Employment opportunities in Gozo and how the EU can do more to promote these were the topic of a hot debate in the Ask Your MEP session with MEPs Marlene Mizzi and Francis Zammit Dimech at the Gozo College Secondary School in Victoria this morning. The status of a region for Gozo was fiercely promoted by some participants with MEPs noting that the EU legislates for the whole territory not only parts of it. The idea of a constitutional amendment to have Gozo recognised as a region under the Maltese constitution was supported, with MEP Zammit Dimech noting that this would help vis-à-vis the Commission, responding to questions about Regional Policy Commissioner Cretu’s stance in the recent Citizens’ Dialogue in Gozo against a separate fund for Gozo.

MEP Mizzi emphasised that the economic growth and full employment currently enjoyed by Malta should be fully reflected in Gozo. MEP Zammit Dimech noted that Gozo is allocated 10% of EU funds for Malta and that it is up to the Member States to allocate funds for projects in their territory. Maltese authorities need to define Gozo as a region within national policy so that Gozo would really have a say on which projects would improve employment, linkages, economic growth and quality of life, MEP Zammit Dimech said.

Better air quality in Gozo was challenged as a reflection of Gozo’s slower pace of development. The hardships faced by Gozitans working in Malta, the brain drain from Gozo with the youth needing to look for opportunities elsewhere, and the EU not addressing the need for good quality employment in Gozo were elements for growing Euroscepticism amongst some.

MEPs and others among the participants pointed to the dangers of misinformation, of blaming the EU for anything that goes wrong, of being unaware of what is EU competence and what is up to the Member States, and of lack of knowledge of the projects and opportunities the EU creates. This is what led to Brexit, they said, and it is important to be aware of the costs of non-Europe. The MEPs challenged the participants to think of what it would be like not to be part of the EU and the benefits of a 500million strong market.

MEPs discussed solutions including teleworking, extending the financial services sector more broadly to Gozo, and digitalisation which opens the doors to anyone. MEP Mizzi outlined the Single Digital Gateway she is currently working on as EP Rapporteur, that should be launched by June this year, making the documentation one obtains from the state, such as certificates, available online in all Member States in two languages including the national language. Information growth and business growth go hand in hand and businesses need to be more present online.

MEP Zammit Dimech noted that as part of Europe, Malta and Gozo should make the most of the funds available to enhance projects, underlining that projects to enhance tourism have a spinoff effect on many other sectors of the economy. This was in response to criticism by participants that EU projects in Gozo are only tourism-related.

Concerns were raised about Malta’s economic growth possibly making Malta a net contributor to the next EU budget and whether this would mean less funds for Gozo. In discussions currently underway on the multiannual financial framework for after 2020, it is not yet a given that Malta’s status would change, MEPs said, noting the big game-changer in the next budget is Brexit and it remains to be seen whether there will be as many funds to go around for all. The particular problems faced by small islands definitely need to be taken into account, MEP Mizzi said, and that is the work an intergroup of MEPs is tackling.

MEP Metsola, in a video recorded for the discussion, encouraged Gozitan youths to be pro-active and involved to bring about the change and better opportunities they are enthusiastic about. The tunnel between Malta and Gozo will take time and young people cannot put their lives on hold till it is done. Better services and opportunities are needed for Gozo and, she emphasised, a breakwater in Marsalforn is must to make this village touristic all year round.

The international dimension of EU politics was also discussed with MEPs asked for their stance on the proposals by French President Macron in the European Parliament’s plenary last week including an EU Finance Minister, and how these would affect Malta and Gozo.

MEP Mizzi and MEP Zammit Dimech appreciated Macron’s pro-European stance but noted that his proposals need to be studied. If an EU Finance Minister stands for tax harmonisation, Maltese MEPs would resist it, MEP Mizzi said, underlining the unified stand by all Maltese MEPs against taxation proposals that would be harmful to Malta’s interests.

Both MEPs underlined the value of face-to-face discussions with the citizens they represent in the European Parliament and encouraged those present to remain in touch with them to follow up on the concerns raised.

The session was organised by the Europe Direct Information Centre Gozo with the support of the European Parliament Office in Malta.

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