Partners in the European Union
Malta and the Czech Republic:Partners in the European Union
by Tonio Casapinta
After the years of arduous negotiations and preparation, after the months of keen expectation, the day has finally arrived when, for Malta and the Czech Republic, a dream that at times may have appeared to be unattainable becomes a reality. Today, together with eight other countries, Malta and the Czech Republic assume their rightful place as members of the European Union, and together take their first step on an exciting journey signposted with new challenges and opportunities, a journey that leads to a better future for present and future generations.
As fellow members of the Union, the prospects for strong cooperation and friendship between these two countries are assured. A bright future of ever closer ties beckons. So, amidst of the fireworks and the jubilation, the street parties and the speeches, let us take a moment to reflect on the enormity of what today’s events signify - a significance effectively illustrated by the close partnership that the shared goal of EU membership has created between Malta and the Czech Republic. I believe that this alliance is a telling example of one of the most valuable attributes of the EU – the ability to forge solidarity and harmony among independent nations, despite differences in geography, culture or language. This applies significantly to Malta and the Czech Republic, two countries with some essential similarities, but in many other ways so diverse, emerging from vastly different historical experiences.
How did this partnership come about, and what were its results?
Malta and the Czech Republic, together with the other applicant countries, faced similar challenges and difficulties during the years leading up to accession. These primarily consisted of restructuring their economies and institutions for accession, managing the volatile internal debate on the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of membership, as well as conducting the arduous and intensive negotiations with the EU. These processes in both countries were complex and hard, requiring the stamina, leadership and consistency of the respective governments to ensure progress. However, there is no doubt that the cooperation and sharing of information between Malta and the Czech Republic, as well as with other fellow applicant countries, contributed significantly to the positive resolution of the many issues that arose in the course of the process. From time to time, public support in both countries may have wavered, however, at the conclusion of negotiations in December 2002 the peoples of both Malta and the Czech Republic returned a ‘Yes’ vote and EU membership was no longer a ‘what if’ but an imminent reality.
As the Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic in Malta, I am proud to have contributed to the development of this partnership, and to have facilitated the valuable exchanges at various levels at different points during the accession negotiations. Chief among these was the State Visit to Malta of His Excellency President Havel in 2002. This great man is a living symbol of the ideals of democracy and human rights that stand at the very heart of the European Union. In a Visit that was brief but intense, by his very presence among us Havel reminded all concerned of the central importance of these ideals, and may have elevated the debate on membership to a higher plane. This was followed the following year by an Official Visit by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, His Excellency Mr Cyril Svoboda. This Visit provided both governments with the opportunity of discussing issues of mutual interest and of sharing views and ideas on the negotiation process. These high-level Visits were reinforced by sustained exchanges at a level where the sharing of information and experiences was very directly beneficial to the negotiation process, i.e. the respective Chief Negotiators of Malta and the Czech Republic. In fact, the Consulate was instrumental in setting up meetings, both formal and informal, between the Chief Negotiators of both countries on a number of occasions. On this particular day, as we celebrate the achievement of our common goal, I am very pleased to have played a small part in creating this partnership.
But enough of looking back. Let us look forward.
Since its emergence from behind the Iron Curtain in the eighties, the Maltese have been slowly but surely discovering the beauty and vitality of the Czech Republic, so much so that it is now one of the leading destinations to which we flock year after year. Commercial links between our respective business communities are also thriving, and being active partners in the Internal Market can only increase the potential for such linkages. The establishment some years back, of the external branch office of CzechTrade in Malta was yet another opportunity which has helped in no small way towards this co-operation, which is now well posed to avail itself of the opportunities that membership will bring along. Europe’s renewed interest in the Mediterranean and in North Africa will enable both Malta and the Czech Republic exploit together the opportunities that can come out of these new developments. All the pieces are therefore in place for the existing alliance between Malta and the Czech Republic, strengthened over the past few years in the run-up to accession, to go from strength to strength and it is now up to us, to rise to the occasion and demonstrate sufficient ambition and determination to achieve more and more, together.
As the celebrations begin in Prague and Valletta, tomorrow will find Malta and the Czech Republic poised to make their full and valid contribution to the workings of the European Union, joined in the same spirit of solidarity and support that has marked their relations to date.
Tonio Casapinta is the Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic in Malta