Muscat is widely attributed with the undertaking of sweeping economic and legislative reforms, that have led to an unprecedented period of economic growth in the country. His pro-business approach has also placed Malta in the international limelight as a leading European jurisdiction for foreign investment – particularly within the areas of financial services, gaming, IT, and most recently, DLT and associated disruptive technologies.
Prime Minister Muscat: I think the main point is that Europe needs to continue to change, to evolve. I am an optimist by nature. I do think that the results of the selections did provide a positive signal – by the people – to the leaders of Europe, where they want to take our continent.
So, I do hope that in our discussions – and I’m sure that in our discussions – there will be a great deal of optimism, not the gloom and doom that we have heard so many times over the past few months and years.
South EU Summit: To what do you attribute the evolution of these regional gatherings?
Prime Minister Muscat: I think the original idea by Alexis Tsipras, which I totally supported, was to have a forum where we could exchange ideas, where we could talk to each other in an informal setting; not with the aspiration to have one position for everyone. We know that, while we share the same region, we might have a different outlook on specific areas.
I think this informal nature has been the strength of this group. So, I was always of the opinion that we should see whether this format survives the second or third meeting. It did. Now I think it has become a standard fixture that, in itself, will earn more gravitas and will become stronger within the European Union.
But I believe that we are earning respect because we don’t think of ourselves as some sort of exclusive club that will say things amongst ourselves No, we see ourselves not part of a group of seven, but as part of a group of 28 or 27, and that’s I think our big strength.
“The next point for us, in the next juncture, will be the change over to electromobility. We aspire to be amongst the first batch of European Union Member States to switch totally to electric vehicles.”
South EU Summit: Do you believe the eurozone is prepared to face future economic shocks?
Prime Minister Muscat: Not unless we complete the changes that we need to complete within the eurozone. This week we got a five-year update after the Five President’s Report. I don’t know if you still remember there was a famous or infamous Five President’s Report on the future of the eurozone. I think we’ve achieved some progress, but it’s still too little.
I do hope that we’re not waiting for another financial crisis to come before we take bolder actions. It’s not easy for the simple fact that there are different schools of thought, especially in view of next week’s, not only EU Council, but there is a Euro Summit next week. We can focus a lot more on getting things done there. Obviously within the context of the new leadership of the ECB, which will be very crucial to determine all of this.
South EU Summit: What changes, at a policy level, do you prioritise within the European Union?
Prime Minister Muscat: I think not only the Banking Union – the completion of the Banking Union – but if it was up to me, I think that the crucial point is the internationalisation of the euro; making sure the euro becomes an international currency. It’s the only currency that is in a position to position itself as an alternative to the US dollar.
While we are so much engulfed in the internal context of the governance structures of the eurozone, which is extremely important, we still have a situation where world class European companies still bill in dollars. I don’t think that is acceptable, to say the truth. I think we have to realise the potential of this currency.
South EU Summit: How is Malta gearing up to its counterparts in terms of climate change targets?
Prime Minister Muscat: Really and truly, we have managed to do a lot through the reforms we have carried out in our energy sector. We have transformed over, together with Cyprus, the only EU Member State totally reliant on oil for the production of energy. Now we have totally shifted to LNG; still a fossil fuel but much less of a pollutant.
We have managed to cut our emissions drastically. Now the next point for us, in the next juncture, will be the change over to electromobility. We aspire to be amongst the first batch of European Union Member States to switch totally to electric vehicles, which needs a new infrastructure. We’re aware of the challenges, not only when it comes to infrastructure, but also when it comes to the state of the art. But that for us is the next big priority, that will lead again to a very significant cut in our emissions and will help us meet the targets that we envisage.
I do believe that every time one faces change, one should look at that change as a big opportunity and not look at it in terms of “oh, we will lose what we have today”. In the same way, we should look at climate change – in the way we face the changes that we have to manage because of climate change – the same way we have to face the changes coming from AI and Industry 4.0, and dare I say even 5.0.
This is easier for us to say as a small country with no natural resources, because no one ever owed us a living. We had always to be extremely innovative in the way we earned our own living, and in the way we created our wealth as a country.
“I believe that the next European Commission will seek to be very bold on innovation, very bold when it comes to DLT.”
South EU Summit: How do you balance adopting a first-mover’s advantage in blockchain and cryptocurrencies, while mitigating the associated risks?
Prime Minister Muscat: At the end of the day, I think the irony is that the answer is within the question itself.
First of all, we are seeking, and we have regulated, and we are regulating DLT, so it’s a Distributed Ledger Technology. Many people like to think that we are regulating cryptocurrency. We’re not. We’re regulating the technology that can be used for various things and various sectors, including cryptocurrency. But we are regulating the technology.
If there is a concern on money laundering, actually, DLT is an answer to that concern. Because if you put information on a platform that cannot be tampered with, that’s a way in which to ascertain that dirty money does not become clean money, because that’s essentially the nature of money laundering.
And in itself, a system such as blockchain enables you not to tamper with the system, and to circumvent all this in a way whereby the traditional systems of AML are very vulnerable. So, I think that the solution is actually in the challenge itself.
South EU Summit: What role do you foresee Malta playing in the eventual creation of an EU framework for DLT products and services?
Prime Minister Muscat: I believe that the next European Commission will seek to be very bold on innovation, very bold when it comes to DLT. I am very encouraged by the sounds that are being made by the Commission right now, on this.
My aspiration is not that Malta will remain on its own. I actually would love all Member States to have such legislation. My aspiration is that any EU framework legislation would be in the same direction as Malta’s legislation, and that’s also the reason why – even though this is strictly right now national competence – over the past year or so we have engaged very closely with the European Commission, to make sure they knew exactly what we were doing.
They ask the questions, we give our answers, we ask for their advice. Because we know that if it’s not this year, it’s next year. If it’s not next year, it’s in the next two years. Europe will have to come up with its own legislation and when it comes, we want this to be part of our experience, and I think this is a very positive way to look at things.
“We cannot build a wall in the sea. And even if we did, there would be problems.”
South EU Summit: How can the EU strike a balance between tackling migration, upholding founding values such as solidarity, while safeguarding the interests of European citizens?
Prime Minister Muscat: I think that the core point is not looking at it from one single dimension. I totally disagree with those who say this is a security issue, or those who say this is a human rights issue. It’s both a human rights [and] it’s a security issue, it’s a climate change issue, it is a demographic issue, it is a cultural issue.
So, over here our policy is very pragmatic. We acknowledge that there needs to be border control. We acknowledge, also, that it’s not as simple as saying “you know, we’ll build a wall”. We cannot build a wall in the sea. And even if we did, there would be problems.
Decisions we need to take each and every day are, If there is a boat sinking at sea, what do you do? Do you let people die? And there is no middle answer. It’s yes or no. And when faced with such a situation we always say: “no, we won’t let people die”. On the other hand, we are very concerned that there might be an idea that not everyone should play by the rules. We believe that everyone, all Member States, but also all other players, be it NGOs, be it international organisations – everyone – should play by the rules.
Everyone should observe international law and should act in good faith. I believe that we’re moving in that direction. But right now, this is my main concern; having everyone pulling the same rope. Then in due course we need to discuss the issue of solidarity and all the rest, but I don’t think solidarity can be taken as out of context on itself.
So, it’s about values. It’s about not only the values, on the democratic values, on the rule of law, on the value of human life. It’s also about principles such as freedom of movement. Can you detach the argument on freedom of movement from the argument about border control? Does it really make sense to say quotas for migrants to go in one Member State, when we know that then they have the chance to roam freely as they definitely do, between one Member State and the other?
So, I think the discussion right now is still stuck in a state of mind of ten years ago. I think it has to evolve a lot, and be given a more European perspective than anything else.
South EU Summit: What reforms do you believe should be made to the EU’s Common Migration Policy?
Prime Minister Muscat: Definitely, the first thing that I would agree is that it is about securing the borders, making sure that where borders can be secured, they can be secured.
Secondly, acknowledging that there are different borders. That maritime borders have the problematics that land borders don’t have, and the other way around.
The third point is making sure that there is a distribution. Not necessarily a geographical distribution. But a distribution of this phenomenon. I don’t like to call it “burden”. It should not necessarily be seen as a burden. It’s a phenomenon that needs to be managed.
So that’s why we should continue discussing migration, and not separating migration from security and human rights.
Everything is together.