NEWS | Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Have no fear, the EU is there

Joanna Drake

Ever wondered how you’d cope if something happened to you in a non-EU country where your government has no embassy or consular representation? Take Malta for instance. It’s a small country whose resources make it difficult to man embassies or consular offices in every country in the world and in every major city. The Maltese love to take their holidays abroad and that does not necessarily mean only in Europe.
Here’s some good news, then, to those who travel farther and to countries where there is no Maltese representation- or where the next consular office might be quite far off.
A group of Maltese travel agencies that specialise in foreign holidays are to participate in an EU campaign meant to heighten travellers’ awareness of the diplomatic and consular cover the EU provides everywhere. The group, known as FATTA, will be displaying posters advertising EU citizens’ rights on this front.
In practical terms this means that, if, say, a Maltese national finds himself or herself in need of consular or diplomatic help in, let’s imagine, Burkina Faso in West Africa, where Malta has no diplomatic representation, one can, by right, seek help from the embassy or consular office of any EU Member State.
This is on account of a decision taken a while back- in 1995 actually- which details out the sort of circumstances where any EU embassy or consular office is obliged to provide assistance. There could be tragic circumstances, like illness or death but not only. The list is exhaustive.
So should you ever find yourself in say Gaborone in Botswana and you get arrested, there’s bound to be an EU Member State with an embassy or a consular office from which you can seek help. Ideally, of course, you should avoid getting arrested in the first place.

What a week that was
Believe me, this was as eventful and thoroughly enjoyable week as you care to mention- admittedly energy-draining down to the button but right on the money throughout. It does the soul good to look back on weeks of preparation which, in the end come through without a hitch- bar the weather.
I’m of course referring to our Europe Day celebrations. I’m still bristling with excitement from the many events – some 30 in all including Spring Day - which whipped remarkable illustrations of what being EU members is all about. I could not have asked for a more successful celebration of the day that unites us all- almost 500 million people up and down the European continent.
Particularly impressive was a students’ debate held in parliament at the Palace in Valletta on Europe Day, (9 May if you’ve forgotten already). This brought together some 50 students from various colleges who rewarded us with well-honed thoughts and valid suggestions on that most perilous predicament of all - climate change.
The debate- chaired first by former House of Representatives Speaker Mr Anton Tabone and, in the second session, by myself- first centred on the causes of climate change, the dangers we face unless we act fast enough, and then on suggestions how we should deal with the impending catastrophe. Many of us were quite chaffed by the grasp shown by students. Not one flippant remark, not one lightweight observation slipped through the net as they spoke of the very frightening realities climate change could have in store for us all – failing health, the destruction of the species, rising temperatures, changing weather conditions that usher in floods and fires, destructive cyclones and devastating hurricanes and much more.
We were touched by how switched on students were as they debated skilfully using statistics and percentages, exhorting and admonishing sounding, at every juncture, much like real time politicians.
As everyone knows, the European Union is pledged to make the boldest cuts worldwide in gas emissions by 2020. I was therefore pleased to hear students reel out the causes of climate change in technical terms and then drum out – convincingly I would say- specific suggestions on how politicians could stop the planet from, as one student put it, going rotten. It was, all of it, wholesome advise including counsel for politicians to embrace renewable energy with greater vigour, use more bicycles and less cars, be more sensitive to people than to economic and personal political gain.
Tough words indeed but they seem to have made their mark, certainly with Dr Joseph Muscat, the MEP, who later remarked: “I’ve heard much more sense here in a couple of hours than in a whole week at the European Parliament” In winding up the debate I made the point that in squaring up to the challenges of climate change we are facing an ethical task, one that appeals to our conscience. From talk with sense we need to move to action with sense taken in small bold steps. I added it all in the end boils down to our individual responsibilities. Children have a role to play in this not least by passing on to grownups what they learn at school.
That seemed to have gone down well. I did get an enthusiastic applause.
Later the students were introduced to President Dr Edward Fenech Adami who, in a brief ceremony in the palace courtyard, gave prizes to students who excelled in the Spring Day activities.
That same afternoon I rushed to St Theresa College in the company of Mr Luis Pereira da Costa who this year was appointed by the European Commission as ‘ambassador’ for Maltese Schools. In brief, this is an initiative meant to keep youth informed of the funds and activities the EU undertakes to help non- EU states with their development. That, on any day of the week, is a good excuse to meet the press and, as much as we could, we made a meal of it.
Outside the weather all day seemed to be throwing all sorts of punches- rain, fierce winds and an occasional burst of sunlight. It got worse in the evening and at the Barracca Saluting Battery, where we held our end of the day reception we could not have had worse weather. A myriad hairstyle were thrown into chaos, glasses flew off trays, a couple of power outages next to ruined our public address system which conked out twice, whilst a specially hired capella choir was forced to wage battle against howling winds to make itself heard. Some of our guests wisely dashed for shelter into a marquee set up specially for the event- I mean the celebration, not the storm. Even so, few gave in and left for home. Most found braving the winds and enjoying themselves much more fun.
The next day we were treated to a fabulous display of multiculturalism at its most delectable at the Institute of Tourism Studies where students prepared some very exotic dishes from- wait for it- Serbia, China, Italy, the Philippines, Ukraine,Nigeria and of course Malta.
As I put my feet up at home at the end of it all I promised myself not to think of Europe Day for another year. Still I could hardly not appreciate the sterling cooperation provided by our own staff and so many partners who made this year’s events such good fun -including the European Parliament Office, Forum Malta fl-Ewropa, the Department of Education, the Europe Direct Relay and of course the French Embassy.

This column, with weekly updates, is available on Head of EC Representation Joanna Drake’s blog, at


21 May 2008

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