The EU is facing some of its biggest challenges to date. From the issue of migration to the potential fallout from Britain’s ‘Brexit’ referendum, these are trying times for the Union that has helped to ensure nearly 60 years of stability across its borders.
However this is also a time of hope, as EU leaders and technocrats strive to push through so as to retain that unity. Here in Malta, one of those protagonists is Dr Elena Grech, who was appointed head of the European Commission’s Representation in Malta in January this year.
"There are big challenges in our future, such as the ‘Brexit’ referendum, but I hope that the UK citizens take the right decision come polling day."
“The EC is equivalent to the administrative role within a government,” explains Dr Grech. “As employees of the EC, we are all civil servants and our main role is to propose legislation to the Council and the Parliament, which it is then up to them to adopt. As an institution we do not have a role in the adoption process itself beyond the initial preparatory stage. Instead, we are focused on ensuring that all the relevant sides come to a compromise while still meeting the role of the original draft legislation.”
However, Dr Grech goes on to explain that, since Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as EU Commission President in 2014, the Representation has also taken on a more political role. “We are now tasked with reporting back to Brussels on what is happening in our member state, especially when it comes to issues that have not been transmitted in the media.”
Aside from learning the ropes, Dr Grech is currently striving to give the Commission a more formal presence in Malta and to bring it in line with Juncker’s vision. “I see the role as one of intelligence gathering, as well as communication, especially in the run-up to Malta’s forthcoming EU Presidency in 2017,” she says.
The Commission is also tasked with disseminating as much information as possible about the benefits of being a European citizen. “A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that local opinion is mostly positive when it comes to the EU so, in some ways, I am preaching to the converted! However, I still feel that there are numerous sectors of society that could be made much more aware of the benefits that are out there,” Dr Grech continues.
Looking towards 2016, Dr Grech explains that the Commission’s main drive will be to organise events and activities that highlight President Juncker’s priorities: a new boost for jobs, growth and investment; to create a digital single market package; to push for a resilient Energy Union; to form a deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base; to create a deeper and fairer Economic and Monetary Union; to set up a reasonable and balanced free trade agreement with the USA; to form an area of justice and fundamental rights based on mutual trust; to move towards a new policy on migration; to be a stronger global actor; and, finally, to be a Union of democratic change.
Naturally, there will also be other issues that are high on the agenda, such as migration. “Our role is always to propose – not enforce or implement – so we have been, and will continue to be, a facilitator to the negotiations between member states.”
Meanwhile, Dr Grech also talks about the state of the euro. “I think the euro has ceased to be such a prominent problem as there are so many larger problems to deal with right now. The good news is that the euro has stabilised a lot and it seems to be emerging from the crisis.”
Nevertheless, it’s impossible to deny that these are trying times for the EU, but Dr Grech hopes it will be a phase. “I certainly hope the EU will continue to grow and strengthen,” she says. “And I hope its future will be a colourful one.”
This is a snippet. Read the full interview on the latest issue of The Commercial Courier here.