JEF (Young European Federalists) Malta launch Generation Europe, this year’s campaign at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday 29th October 2017. The day began with a debate, on the possibility and likelihood of the formation of an EU army. The panellists for this debate were Former Prime Minister of Malta, Dr. Lawrence Gonzi; Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Hon. Michael Farrugia; Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion, Hon. Carmelo Abela; and Vice-President of SIERA, Mahbuba Dehkanhodjaeva. This campaign is the sequel last year’s successful Zero Hour campaign.
Throughout the debate, Malta’s neutrality was emphasised. However, all the panellists agreed that as times are changing and more ‘non-traditional’ threats are emerging, a more pro-active neutral stance is required. Hon. Abela asserted that “Malta should be seen as a nation that tries to unite and not divide, which is why our neutrality is an active one to seek peace, security, and stability.” In the face of terrorism and global organised crime, Malta cannot remain passive, and it should not be left without an opinion either. Dr. Lawrence Gonzi used the example of NATO – Malta decided to remain neutral within NATO by only forming part of its Partnership for Peace Agreement. In this way, it could still partake in humanitarian interventions without being involved in the military aspect of NATO.
All 4 panellists agreed that the European Union is moving towards more coherence, as has been enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty. However, Hon. Farrugia, Hon. Abela, and Dr. Gonzi failed to see the need for a common European army, with Hon. Farrugia stating that “our lifestyle is so complex that defending our nation is not a matter of how strong or how well-equipped our army is.” The European Union favours dialogue over military intervention, and it is for this reason that the European Defence Agency already exists, serving as proof that dialogue can, and does, work. Dr. Gonzi admitted that “his predecessors did a good job in ensuring that dialogue has always been good enough because we are too small to have a hidden agenda.” Ms. Dehkanhodjaeva had the strongest and most controversial opinion concerning the EU army, stating that “in times of crisis you have to act quickly.” She believes that Malta would gain a lot more strength in a common defensive army, and because of this, Malta should revise its constitution. Should a common European army be established, Malta would be required to take a stance, thus compromising the neutrality enshrined within its constitution. Although guidelines are already in place for a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), Ms. Dehkanhodjaeva asserted that a common army would ultimately give Brussels more power in regulating the defence capabilities of each member state.
Hon. Carmelo Abela reminded that there have already been previous missions wherein the military powers of different EU states were pooled together for a more effective use of resources to achieve a common goal. Such missions involved combating human trafficking and piracy; border control; and helping Eastern states. Hon. Abela and Hon. Farrugia argued that there is no real need for an EU army when member states are already cooperating. Dehkanhodjaeva countered this argument by highlighting the fact that most of these ‘joint missions’ were humanitarian, and not military, in nature. She believes that the funding could be better employed in terms of a central defence system, as this would lead to more homogeneous spending of resources, with more direct control. This would protect member states which do not have the military capacity or resources to defend themselves in times of crisis. Hon. Farrugia raised the issue regarding a current push amongst most member states to invest more in defence. Increasing the percentage of GDP invested in defence from the current 0.6% to 2% would mean taking money away from other investments, without really contributing sufficiently to the CSDP budget.
With regards to U.S. foreign policy and how this affects Europe, all 4 panellists agreed that U.S. and European cooperation is essential in the efforts towards world peace. Ms. Dehkanhodjaeva was adamant that President Trump’s threats to leave NATO are probably empty. Hon. Abela, on the other hand, urged the audience to remember that the President does not have unlimited power due to the checks and balances that are in place. Dr. Gonzi added to this by saying that “President Trump must realise that the world needs more cooperation among well-meaning states.” That being said, however, the panel also acknowledged President Trump’s complaint that many countries, especially in Europe, are not contributing sufficiently to NATO’s defence budget.
The aim of the European Union has always been that of bringing about peace and stability. The world we live in today is radically different from that of 10 or 20 years ago. All four panellists concluded by reaffirming the necessity for all E.U. member states to discuss the best way forward for Europe – whether this might involve an increase in military spending, considering military alliances, or investing in the right places to prevent the flourishing of terrorist groups. Perhaps Hon. Carmelo Abela’s concluding remarks were most resounding – “whatever shape the current or new alliances will take, the challenges must be faced together.”
‘Generation Europe’ is building on the momentum of the ‘Zero Hour’ campaign last year and ‘Crossroads’ the previous year. This campaign, as JEF Malta puts it, “hopes to give the opportunity to youths to discuss the EU they want to see by discussing several key topics which relate to a common European future.” For upcoming topics and seminars, keep an eye out for JEF Malta on social media.