In an intense day of meetings with the European Commission Representation in Malta, Servizzi Ewropej f'Malta (SEM), Europe Direct Information Centres, civil society organisations, academics, students, business leaders, and stakeholders, Director of the European Parliament Liaison Offices in Europe, Mr Stephen Clark, discussed the importance of engaging with citizens and spotlighting the largest exercise in democracy in Europe.
“The elections are coming at a time when we can see democracy is fragile and needs standing up for,” Mr Clark said. “My reason for being here is to engage with people who share our beliefs and values to see how we can work together for the Europe we want to build for our future.”
He noted that in the current context, Europe as a peace project is once again very relevant, and so is the EU response to the recent pandemic crisis and its continued unity in response to the war in Ukraine. “The big questions matter, and so does how Europe affects our lives. We don’t want to talk about successes all the time, when we present what the EU does. We want to talk about the impact on our life,” Mr Clark continued.
Mr Lorenzo Vella, newly appointed Head of the European Commission Representation in Malta, took part in the first panel that focused on how next year’s elections were elections that had an impact on the whole of the EU. He noted that these are elections of choices where Europeans not only get to choose who will represent them, ctizens of the 27 member states, in the European Parliament, but also to choose the political direction of our entire Union. Recent events have shed light on the need for internal reflection within the European Parliament and all the other institutions, as well as the necessity for transparency and ethical reforms.
He emphasised that next year's elections have to deliver changes that citizens want and have called for, in particular during the Conference on the Future of Europe, while on the micro level, political parties, politicians, and candidates have a very important role to play when campaigning by promoting these elections’ European dimension, and steering away exclusively from national issues as much as possible.
The second panel brought together the European Direct Information Centres. Prof. Mark Harwood, Director of the Institute of European Studies, focused on his experience as head of a previous EDIC. He shared that the catchment area had been easy because the students were all in one place, but student apathy was a major obstacle. He noted how talking about the subjects that really mattered to them was key to piquing their interest.
Mr Joe Sciberras, Head of EDIC Valletta, observed that citizens involve themselves in the EU’s democratic process when they feel they're part of something that is happening or that is promising to happen in the future, and from which they are set to benefit. Citizens also want the EU to speak their language, avoiding terms like the Spitzenkandidat process.
Mr Daniel Debono, CEO of the Gozo Business Chamber, underlined the challenge of engaging with the community through practical initiatives to be able to really put across the message of what the EU means to us.
In a third round, Julian Dingli from CORE Platform, Vince Attard from Nature Trust and Andrea Grima, ex-Vice-President of KSU, shed light on the available aid in terms of funding, support and networking.
Mr Attard and Mr Grima both outlined the aid they received from the European Commission and the European Parliament respectively, and commented on some of the difficulties they encountered, in particular the complications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In turn, Mr Dingli spoke about CORE’s experience so far in becoming a partner with the European Parliament via the together.eu platform, referencing their first encounter with major civil society organisations across Europe in November 2022.
Participants underlined the need to be heard and to know that Europe does follow through. They emphasised the need for transparency and ethics at EU level, and the need to discuss actual European issues in a European election campaign, rather than national issues. Others noted the lack of coherence between national political party policies and their action at EU level, and the difficulty in communicating procedures such as the Spitzenkandidat. A need for targeted communication and the pros of engagement at different levels were also identified.
In a Q&A concluding the day, Stephen Clark shared his own experience of Brexit, noting the need to engage emotionally with the issues that impact our lives and to do so in time to have a say.
Director Clark's visit was organised by our office and included meetings with the newly appointed Head of the European Commission Representation in Malta, Mr Lorenzo Vella, with our team, as well as a visit to the forthcoming Europa Experience site in Valletta.
“Director Clark’s visit marks the launch of an intense period of activities that the European ParliamentLiaison Office in Malta will be organising with a view to engaging the Maltese public, as an integral part of the European public, in the run-up to the June 2024 European elections to elect our representatives in the European Parliament,” said Dr Mario Sammut.