I sat down yesterday in New York City with Ian Borg, the minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects for the island nation of Malta. Mr. Borg was in the city for meetings and graciously offered his time to discuss serious issues affecting the Mediterranean, such as migration and organized crime.
Being the smallest member of the European Union, the largest EU maritime registrar, and situated strategically on the periphery in the Mediterranean, Malta punches above its weight when it comes to influence within the European bloc.
The main points Mr. Borg stressed were Malta’s vibrant economy and infrastructure development. In his words, this allows Malta to take a leadership role in some areas, such as maritime affairs, and the detection of contraband passing through its transshipment hub on its way to the continent or even the United States.
Being geographically well-situated directly within one of the main routes for drugs, migrants and other illicit goods into Europe from Africa and beyond, Matla can, and is, making a much-needed contribution to the fight against organized crime. “This effort is appreciated by the United States,” Mr. Borg confirmed.
The transshipment business also produces good quality jobs and excellent cash flow for the Maltese economy. Malta is very interested in strengthening this cooperation with U.S. authorities. Being first in Europe, Malta is also the sixth-largest maritime registry in the world.
Mr. Borg described migration as being a very tough issue. Currently, the main driver in his opinion is instability in Libya, and Europe is likely to continue to experience this large amounts of economic migrants until some semblance of authority returns to the North African state. Malta backs the U.N. recognized government in Tripoli. “We need a strong government there to eventually help reduce the flow and the incentive for smugglers.”
The challenge for Borg and his colleagues is to convince the EU migration is just not Malta’s problem. “We insist that other EU nations help share the burden. We need redistribution. We are using 100% of our military assets to save people’s lives. We do not allow NGO vessels to do this work if they are not registered for this purpose. We are very strong on this issue and do not tolerate abuse of maritime laws. The EU started as a financial project but now has changed into an agenda of social cohesion. We cannot allow migration to divide us,” he stated (paraphrasing).
I asked if the EU is attempting to stop migration at the source and he deferred to the instability on the African continent. “We would of course like to do this but there has to be some kind of stability first. Humans will always look for a better life,” Mr. Borg said.
Mr. Borg’s pride and joy seems to be the Maltese economy. “Ryan Air is moving all of its European aircraft registry to Malta. We are also the first to regulate block chain in the EU. Many people are relocating to Malta. Since we have only enjoyed our independence from Britain since 1964, we still feel ourselves tied to the U.K.
“Many foreign companies are also moving to Malta,” Mr. Borg said. This places a strain on our infrastructure, so we arebuilding. The most exciting project is a tunnel that will be dug to connect the island of Malta with our sister island, Gozo. This will give us more territory, allow us to exploit untapped opportunities, and enhance connectivity.” The project cost is an estimated 400 million euro.
Speaking of the U.K, Borg declared it was up to the British people to decide on Brexit. “It has to be a good deal for the U.K. and for the E.U. We don’t want to encourage others to leave the union. They are our family; we receive most of our tourists from Britain. It brings us big financial business. However, we feel we are losing an ally for sovereignty within the E.U. Along with Cypress, the three of us are the only members of The Commonwealth within the bloc.
“Many civilizations have left their marks on our country over thousands of years. We are a vibrant, exotic, European nation.”
Originally published at The Washington Times