Members of the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament came together for a citizens’ event in Valletta to discuss the future of Europe in terms of the environment, youth inclusion, and the transition digital.
The conference, entitled “It’s your Europe, I told you!”, Began in the Upper Shack Gardens with a welcome statement by Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, who stressed the importance of a resilient Europe, especially one that reacts quickly and in real time.
S&D President Iratxe Garcia Perez followed with a brief statement. She said a conference on the future of Europe was needed now more than ever, stressing the importance of listening to stakeholders.
“We are used to talking at length about the European project, now we are turning to you,” she said while addressing stakeholders.
Question Time began with a message from Alicia Homs Ginel, MEP and President of the Young European Socialists. She pointed out that her generation has suffered the effects of both the 2008 financial crisis and the current pandemic, and everything in between.
“This generation often feels forgotten, left behind. It is time for young people to ask for what is ours, ”she said.
Maltese MEP Alfred Sant followed with various questions about the future of Europe. He asked how Europe could remain cohesive given the wealth of people-derived backgrounds, and whether Europe could create a cohesive sense of purpose, values and interests.
He also asked what role Europe will play in the future, and what its core values are.
A short video by Mark Belka, S&D Vice President for International Trade and engagement with citizens and institutions, was played to the audience. He encouraged participants to immerse themselves in in-depth exchanges with young people, which could help guide policy makers in building their future.
“Are we doing enough to save the planet?”
The Maltese MEP Cyrus Engerer started a short discussion on the environment. He stressed that the environment goes beyond trees and plants, but includes the health of biodiversity all over the world.
On the climate crisis, he said that Malta, Europe, and the world, could have done better to prevent certain impacts.
“It simply came to our notice then. The future affects us all, ”he said.
Engerer mentioned that the sea can serve as an important resource in the fight against climate, especially in the form of carbon sinks.
Mohammed Chahim, S&D Vice President for Green New Deal, strongly stated that Europe cannot have climate justice without social justice. He said the burden of climate change should not fall on people on lower incomes or those who have difficult jobs and struggle to keep up.
He said “The burdens and benefits of climate change must be shared fairly.” “Social justice needs to go hand in hand with climate justice.”
When the land was opened for interventions, a member of the local NGO Gozitan pointed out that while Malta excels in its recovery and resilience plan, which was dubbed to be among the greenest approved by the European Commission, it said that a review Radical planning policy is needed, as opposed to simply washing green.
Steve Ellul, a finance professional and adviser to Minister Miriam Dalli, stressed that R&D should think not only about ideas but also about their implementation.
“One way we do that is by putting our money where our mouths are,” he said.
He referred to the 2015 sovereign debt crisis, when the EU institutions were able to identify an action plan within a few months.
“My feeling is that there is a lack of courage, materiality, and an understanding that ecological issues must be addressed with the same courage and conviction that we have dealt with the financial crisis.”
Lucas Micallef, President of FKNK, said his organization is committed to safeguarding the environment, but criticized the “extreme position” they have taken heavily against hunters and bird trappers.
“Together we can regenerate and protect our habitats,” he said.
“How to engage young people at the Conference on the Future of Europe”
Maltese MEP Josianne Cutajar set the stage for a second discussion on young people and their role in EU policy-making.
“Young people are not just the future but the present,” he said.
She warned that there tends to be an element of tokenism when including young people in political debates.
“Young people should not be included at the last minute. They are not there to take selfies with them to claim to have been included. They have to be included from the beginning, ”she said.
Minister Carmelo Abela, who spoke after Cutajar, referred to an exercise held during Skolasajf, where children were asked to present what they want for the future of the EU.
He mentioned that one of the themes that came up during the exercise was the environment.
The first intervention was made by Jacob Callus, Advocacy Officer for the National Youth Council. Callus stressed that young people, but also young people with disabilities, should be given the opportunity to meet their aspirations.
He mentioned that he suffers from a more invisible disability, and that others have greater obstacles in front of them. “Those people should have the opportunity to be with us.”
JeanFred Agius, Public Relations Officer at Betapsi Malta, added that mental health should be a significant topic of conversation when discussing the future of Europe.
Reb Xiberras, Coordinator at LGBTI + Gozo, added that queer people are often used as ‘tokens’ in the public debate.
“LGBT rights are built on sand. At any point, they can be removed by just one person in government with a different mentality, “they said, referring to recent anti-LGBTQ repressions in Hungary and Poland.
“One suggestion is to make this a safe space for everyone with different gender identities, allowing space for people to mention their preferred names and pronouns,” they continued.
“Is the digital transition fair? Reaching everyone? ”
Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba said that for the EU to remain relevant, it must continue to listen to the people. As for the digital transition, it involves putting workers first.
“If the workers did not have the digital tools [to work from home], they were losing their livelihoods, “he said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He mentioned the right to disconnect the legislation being introduced at EU level, which guarantees workers the right to avoid work-related telecommunications during leisure time.
“How can we have quality mental health when workers are treated like robots, working as a machine,” he said. “That’s how we end up with vulnerable workers.”
Ismail Ertug, S&D Vice President for Transformation, Innovation and a Strong Digital Europe, also referred to greater use of technology during the pandemic.
He mentioned that while many were forced to use their computers or other digital technologies, the pandemic has taught policymakers that travel and carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced through the digital transition. .
He also added that he saw too many cars with combustion engines while in Malta, and suggested that they be replaced with electric mobility features.
Ertug mentioned three pieces of European legislation that seek to facilitate and regulate the digital transition. These include the Digital Markets Act, the Digital Services Act, and the Artificial Intelligence Act.
The participants in this discussion mentioned a lot that the European Union must safeguard its workers, who are an important economic source.
One speaker mentioned that the skills of Maltese workers must adapt to the demands of the labor market during the transition.
Another spokesman working with the General Workers’ Union mentioned the need for specific regulations on employee monitoring. He said workers should know if monitoring is being done, and if so under what purpose and what data is being collected.
He also stressed the importance of workers’ unions to help improve overall quality of life.