MEPs have debated the priorities of the incoming Maltese Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in Strasbourg this morning.

The first-ever Maltese Council Presidency will focus its six-month mandate on migration, the single market, security, social inclusion, Europe’s neighbourhood and maritime issues.

GUE/NGL MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis was up first and he called on the Maltese government to act urgently on the EU’s economy:

“The new Presidency mustn’t force through on destructive neoliberal policies and the stability pact in order to solve the deep economic crisis. Meaningful measures should be adopted to support the economy and strengthen social cohesion. These include job creation and support for SMEs. The new targets that have been set are no good because they are part of a neoliberal policy framework. That means more sovereign debt, more unemployment, more inequality and more poverty.”

The Cypriot MEP also called for a just approach to refugees and migrants:

“Europe needs a common asylum system and an equal share of the burden. As a first step, the Dublin Regulation must be abolished in favour of a policy built on mutual solidarity – unlike the unacceptable agreement between the EU and Turkey that reinforced a Fortress Europe. There should be a just system for resettlement of refugees otherwise there will be more deaths in the Mediterranean.”

On Europe’s neighbourhood, Sylikiotis wants a policy that pursues peace over war:

“We must stop supporting foreign interventions. In particular, the EU should pressure Israel to stop settlement construction and end the occupation.”

“Regarding the Cyprus issue, we expect the Maltese presidency to put pressure on Turkey to respect the rights of all Cypriots, to end the occupation, withdraw the troops and to show a constructive attitude for a solution of the Cyprus issue on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation – without a military presence.”

Meanwhile, Greek MEP Sofia Sakorafa highlighted the importance of PRIMA, the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area:

“As rapporteur, I am satisfied that the Maltese Presidency considers the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area a priority. With an EU contribution of 200 million euros, nine member states and a 10-year period for implementation, PRIMA can address secure and accessible food systems and better management of water in the Mediterranean region.”

“Furthermore, conflicts, climate change, political instability, overexploitation of resources and population growth are other challenges that need to be dealt with – some of them related to migration. This financing is key to help us deal with these challenges,” Sakorafa added.  

For Anja Hazekamp MEP, it was tougher animal welfare legislation which was uppermost on her agenda:

“The latest Eurobarometer shows that the majority of the Maltese population wants to improve European animal welfare legislation. But how credible can Malta be when it is a bloody battlefield for birds.”

“Millions of migrating birds use Malta as a staging post but they get little rest. Right now the autumn hunt – which targets thousands of bird – is ongoing. And in the spring, some 10 000 hunters will shoot thousands of European turtle doves and quail in only three weeks.”

“This is unacceptable and is contrary to all international agreements. There is a choice: Malta could become a beautiful Mediterranean bird paradise or it can be an island of murders run by hunters,” Hazekamp concluded. 

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