidarity shown by many others in the response to the outpour of hundreds of thousands of people across borders is commendable. But this is the collation of a series of national responses mostly by European and also non-European states. Nevertheless, there is no consolidated European response.
One can only hope that the by-product of this crisis is a change in approach, if not in position, by those countries which have long been blocking an agreement on the European migration package. It is easier said than done and there are many intricacies and nuances.
But I believe that now we can understand each other better. Obviously, the thorny issue at the back of many people’s mind is whether the ethnicity and cultural proximity of those seeking refuge plays a role in the degree of welcome or whether we really value all lives equally.
The second point regards our Mediterranean Sea, which for many years was considered as a source of problems rather than a sea of life and potential. As Europe realises once again that it cannot depend on one source for most of its energy, it will now seek to look, albeit belatedly, at the Central Mediterranean and at our North African partners as some of the alternatives to reduce this dependency. Malta should be at the forefront of this strategy.
A decade of instability, mostly but not exclusively in Libya, has undermined ambitious projects that were in the pipeline. These varied from more cooperation on fossil fuel exploration to visionary renewable energy projects such as the rolling out of mega solar power plants in North African deserts. These projects need to be given a new lease of life.
If we want to look ahead and reduce dependency one needs to consider an interconnector with North Africa- Joseph Muscat
The significant Russian presence in Libya, alongside that of other foreign forces, will not help. But it is clear that the stabilisation of our neighbour has now become even more important, if that was ever possible.
Malta needs to lead from the front. The faster roll-out of renewable energy projects in Malta is important if we want not only to meet our targets but also to act on energy supply from a security perspective. A most important debate in this context is whether we really want to commit to larger-scale solar farms or whether, each time such an application is submitted, it falls foul to some planning policy or to public pressure.
The gas pipeline with Italy will also help us source the raw material directly, rather than the transformed product through the interconnector. On the other hand, a second interconnector with Italy is an important project. But it will do nothing to diversify and to reduce dependency, given that Italy and our European partners depend for around 43 per cent on Russia for their energy requirement.
If we want to look ahead, reduce dependency and do something to stabilise prices for the medium term, one needs to consider an interconnector with North Africa.
A gas pipeline, in similar fashion to the ones connecting Italy to Algeria (Transmed) and Libya (GreenStream), both precursors to the strategic Trans-Adriatic pipeline, should also be high on the agenda. These would not be the first projects of their kind after we missed an opportunity a generation back.
Such infrastructural investments might not have been feasible until recently if considered solely from a short-term economic perspective. Nevertheless, these two weeks have changed the world.
The strategic value of such projects for Malta and Europe, from an economic and security points of view, should be reconsidered.
The delicate phase we are entering calls for innovative thinking and bold action.
Joseph Muscat is a former prime minister.