Could you imagine Malta without the EU during the pandemic?

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EU member states were frozen when the Coronavirus pandemic first hit, European Commission Representation head Elena Grech said. The European Commission was now ensuring that the EU is better prepared in case of a second wave, she added.

Speaking to CDE News’ Denise Grech in the ‘Over a Coffee’ series, ahead of the SOTEU speech, which Commission President Von Der Leyen will deliver today, Dr Grech described the onset of the pandemic like throwing a big rock at sea, she explained. Fish around it first freeze, then scramble to get away. Countries were also initially stunned by the unpredictability of the health emergency, then rushed to contain the spread.

The European Commission was now ensuring that the EU is better prepared in case of a second wave, she added. A Commission proposal ensured countries had to clearly communicate and coordinate any future decisions to close borders. The EU institution also raised €7.4 billion to develop a vaccine. The moves, Grech added, ensured EU action in case of a second wave was coordinated and harmonised among the 27 member states.

Malta had also been given loans and grants from the European Commission. It had also worked with other countries to bring expats back via joint repatriation flights. “Could you imagine Malta without the EU during the pandemic?” Grech asked.  

Could you imagine Malta without the EU during the pandemic?

Dr Elena Grech

Further plans on how to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic are expected to be unveiled during today’s State of the European Union address. The annual event sees the European Commission President update the European Parliament on the Commission’s objectives and priorities. This year, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to address climate change, youth unemployment, migration flows and the economic recovery following Covid-19.

On Brexit

“The UK is not playing ball.”

Dr Elena Grech

The Commission Representation chief expressed her disappointment on the UK’s move to propose changes to the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Earlier this week, the UK’s House of Commons debated changing part of the its withdrawal  agreement with the EU. “The UK is not playing ball,” Grech said. The EU had offered the best possible deal it could but the UK was now reneging.

All this meant no deal with the EU was the most likely outcome.  How can the EU trust the UK- once a close partner – when it was showing negotiations were not worth the paper they were written on, she asked.

On migration

“Resettlement is not a solution- it is a last resort.”

Dr Elena Grech

Grech fears solidarity within the EU shines when the bloc faces a crisis. Greece had long needed solidarity from other member states to deal with an overwhelming number of asylum-seekers and refugees.

Last week, fires in Greece’s Moria refugee camp left more than 12,000 refugees without shelter. Germany announced 10 member states have now made pledges to take in children left homeless after the fires.

But Grech says more needs to be done. One way to tackle migration influxes is to support communities at the country of origin, she suggests.

“Resettlement is not a solution- it is a last resort,” she said. The EU could make trade agreements with countries in Africa, just like it made agreements with other countries outside of Europe. This could help populations on the ground, she said.

The European Commission is set to unveil a new Migration Pact at the end of the month. European Commissioner Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas said that the proposal will be based on three levels.

It will firstly prioritise strong external agreements with third countries. It will also support a stronger Frontex – the EU’s border and coast guard agency. Finally, the the third level of the plan will revolve around a “system of permanent, effective solidarity”, which will seek to distribute migrants fairly and equally across the EU’s member states.

Grech hopes the Commission now has firmer ground to discuss migration solidarity among member states. However, she notes, it’s important to pre-empt further crises.

Denise Grech

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