President George Vella,
It is a pleasure to be invited to your 37th InterAction Council Meeting. Let me start by thanking you for giving me the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you today. It is an honour and privilege to be here. Thank you your Excellency for hosting.
To open your meeting of intense discussions, I have been asked to share my thoughts about ‘the Future of Europe and its implications on the rest of the world’. An age-old debate. And yet, one that has not ever been as decisive as it is now.
I wonder if the architects of the European project back in 1950 would have ever imagined that in 2023, so many would have forgotten the consequences of populism selling easy answers to difficult questions.
Or someone giving a speech in 1960, would have ever imagined that while we all have all the knowledge of everything about the world accessible at our fingertips online, so many still remain oblivious to the lessons of history, so many still feel lonely and cut-off from society.
I wonder if after the fall of the Berlin wall, there would have been anyone who could have imagined that the foundations of our liberal democracy that ended decades of fear, of repression, could once again be called into question.
Or that despite the constant stream of news of wild fires, of rivers drying up, of our planet literally heating-up, that we still have yet to convince people that climate change is still a very real thing. And likewise in 2020, when the entire global population was confined to their homes, whether they would believe that despite the remarkable European and global efforts to counter the effects of the pandemic, three years later many are those that still believe the path ahead is to be trekked on, alone.
The road ahead is bumpy. There are no easy answers, no precedents to seek comfort from. But despite the onslaught of polycrises, I know that we have the capacity to meet this moment.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I did not come here today to be cynical. On the contrary, I see this InterAction meeting, the first in-person one since 2019, as a call for action, a renewed impetus for change. Bringing together former Heads of State and Governments from across the globe, with a wealth of experience and knowledge under the belt, to discuss what we - politicians, civil society, young world leaders - can do to ensure a better, safer, fairer, more prosperous future for all. One that is rooted in the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. One that understands that corruption erodes societal models and must be fought.
The future of Europe, and indeed the future of the world, is one that we must shape together. This project that we call the European Union was created to answer the issues that Europeans faced. It was our way of ensuring that the world would remain focused on striving for justice, for equality of opportunity and real democracy. I remember the day when Dr Lawrence Gonzi, then Prime Minister of Malta, carried our country into the European Union. That feeling of hope, of endless possibilities, of unbridled belief in our common future as a nation, as a Union, is a moment that will remain with us forever. It took enormous courage to make it happen. And it will take just as much to sustain it.
We talk about the difficult times we are meeting in. We are facing war on our continent. An illegal, unjustified, brutal invasion of sovereign, independent Ukraine by Russia. A cost of living crisis and high energy prices making it harder and harder for people to stretch salaries to the end of the month. Raw materials that are becoming scarcer and damaging global supply chains. A climate catastrophe that cannot be ignored. Rule of law challenges that threaten people’s rights. And a post-pandemic economic recovery that still remains far too fragile.
The European Union must continue to grow and to adapt to the challenging times. We must have the foresight to understand that the challenges of tomorrow are only able to be properly addressed if we take the tough decisions today. What worked for a Union of 27 will not work for a Union of 32. What worked at the turn of the Millennium will not work today.
The pandemic has shown us how vulnerable we are still when it comes to health. First instinct was to close borders. We’ll take years to go back to the freedoms we took for granted in the Schengen area. The Russian invasion has shown us that we are vulnerable when it comes to security and defence. The weaknesses of our energy policy have been exposed and exploited.
This is not only a question of climate, green ambition, investment in renewables, but also about security today. For so long we looked away because it was so easy to rely on cheap fossil fuels.
Lessons must be learned. And they must be learned quickly.
On energy, even if Europe is in a better place than we thought we would be a year ago, because we found the political will to overcome the legal obstacles that we have placed ourselves for decades in order for us to compete in a road to the bottom of competition. That is thanks to our unity and policy of solidarity. In hindsight we can all agree that it was sheer foolishness to rely on Russia for energy supplies. We should have understood, as Russia had done already, that energy was, is and will always be, political. Going forward, we cannot make that mistake again. Making our supply chains more resilient by diversifying our resources is crucial in the ongoing changing geopolitical context. And here let me say that if Russia’s weaponisation of energy provisions has taught us anything, it is that the green transition is just as much about climate ambition as it is about security concerns. They are two sides of the same coin.
For too long we have depended on undependable actors. My point is that we have to become more active, more assertive and more engaged in the global cooperation of democracies. With those who share our fundamental belief in the international world order and in multilateralism. Who understand that relationships must be based on transparency, reciprocity and predictability. Without this we cannot go further.
On defence, Russia’s brutal, illegal, and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine shone a spotlight on how we must adapt and how we must keep defence and security at the top of our agenda to counter hybrid attacks. And here, some are those that try to spin a twisted narrative of Europe going to war. To them I say that the European Union was created precisely for the opposite. To safeguard peace, freedom and democracy in Europe and beyond, that my generation took for granted. We must meet our rhetoric with action. That means continued humanitarian, military, political and financial aid to Ukraine. That means pushing for peace - real peace - peace with dignity, with freedom, with justice. And that also means taking courageous and concrete steps to strengthen our common foreign security and defence policy, to preserve our model of open societies.
Wars are no longer simply fought on the battlefield. They are now also fought in the digital sphere. There is no one that escapes such narratives.
These challenges pose an existential threat to our democracies. They erode trust in institutions and in the media: by interfering or even manipulating people’s perceptions of the truth.
By having a thorough and prompt understanding of the threat, we can take effective action that denies information warfare from achieving its intended result. We have taken huge steps on a European level on this.
Let me give you one example. The European Parliament faced its largest ever cyberthreat after a very hard-hitting resolution on Russia. We had to equip ourselves with cybersecurity experts in order for this to happen again. The European Parliament is a political institution with its own profile, with its steadfast belief in openness and expression, but one that is vulnerable to attacks like this.
Finally allow me a word on health. Let me start by saying how proud I am of European Union action in this regard. Together, we managed to secure enough vaccines for European citizens and then matched this number in vaccine donations to our partner countries in Africa. To counter the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, we came together to agree on The Recovery and Resilience Facility. A multi-billion euro fund to help make our economies and societies more sustainable, more resilient and better prepared for future challenges. But when it comes to making our health systems better interconnected, to share information and to pool resources, we are still very far away. I think we can build on the momentum.
In all these areas, we must show leadership. We cannot be afraid of change and we must remain future-driven.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Despite all these challenges, I look forward with hope. With optimism. With purpose. I am confident in the possibilities of our time and when I look at young people across Europe and the world, young people that your Council engages, young people like our hosts from ‘One Young World’, I know that the future is bright.
And I remain convinced that because of Europe, and its global alliance of democracies, the world ahead will be better than the one we leave behind.