The priorities of the Maltese Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers are being outlined to parliamentary committees by Maltese ministers at a series of meetings taking place in January.
Regional development: cohesion policy visibility, “Omnibus”
The great relevance of EU cohesion policy, which is increasingly seen as an investment policy, and the need to simplify procedures and increase the visibility of the results of EU-funded projects were stressed by Parliamentary Secretary for the EU Presidency and EU Funds Ian Borg, on Monday 23 in a debate with Regional Development Committee. Mr Borg said the Maltese Presidency’s two main objectives regarding cohesion policy are to progress with the “Omnibus” legislative proposal and to focus on the political debate on how to make the results of cohesion policy more visible to citizens.
Culture, Education and Sport: high-quality education, audiovisual services, Year of Cultural Heritage
High-quality education for all and an education system that can tackle youth unemployment and skills mismatches are the key priorities of the Maltese Presidency of the Council, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo told the Culture and Education Committee on 24 January.
In the field of culture, progress on the European audiovisual media services and cultural diplomacy files will be the key priorities, said Culture Minister Owen Bonnici. He said he wanted protection against hate speech and protection of minors in online media, the functioning of the country of origin principle, independence and a clearer role for monitoring mechanisms and regulators of the audiovisual media services. Preparing for a European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 is also a key priority.
Foreign Affairs: accession negotiations with Turkey, neighbourhood policy and situation in Libya
The enlargement process negotiations and neighbourhood policy will be at the core of the Maltese Presidency, Foreign Minister George Vella told the Foreign Affairs Committee on 24 January. Several MEPs raised concerns about the situation in Turkey, and some asked that accession negotiations with it be frozen. “Turkey is not only a candidate country but also a key partner of the EU”, Mr Vella underlined. “It is of crucial importance to maintain an open dialogue, not to burn bridges”, he added.
Quizzed on the future of EU-US relation in the light of the recent election of Donald Trump as US President, Mr Vella underlined that transatlantic relations should be maintained and strengthened.
Civil liberties, justice and home affairs: migration and terrorism
Tackling migration and fighting terrorism and radicalization will be the Presidency’s first priority, Maltese Home Affairs and National Security Minister Carmelo Abela and Justice, Culture and Local Government Minister Owen Bonnici told Civil Liberties MEPs on 12 January. The Presidency will work to address divergences among national governments and push for more solidarity and responsibility in dealing with migration flows. Mr Abela also said that the deal between Turkey and the EU should be respected.
Several MEPs asked what could be done to ensure that member states deliver on their obligations with regard to refugees. Both ministers acknowledged that the Dublin System needs to be reformed and member states’ commitments respected. Concerning the “smart borders” legislation, the Presidency hopes to have a deal on the new entry/exit system by June 2017.
Legal Affairs: copyright, taxation and family law
The Presidency will press the Council to agree on contracts for digital content by the end of June, and strike a balance between free flow of information and content creators’ rights (copyright), Justice, Culture and Local Government Minister Owen Bonnici and Economy, Investment and Small Business Minister Christian Cardona told Legal Affairs MEPs on 12 January.
MEPs asked what the Presidency intends to do about the proposals on “country by country” reporting by multinational companies for tax purposes and the revision of the Brussels II regulation on family law. The ministers promised that the Presidency would do its utmost to achieve progress on all files on the table.