Malta must move on – Nikos Chircop

The Queen is dead, long live the King, and likewise, following the recent paradigm shifts in world politics that culminated on February 24, the old world order is also dead.

I mention this particular event in light of our small but proud country, which, in its continuing efforts to discover its postcolonial path, seems to persist in a foreign policy modus operandi which, in many ways, was developed as a a reflection not just of the old unipolar world order but of the one that existed even before the collapse of Mikhail Gorbachev’s USSR.

Gorbachev, as the queen, and also as the perishes of the neutrality clause enshrined in the Constitution of Malta, former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff is dead. But Malta’s historic foreign policy stance – cemented on what for many is the sacrosanct principle of a neutral state that views its pursuit of peace, security and social progress through the prism of non-alignment – is it also an essentially paralyzing position that begs for its own termination?

Today, two undoubtedly contradictory facts exist in parallel on our islands. On the one hand, it thrives on a firm (frankly ideological) commitment not only among most policy makers but also among ordinary people to maintain Maltese ‘neutrality’ not only in law but also in outlook, in the popular psyche.

This was also shown statistically in a survey commissioned by the Foreign Office before the Russian aggression which found that 63% of the population was “strongly in favor” of neutrality.

However, on the other hand, the latest Eurobarometer survey from 2022 not only shows a solid level of trust in the EU as an institution, at 71%, but a clearly overwhelming level of support for not just a simple common energy policy in the EU, 86%, but 78% in favor of a common foreign policy and 83% in favor of a common defense and security policy.

All these statistics exceed the EU average and are also broadly consistent with the results of last year’s conference on the future of Europe.

When analyzing these two realities, the first seems to be driven more by ideology while the second seems to be more of a response to current international developments and hard facts on the ground. What is clear is that they together constitute a fundamental imbalance which, at some point, must be addressed.

There is a distinct lack of debate on Maltese foreign policy-Nikos Chircop

This requires first breaking the taboo on discussing what politicians have long considered national “consensus”. It is no coincidence that there is a distinct lack of debate on Maltese foreign policy, as those who stray from the “enlightened path” have been accused of naivety at best and little betrayal at worst.

Like the way the Queen symbol represents comforting permanence, you may notice that this symbol remains just that, a symbol that offers less to the world today than it perhaps once did. . And, as we have just seen, even the symbols die.

The policy of non-alignment pursued by Mintoff’s Labor government in the 1970s was in tune with Malta’s new post-colonial reality as well as the world divided by an iron curtain. Indeed, at that time, it was probably quite successful. So much so that it began to resonate more and more on both sides of the aisle until it was enshrined in the constitution in 1987.

However, only a few years after this amendment, changes both at home and abroad necessitated the start of an effective ‘recess’ of Maltese neutrality. The PN-led pivot to Europe may have been juggled for decades with a continued commitment to neutrality, a juggling act that was later adopted by the PL. But why has neutrality been emptied? Can’t we be both neutral and part of the Union like other states, like Austria?

Plus, as was the logic of getting into the EU, there’s so much more you can do to defend your interests within a club than just sit on the shore waiting for the waves to wash over.

While the war in Ukraine is a more traditional state-to-state war, the majority of today’s warfare is simply not fought at gunpoint. Vladimir Putin himself has claimed that the West is waging an “economic war” on Russia, and in this war of sanctions and influence, Malta only remains neutral in a strict legalistic sense.

In the very interests, as stated in the constitution, of “the pursuit of peace, security and social progress among all nations”, it may be wise to engage fully in security forums, in particular EU-led initiatives. I think it is wise to hedge our bets on a stronger and more sovereign European security framework for two reasons.

First, it guarantees our long-term security much more than a neutrality clause where Rome, in theory, acts as its only guarantor.

Secondly, it will ultimately elevate Malta’s position in Brussels and, as a “fully engaged member”, give it more influence to continue to defend our interests, primarily for security and stability, not only in the East, but also in the Mediterranean.

Nikos Chircop is preparing a master’s degree in international and European governance at the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands.

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