The Maltese presidency of the Council of the EU has come to an end. For those not directly involved in the strategic planning, logistic organisation and the actual political and technical discussions in the different Council working parties, it appears to have passed by in a blink of an eye.
The same cannot be said for the government officials in Malta and those working at the Permanent Representation of Malta to the European Union in Brussels. They put in a great number of working hours and are probably relieved that the working pressure brought along with the presidency is now over, even if some may be already looking at it with nostalgia.
If the current rotating system of EU presidencies remains unchanged, Malta would be tasked to take over this role once again in 14 years from now.
Now is the time to draw conclusions on Malta’s performance while at the helm of one of the EU’s most influential institutions.
First and foremost, one must recall the sincere concerns that fellow Europeans had at the prospect of Malta’s logistical capacity to organise the vast number of public events and meetings that take place in the country holding the rotating EU presidency. They also wondered whether it possesses human capital with sufficient experience and expertise to preside over meetings and negotiate compromises of technical dossiers on the Council’s agenda.
Overall, the Maltese EU presidency was perceived as a positive and successful one
Other small countries such as Luxembourg have been at the helm of the EU presidency only recently in the second half of 2015, but the circumstances were different. Being a founding member of the EU, this was not the first presidency that Luxembourg was responsible for, and could thus rely on previous experiences. In Malta’s case, the 2017 EU presidency was its first since becoming an EU Member State in 2004.
Secondly, also linked to the concerns referred to above, Malta’s term to be at the helm of the EU presidency came about at a delicate time for the European Union.
The EU collectively is still in an economic recovery phase following the financial crisis. The legislative agenda is remarkably high, with many dossiers emanating from the Single Market and Digital Single Market strategies, the implementation of the OECD BEPS project, climate change-related policy implemented through clean energy and circular economy proposals, the building of a Capital Markets Union, the Social Agenda, the mid-term review of the EU Multiannual Financial Framework and dossiers from other policy areas on the table.
One could also mention the bleak international situation with the management of the migration crisis, and the starting of the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, which in part started the debate on the future of the EU.
Throughout these six months, the Malta Business Bureau made its resources and European network available for the EU presidency. It played a supporting role in several events that took place in Malta, and served as an intermediary between Maltese public officials and the European business community through the MBB’s representation office in Brussels.
Having worked close to the Maltese presidency and followed its progress on the legislative agenda, and being part of a wide European business network in Brussels that was making its own judgement on the presidency’s performance and achievements, the MBB is privy to the general feeling of private sector stakeholders.
I am happy to note that overall, the Maltese EU presidency was perceived as a positive and successful one, despite the challenges outlined earlier and of the general concerns on Malta’s capacity to make it work due its size and first-time experience. Naturally, in the Brussels lobby arena, with opposing forces advocating for different interests in dossiers presided over by Malta, in the end some are winners and others are losers.
However, the approach of the presidency was to set realistic targets on deliverables – it sought to reach a general compromise in Council or an agreement with Parliament on a set of legislative proposals; it was willing to allow further debate on some sensitive files that required more discussion rather than reach rushed conclusions; and it was available to meet stakeholders and to actively participate in public events organised by third parties. These were all aspects that were cherished and appreciated.
Over time, Malta will be able to look back, observe and appreciate the outcomes of reforms implemented as a result of agreements it facilitated in the past six months at the helm of the EU presidency, and conclude that its contribution to the EU process has been positive, has had an impact, and can proudly assert to have made a small difference in the greater scheme of the EU project.