The former Maltese foreign minister Tonio Borg says the relations between Malta and the United Kingdom will remain close and strong for "historical, commercial and strategic reasons" after the complete withdrawal of Britain from the European Union.
Tonio Borg says the English language is still an official language and the majority of tourists to Malta come from the UK, even though Brexit means Malta loses an ally and friend within the EU.
Tonio Borg is a prominent Maltese politician who was the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy from 2012 to 2013 and the European Commissioner for Health from 2013 to 2014. He has served in various positions in the government of Malta and was the Deputy Prime Minister from 2004 to 2012 and the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2008 to 2012.
I had the opportunity to do an interview with Mr. Borg an ask him some questions about Malta's relations with Britain, President Trump's impact on the Malta-US relations, the effects of the global refugee crisis on Malta and the Mediterranean state's ties with Libya.
The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Following independence, the Nationalist Party governments in Malta pursued a policy of close collaboration with the United Kingdom, and, in turn, Britain became a close ally for Malta. How do you think this will change when Britain is no longer a member of the European Union in March 2019?
A: The relationship will remain close for historical, commercial and strategic reasons. The English language along with Maltese is still an official language and the relative majority of tourists come from the UK. Malta will lose an ally and a friend within the EU; e.g. there were close collaboration on certain dossiers such as opposition of both countries to a financial transaction tax, or restrictions regarding overtime. Certainly any bilateral agreement which touches on matters over which the EU enjoys competence will have to be referred to EU before signing.
Q: Malta has conventionally maintained close and cordial relations with the United States. The 2012 US Global Leadership report revealed that 21% of Maltese people approve of the US leadership. How are relations with the Trump administration? Do you foresee any particular difficulties?
A: Malta at least since 1987 has developed and nurtured a good relationship with all US administrations. This friendship culminated in full assistance and cooperation during the withdrawal of US personnel from Libya in 2011 via Malta and US assistance in the region.
Till now there have been no major breakthroughs with the US administration although commercial ties have been strengthened in the private sector.
Q: How do you see Malta's relations with NATO? As a member of the Partnership for Peace, do you think there's enough trust and cooperation between Malta and NATO to make sure their common security concerns are addressed?
A: According to the Constitution, Malta cannot belong to a military alliance. In 2008 Malta joined the Partnership for Peace which was a move opposed by the party now in government. There is however now consensus that Malta should continue participating in PFP programmes.
Q: Until 2004 Malta was a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which is when it left the organization and joined the European Union. Do you think the Non-Aligned Movement, with 120 members, is an effective and influential player in international affairs?
A: The number of countries is impressive but this does not mean that it has a special strength in international affairs owing to the striking diversity of political vision between the countries themselves.
Q: How has Malta been affected by the migrant and refugee crisis? What is the government's policy toward the refugees and migrants who end up behind the borders of Malta?
A: Between 2001 and 2013 there were large numbers of migrants arriving in Malta. Since then, the numbers have decreased, but the asylum applications have remained constant since the number of foreigners attracted to work in Malta has increased. Malta has traditionally lobbied for burden sharing amongst EU state with limited success.
Q: With regards to the EU’s asylum policy, it has been said that most member states struggle to balance their national interests with the moral responsibility of helping asylum seekers find a new home away from persecution. What's your take on that as a European politician?
A: Although most EU member states pay only lip service to burden sharing, there are others including Germany, Spain, Ireland and France who have shown concrete solidarity, sometime even at the cost of being unpopular. Burden sharing will occur just the same, even if opposed by some states, for there is nothing which can prevent the movement of desperate persons, so it is better to regulate and control such movements rather than absolutely blocking them to no avail.
Q: Malta has maintained close diplomatic and commercial ties with Libya historically. The 2011 war in Libya has held the country back for several years and undermined peace and stability there. What do you make of Libya's recovery and reconnection to the international community?
A: Malta under different administrations has enjoyed a healthy relationship with Libya, and Maltese firms have economic interests in the country. The current unstable situation is of concern to Maltese entrepreneurs but also to the Maltese government. Libya is too near to be ignored. The fact that the legally recognized government does not enjoy full control over the country’s territory is of concern to Maltese authorities, not only for missed opportunities of mutual benefits from trade relationships, but also because a stable Libya has a role to play in Mediterranean affairs.