Last Updated on Thursday, 21 December, 2023 at 3:15 pm by Andre Camilleri
This week, I took some vacation leave to deal with multiple errands that have been accumulating for the past few months. Essentially, I felt tired and exhausted. However, while I was whinging about the race against time, I realised that other people around the world are also racing against time, but for different and far appalling reasons.
At times we enter into a mood of complaining even about little things. We complain about traffic, then about foreigners working in Malta, some are even changing our parents’ diapers at Mater Dei, and other political issues. We always need to find a cause to complain, including myself. We are not perfect, and we do have bottlenecks within our system that must be addressed. I had the opportunity to write about them during the past 50 weeks. However, when you think about it, we are much better off than other countries. Taking a look around us, Italy is struggling with debt, France is facing the prospect of entering into an excessive deficit procedure and Germany is cutting down even on basic necessities, including tax breaks for farmers. On the Eastern side of Europe and in the Middle East, many people were left homeless, with nothing just a sack of garments that they managed to grab before fleeing a war, and countless other sufferings occurring around the globe.
Let us for a minute consider the tragedy unfolding in Gaza. Gazans are attempting to find food and shelter before their zones are indiscriminately bombed. Additionally, other patients are attempting to find a hospital to be cured, as well as treatment for their survival. This week, it was observed that Gazans are unable to avoid starvation due to the lack of food and the restrictions to dispatch humanitarian aid. This is really cruel, and it constitutes to a war crime. Under international law, Israel must cease the indiscriminate bombing of urban areas. The humanitarian pauses are clear. The UNSC resolution explicitly states, “humanitarian pauses”. Surely, the risks of starvation require a humanitarian pause. Here, I must thank once again our diplomatic mission in New York for their efforts in passing a crucial UNSC Resolution.
Regrettably, the European perspective as I knew it two decades ago, is completely different. Since her appointment, the President of the European Commission created a total mayhem. Thankfully, in 2024, we will be witnessing the European Parliament elections, a new European Commission, as well as an eventual election in the US. I am not happy to say it. However, as much as I was in favour of the Democrats, the past three-and-a-half years were truly disappointing. Failure to retain stability came as a result of undiplomatic skills. The distortion in our established rules based international order, is truly unprecedented. Now I understand why the EU was pushing to discover likeminded partners, while Donald Trump was sidelining and mocking them. However, I never expected such an astronomical shift in the way we live. It is indeed a new era. Surely, the future president of the EU Commission must be someone acquired with strong diplomatic skills. On the other hand, the High Representative must retire to spend more time practising his favourite kayaking sports.
Last week, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy travelled to the US to request additional funding to resist Russia’s aggression. However, the bill, worth billions of dollars designated for Ukraine was unsuccessful in passing the Senate. At the end of last week’s European Council, the EU approved the opening of the accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova. However, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, abstained by going out of the room, to allow for the necessary unanimity. During the same meeting, Mr Orban, vetoed an eventual €50 billion aid package for Ukraine, with EU leader set to meet again in early January to rediscuss other options. However, the reason for vetoing the request for additional aid for Ukraine remains unclear.
The prime minister of Hungary stated on a local radio station that the reason for vetoing the funds relate to the EU Commission’s inconsistency of binding Ukraine’s aid package with Hungary’s release of EU funds. These are the same EU funds that Ursula von der Leyen held for Hungary’s failure to adhere to EU values, including the rule of law disputes with the EU Commission. To me, it is a non-sequitur. In all honesty, I am totally perplexed and appalled if this is the case. If EU values are tradable, then we have a commodity here besides, ahem, the EU passports. Certainly, the EU Commission is playing hawkish. Shared EU values must be upheld even by future accession countries.
Meanwhile, rumours are circulating in the Berlaymont building, that President Ursula von der Leyen asked the Commissioner for EU Budget, Johannes Hahn, to explore a possible backup plan. Apparently, the back-up plan, better known as Plan B, involves national guarantees from EU member states that raises funding on the market. I am uncertain how this will be recorded in our national budget, but my hunch tells me that it would be recorded as part of an accrual in our stock of debt. However, this is becoming extremely irritating, as well as dictating. So, on one hand the European Commission is recommending the Maltese government to phase out energy subsidies, while on the other hand they want us to contribute to assist Ukraine. This is really cynical.
A non-EU member state is dictating the way we design EU rules. Also, the way the EU is behaving is truly incoherent. Despite the fact that we must assist Ukraine, the aid package includes gargantuan sums of money, amounting to almost a third of an annual budget “commitment appropriations” of a single MFF year. We require transparency, also under the authority of the EU court of auditors. The EU Commission’s push for Ukraine’s accession is becoming conspicuous by the day. Something tells me there is more to it than just EU accession. Here we must pay attention. Resisting Russia does not mean that the EU becomes submissive to a non-EU country. True, Ukraine did a lot to resist the Russian aggression. And probably, they are also running out of time before this winter. Undeniably, Ukraine requires funding and assistance. However, we must promote diplomacy and the Ukraine peace formula, as otherwise, we too are risking running out of time. By the looks of it, the electorate, is set to punish Europeans in the upcoming EU elections. Sincerely, I hope that I am wrong.
Given that this is my last opinion piece for this year, I wish to thank my readers for their loyalty, as well as their encouragement. Personally, I want to thank the personnel at the TMBW, as well as the editor for this opportunity. My advice is to spend as much time as needed with your loved ones. Only when we lose someone dear to us, we realise the meaning of life, and the time squandered on petty issues. That’s the reality check for our perspective of time.
Lastly, I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a prosperous new year.