Honourable Minister for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade,
Dean of the Diplomatic Corps,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
I am pleased to extend my heartfelt greetings for the New Year to you all.
May it be a year that is full of health and serenity for you, your families and all your dear ones.
I take this occasion, at the outset, to kindly ask for your assistance in extending, to your respective Heads of State, my heartfelt salutations and best wishes of peace and prosperity for the rest of the year, on my behalf and on behalf of the People of Malta.
This event comes with many ‘firsts’.
It is, in fact, the first time that I am receiving the Diplomatic Corps for New Year Greetings at the Palace in Valletta.
I am pleased that following extensive and meticulous renovations, I am able to host such a distinguished audience in this beautiful Palace and these imposing halls.
These surroundings duly reflect the wealth of Malta’s historical and cultural heritage.
It is also a first such ceremony for several of you who have presented credentials since our last ceremony in January 2020 – a pattern that was regretfully interrupted for two consecutive years because of Covid restrictions.
Today is also the first time that His Excellency, the newly appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Malta, Mgr Savio Hon Tai-Fai, is joining and addressing us as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.
Finally, the Hon. Ian Borg too is joining me in this New Year’s ceremony for the first time, as Malta’s Foreign Minister.
In this spirit of renewal and new beginnings, I bid you all ‘welcome’.
Much as I would have wished my speech today to reflect the festive spirit that characterises the launch of a new year, I find it more fitting to use this occasion to pause and reflect on the international scenario, and what good Malta can effectively bring to it.
As we optimistically but very carefully close the Covid chapter, other challenges have far from subsided.
In a terrible blow to the prospects of global peace and stability, war in Europe is reminding us of the brutality that indiscriminate violence and an insatiable lust for power results in. Almost twelve months have passed since the unjustified, irrational and inexcusable invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
These are scenes that make us – the international community – cringe in shame and reflect on human frailty.
For how can we accept, at this day and age, that the cardinal principles of respect for sovereignty and self-determination are swept aside by aggression and military might?
Have we learned nothing from a World War that devastated our continent over eighty years ago? Have the annual remembrance days not taught us anything?
There are several setbacks that still stand in the way of peace.
If we have to be honest with ourselves, it is disappointing to note that there remain very divergent views between our respective nations on the causes, and the consequences, of this war.
To my mind, our message needs to be a clear, unanimous and resounding one.
The fundamental principles which lie at the heart of a civilised international order are there to be respected by all. We should not leave any room or pretext for the capricious and convenient dilution of the norms and standards that have clearly guided the international community for decades.
These are the same values that Malta, as a newly independent state, upheld since joining the community of independent nations in 1964, and which we will keep defending staunchly as a non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council these coming two years.
Allow me to open a small parenthesis and take a few moments to commend the people of Ukraine for their astounding and inspiring bravery and courage.
The bravery of those who chose to stay behind to defend what is rightly theirs.
And the courage of those, especially women, who travelled thousands of kilometres to save their children’s lives, leaving their elderly relatives, husbands and sons behind.
I ask you, Ambassador Melnyk, to convey strong solidarity with President Zelensky and the People of Ukraine, on my behalf and on behalf of the People of Malta.
While we collectively continue to grapple with existing and emerging challenges on the global scene; from food and energy shortages, rising prices, disturbed economies, climate change, to irregular migration and the proliferation of armaments, Malta’s energies are also increasingly taken up by instability in the Mediterranean.
Our immediate neighbourhood and the Mediterranean region are a far cry from what we all would like them to be.
Despite its millennial and historical contributions to human, economic and cultural development and advancement, the Mediterranean is still mired in conflict and hostilities.
Political and socio-economic tensions prevail – sometimes resulting in open violence. The road towards democracy is still a very rough and bumpy one in some cases.
As to our close partners, and longstanding friends, we wish our neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East to ultimately reach their full potential politically, socially and economically.
Malta considers it its natural vocation to continue lending a helping hand in achieving these objectives and to assist in those initiatives directed at the consolidation of democracy, the attainment of economic growth, the development of access to education and the opportunity of mobility.
Our agenda is one – we wish to see our neighbours thrive and flourish – for the benefits of their own peoples.
We wish to see them benefit from their natural resources to reach a better quality of life. We wish them to ensure that their country’s interests come first and foremost.
This is a vision and vocation to which we have been committed, are committed, and will remain committed.
It is of utmost importance that the region is not relegated to some secondary tier of relevance and focus, on the international agenda.
We have always been adamant that the EU has a very strong role to play in the Mediterranean.
Apart from the evident proximity and the inevitable effects that developments could have on the EU’s own stability and security, I wish to see the EU take a more prominent and visible role that is commensurate with, and lives up to, its profile as a major donor of development assistance.
I strongly believe that the EU, as a formidable group of like-minded nations – despite its internal divergences – has the potential to set both the tone and substance on challenges in our region, thereby giving direction and influencing outcomes.
A clear case in point is the saga of the Middle East Peace Process.
For whichever reason, I fear that this process has reached a stalemate, which we all regrettably have come to take for granted, illuding ourselves that peace will eventually be achieved through this Process.
An issue of this magnitude and complexity cannot possibly be addressed solely by a lip service that is not delivering any palpable results.
Acts of violence are not justified, and do not provide solutions or bring peace any nearer.
What is needed is loads of goodwill and an international community dead set on achieving a lasting peace based on equity and mutual respect in the region.
Unfortunately, lives will continue to be lost if the core issues are not tackled frontally and with unwavering determination.
What is also needed is a principled position of the European Union explained in clear parameters. Interests of individual states should not be allowed to disrupt agreed policies.
We need to rebuild trust.
Trust between the parties themselves, and between the parties and the international community.
Equally important is the situation in the Western Balkans – another region that is central to Malta’s interests, and whose stability is intrinsically linked to Europe’s own well-being, security and stability.
In the prevailing international scenario, where external forces are following developments very closely, and trying to influence the outcome by direct political and economic measures, the European Union simply cannot afford to send mixed messages to Western Balkan populations who have now been aspiring for membership for many years.
Subject to the fulfilment of the necessary reforms, there is no question that their place is ultimately in the European Union as full members.
As we naturally devote considerable attention to those countries that are closest to us, I wish to underline my satisfaction at the way in which Malta’s foreign policy has been consolidated with a refreshing approach towards the African Continent over the past years. The same applies to Latin America.
It was high time that the narrative changed into a more positive and dynamic one, that prioritises potential over obstacles.
Having been at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs when Ghana opened its High Commission in Malta, I am very supportive of the decisions taken by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade to later on open missions in Ghana and Ethiopia, and for the first time ever in Latin America – in Brazil.
As I am addressing you today, Malta’s representatives in New York are sitting at their seats around the table of the UN Security Council.
I thank all those countries, which in one way or the other, supported or assisted Malta in making this aspiration a reality.
I urge you all to follow Malta’s agenda at the Council very closely and keep your respective capitals informed of our accomplishments, projects and initiatives.
In doing so, I am sure that you will find all the required information from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which together with all our other missions, has made a formidable success of our Security Council bid.
Over this two-year term, we might not succeed in resolving all conflicts; fully achieve the ever-elusive Sustainable Development Goals; eliminate the effects of climate change or guarantee full access to education and health or social justice for everyone.
However, rest assured that we will do our level best in full cooperation with our partners, through conviction and persuasion, by keeping a transparent and principle-driven agenda that places the greater good before any self-centered ambitions or gains.
We will be guided by the three pillars of Security, Sustainability and Solidarity.
As we start the New Year together, in this spirit of friendship and encouragement, I seek the support of each and every one of you in helping us take Malta’s determined vision forward.