Your Excellency, President Zoran Milanović,
Hon. Deputy Prime Minister,
Eċċellenza Sur President, Professur Sanja Musić Milanović, nagħtikom merħba f’Malta, f’isem il-Gvern u l-Poplu Malti u Għawdxi. Nilqagħkom fil-Palazz Verdala fejn iltqajna lkoll biex niċċelebraw flimkien ir-rabtiet bejn Malta u l-Kroazja.
I welcome you, President Milanović and Professor Sanja Musić Milanović, at this dinner in your honour to celebrate the bond between our two countries.
Your State Visit to Malta is a most auspicious follow-up to my very own visit to Croatia last October.
I thank you for the fruitful talks we held in Zagreb, which I believe served as a timely consolidation of the bilateral relations between our two countries, as well as our common vision for our neighbourhood and beyond.
I remain very confident that despite the troubling international scenario, Malta and Croatia will succeed in building on their shared interests politically as well as in the commercial and cultural spheres.
It is my wish that the ample possibilities existing in the sectors of trade and investment, services, education, and tourism, to mention but a few, be explored ‘hands-on’ by our respective teams for tangible advancements to be made.
These bilateral projects can rest on our membership of the European Union, which provides us with an excellent platform to facilitate and accelerate contacts at all levels.
This same membership also allows us to cooperate closely in greater institutional consolidation, such as the Euro and Schengen zones, in the interest of our peoples, and the benefit of the Union itself.
Let me therefore take this opportunity, President Milanović, to convey Malta’s support to Croatia in fulfilling these goals.
I am sure that apart from support at a political level for the achievement of these goals, our technical teams in Malta would be more than pleased to provide their Croatian counterparts with all the expertise and best practices that we gathered along the years.
This is, after all, the spirit of cooperation and openness that generates a sense of belonging in a Union of common values.
From a grassroot perspective, it will be interesting to see the way in which the Conference on the Future of Europe will unfold, particularly in light of the global challenges knocking on our door.
In all circumstances, the Conference should not lose the attention it has placed so far on the citizen.
When President Milanović and I met in Zagreb last year, little did we know, or even remotely imagine, that only a few months later we would be looking at war in the face.
The President and I had occasion to speak about the unprovoked war by Russia on Ukraine this morning.
I remain firm in my condemnation of the daily abhorrent attacks, loss of life, and the displacement of millions of innocent civilians.
Malta will continue to support Ukraine and its brave, heroic people through action at the political level but also by providing tangible humanitarian assistance and by welcoming refugees, in particular children who require urgent medical treatment.
As we can all witness, this war is not one that involves only two countries.
It has mobilised the international community, with the European Union members, most of all, showing unprecedented unity and cohesion.
Its effects have hit us all hard, with a global food crisis looming over us, insecurity of energy resources and disrupted shipment routes.
Over and above all this, the rules-based world was shaken to its core.
This instability has affected us all one way or the other. Perhaps even more directly, it is having consequences on the Western Balkans, a region both Croatia and Malta follow very closely.
It is imperative, at this stage more than ever, to remain consistent in our messaging to these countries when it comes to their European perspective.
We need to keep in mind the aspirations of the people and that these can become disenfranchised and disillusioned at the hands of other external actors.
At the same time, it remains crucial that we remind our international partners that the situation in the Mediterranean merits its due attention.
This applies to prominent regional institutions such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which in my view could contribute greatly to the process of stability and democratisation in our Southern partners.
The pockets of instability in North Africa and the Middle East should not only be addressed when tensions are at their highest and on the eleventh hour before a crisis materialises.
We need to invest more energy in this neighbourhood. This is not a zero-sum game where attention to the East comes at the expense of the Mediterranean.
I will be making this point, among others, to my other colleagues in the EU Informal Meeting of the Non-Executive Heads of State, more commonly known as the Arraiolos formation, when I host them for the Malta Meeting on 6 October.
President Milanović, Professor Musić Milanović, Miriam and I hope to be able to welcome you on that occasion too.
A steady focus on the Mediterranean will surely be safeguarded as Malta takes up its seat at the UN Security Council on 1 January 2023, following a resoundingly successful election a few days ago.
During this tenure at the Security Council, Malta will dedicate its attention and focus to other pressing global matters such as climate change, the phenomenon of migration, and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals laid down in the UN’s Agenda 2030.
This distinguished role will surely further reinforce Malta’s determination to play its part in preserving multilateral diplomacy processes and in building the trust and political will necessary to confront global challenges.
We have a fundamental interest in maintaining the rules-based international order – one where might does not prevail over right.
This is vital for all, including small states such as our own, Malta and Croatia.
I assure you, President Milanović, that as it fulfils its onerous tasks, Malta will remain a reliable and trusted partner to Croatia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I now ask all of you to raise your glasses and toast to the good health of His Excellency Zoran Milanović and to the enduring friendship between the people of Croatia and the people of Malta.