“Serving the party, harming the nation”

Alfred Sant warns that Malta and the Maltese will bear the brunt of the “partisan game” played by some of Malta’s MEPs.

The Head of the four-strong Maltese Delegation in the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament, Alfred Sant, expressed grave concern that, as the new European Parliament to be formed after next month’s elections deals with critical and unprecedented challenges, a number of Maltese MEPs will once again put their political party’s agenda ahead of the Maltese people’s interests and well-being, no matter the cost. One of the most pressing issues on which it is imperative that all six European legislators elected from Malta sing from the same hymnsheet in the national interest is the safeguarding of Malta’s military neutrality as the European Union embraces militarisation, he said.

The former Prime Minister and Labour Party leader was sharing his views as a guest of The Journal editor Sandro Mangion during Kafè Ewropa, One Radio’s weekly European election talk show. The interview focused at length on how Malta can maintain its stance as a neutral country while remaining part of an increasingly militarised European Union.

Dr Alfred Sant.

“One of the problems that I see in the Maltese delegation in the European Parliament is that almost half of us have not played the game like other MEPs do, and it is ultimately Malta that continues to bear the brunt,” said Dr Sant. “I have never heard MEPs from another Member State speaking out against their own country’s government as part of the Maltese delegation does. This partisan game irks me and, in the current situation that Europe is facing, scares me too.”

Why should Malta uphold its neutrality?

Dr Sant explained Malta’s neutral status as stemming from an understanding of its historical role as a fortified island. This perception of fortress Malta as a military threat, he argued, shaped how neighboring countries viewed the island nation for centuries.

Therefore, keeping in mind that Malta’s limitations make it impractical to have a large standing army, the best means of security for the country is to refuse to be a fortress, he said. Dr Sant argued that being part of a military alliance would thrust Malta back into the role of a fortified island. He believes Malta’s neutral status offers the most suitable security approach, considering the nation’s past, present, and future circumstances. By remaining neutral, Dr. Sant suggests, Malta avoids being seen as a military pawn by other countries

A “dangerous” development

The discussion turned to the latest developments on the EU level, with Alfred Sant noting how the bloc is moving towards a decision that he believes is dangerous for Malta: that of having is own military.

He recalled how, in the 1950s, European countries had proposed the setting up of both an economic and social union – which eventually developed into today’s EU – and a European Defence Community (EDC) to create a unified military force for Western Europe. However, the EDC treaty was ultimately rejected by the French National Assembly in 1954, fearing a loss of national control over military forces. Now, the EU is going back to that experiment, Dr Sant observes, but this time round it wants to merge a military union within the current EU structure. This, he warned, will certainly create an issue for neutral Member States and for others that do not wish to go that far.

Out of the 27 EU member states, 23 are also members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). With regard to the remaining four, while Malta, Austria, and Ireland are militarily neutral, Cyprus cannot join NATO until the current division of the island between the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish Cypriot north is resolved. Turkey has historically used its veto power to block any attempt by Cyprus to join NATO or even its programme called the Partnership for Peace (PfP). Two previously neutral EU member states, Finland and Sweden, decided to abandon their neutrality following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Dr Sant pointed out a dilemma for neutral members like Malta, Ireland, and Austria due to the EU’s approach to its military development. These countries will struggle because the EU wants to employ the same set of rules for its military arm as it does for other areas, potentially compromising these country’s neutrality.

“They are even going a step further: since they want to admit new member states into the bloc, they also intend to introduce a greater use of the qualified majority voting (QMV) to facilitate the decision-making  process,” he noted. QMV is a specific voting system used in the Council of the EU for making decisions. Each member state has a certain number of votes – not simply one vote per country – which are roughly proportional to the country’s population size. A qualified majority is reached if two conditions are simultaneously met: 55% of member states vote in favour (in practice currently this means 15 out of 27) and the proposal is supported by member states representing at least 65% of the total EU population.

Dr Sant fears that, as a result of the widespread use of QMV, as a neutral country Malta will eventually have to accept a military policy that goes against what is entrenched in its Contitution on military neutrality.

Isn’t NATO enough?

Given that, out of the 27 current EU member states, 23 are also members of NATO, wouldn’t it be more straightforward if they further their military cooperation within that framework?

Dr Sant recalls that the renewed pressure for the EU to have its own defence machanism has been there for years. However, some countries, like the UK and Denmark, were wary of deeper military integration within the EU framework. Following Brexit, resistance to this militarisation became weaker and, consequently, we have been witnessing this push for the EU to accelerate its own militarisation and its support to its arms industry.

This is happening for two reasons, he explains. Firstly, when he was US President, Donald Trump denigrated NATO and hinted that he would abandon his European allies after complaining that they were failing to meet the 2% of GDP target for defence spending. Many expected things to change when Biden was elected, but he opted to give more srategic importance to the Pacific, in light of the US’ rivalry with China. Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which sowed panic among several EU member states.

Dr Sant recalls that, in 2017, a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) was set up to serve as a framework within the EU that allows member states to collaborate on defense and security matters. Although most EU members are involved, it is not mandatory. Currently, 26 out of 27 EU members participate in PESCO  – Malta is the exception. However, now the EU is moving towards adopting a policy that finances arms, said Dr Sant, noting that even the European Investment Bank is being tasked with taking on investments in projects of a military nature.

Is there an alternative?

Dr Sant sees a solution: the EU can respect the neutral status of member states like Malta, Ireland, and Austria by replicating its approach to the euro. Not all member states have adopted the monetary unit and currency of the EU, and decisions that are related to the euro do not affect those countries that have opted to retain their own currencies. He suggested that a separate treaty etablishing a military and defence union, similar to the one that was aborted in the 1950s, be drawn up.

“If the EU continues pursuing the path of having military initiatives financed by European funds, then Malta will effectively be participating in them,” the outgoing MEP said. “We would, at the end of the day, be paying for something that we will be opting out from. The beneficiaries will be those countries with the biggest arms industry, such as Germany and France. What is also worrying is that, if the EU budget does not increase to accommodate this new investment in arms, there will be no option but for funds that have until now been used for social cohesion to regrettably be channelled towards the military.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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