I am very pleased to be conducting my first official visit to Estonia as President of Malta, upon your gracious invitation.
This visit was meant to take place in March, however, a decision was taken to postpone the timing, as this coincided with the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In my opinion, this visit is an important landmark as our two countries this year commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations.
Since then, Malta and Estonia have enjoyed very good and friendly relations with one another. This positive trend was further reinforced by their accession to the European Union way back in 2004.
My presence in Tallinn today and my meeting with President Karis are testament to Malta’s determination to strengthen these strong ties further by exploring new areas of cooperation.
Apart from the sound contacts at political and technical levels, there is a strong emerging people-to-people aspect that lies at the heart of our bilateral contacts.
Malta is pleased to host several Estonian nationals who relocate there for family or professional reasons, and who contribute greatly to a diverse social fabric and the continued growth of the economy.
We also greatly welcome Estonian tourists attracted to Malta’s unique cultural and historical heritage, as well as those Estonian students of all ages who choose to intensify their knowledge of the English language in the heart of the Mediterranean.
I am particularly pleased to note that cultural and educational initiatives continue to develop between our two countries and look forward to the enhancement of this cooperation. We must remain optimistic and proactive by investing in windows of opportunity that cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue provide.
I took this opportunity to explain to President Karis how Malta offers a business-friendly environment that has created several opportunities for Foreign Direct Investment throughout the years and the way in which Malta is well positioned in terms of foreign direct investment from Estonia. Areas which could be promoted are precision engineering, pharmaceuticals, the digital sector, and financial services.
In our discussions we also referred to the excellent records that both countries enjoy in the digital sector and the way this success has transformed interaction in society, business, government, the public service, sports, and leisure.
Moving on to regional developments, we obviously discussed in great detail the unjustified and unprovoked war that Russia has launched on Ukraine.
I remain firm in my condemnation of this act.
I listened very carefully to what President Karis had to say about the situation, and the direct effects on Estonia.
The continued violence and reported use of indiscriminate destruction are shocking evidence of the extent of the aggression. It is important that these crimes are brought to an end and that perpetrators are brought to justice.
We are firmly committed to Ukraine’s full sovereignty and territorial integrity. This invasion is a direct threat to the multilateral system which the international community diligently safeguarded since WWII precisely to avoid wars like the one we are witnessing.
The EU is more united than ever, and this unity needs to be safeguarded on all fronts. No effort should be spared in safeguarding our common values and principles.
As time passes, as economic pains reach our citizens, our unity and perseverance in our dissolute support for Ukraine will become even more important. And this should not falter.
We also exchanged views on how the war has de-stabilised global stability, international trade, energy sourcing and even food shortages. All of this following two full years of pandemic.
During our discussions I also gave my reading of the worrying developments taking place in the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood.
The Mediterranean remains burdened with dangerous pockets of instability, which require urgent attention from the international community.
Libya, an immediate neighbour of Malta, has seen a bout of violence in recent weeks. The country is still very far from being stabilised, and the effects on the stability of its neighbours in North Africa, the Sahel and even Europe cannot be underestimated.
Other partners to the South are also undergoing political, social, and economic instability. The point I made to the President is that the international community should not relegate these issues to a secondary tier of urgency, and only react when a crisis is already in the making.
In this context, I cannot but mention the consequences that irregular migration on the Central Mediterranean route brings on frontline countries like Malta and reiterate my call for visible solidarity between EU Member States.
With President Karis, I also expressed my strong hope for a European Union that is prominently visible and active on pressing regional and international issues, based on the set of unique values it continues to represent.
We need to continue supporting efforts that are underway by the EU to be a stronger and more effective security provider and to protect its citizens from these clear and present challenges.
It is in our interest to continue focussing on the EU’s resilience to counter increasingly complex hybrid threats, energy, and food security. Enhancing cooperation with partners remains key especially in defending multilateralism and the global rules-based order.
While Malta is not a member of NATO, we understand its importance for the collective defence of its Members as well of cooperation with the EU. For Malta the UN remains at the core of our efforts to pursue peace and security.
The President and I also had occasion to mention the latest developments concerning the Conference on the Future of Europe, where I underlined the importance that the citizen remains at the heart of the process.
We also talked about Malta’s supportive stand and strong commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans region.
Malta has always been in favour of a merit-based prospect of full EU membership for the Western Balkans.
A credible accession perspective is the key incentive and driver of transformation in the region.
We have to avoid a scenario where the populations feel let down and lose their determination and willingness to proceed with these reforms and start to look at other alternatives.
We also talked about Malta and Estonia being both committed to very effective multilateral diplomacy.
We have both manifested this commitment by contributing to the international order, as non-Permanent Members of the Security Council.
In this regard, I commended the work carried out by Estonia during its tenure between 2020-2021 and made use of this occasion to brief President Karis on what Malta is planning for its own term, starting in January 2023.
We have a fundamental interest in maintaining the rules-based international order: one where might does not prevail over right.
Thanks to our status as an EU Member State located between Europe and Africa, we are committed to playing a constructive and bridge-building role within this Council.
Finally, I also used this meeting to brief President Karis on the plans currently underway on the Meeting of Non-Executive EU Heads of State – more commonly known as the Arraiolos Group, which I will be hosting on 6 October and which President Karis will be attending.
I greatly look forward to hosting President Karis in Malta later on this year, together with all our other Heads of State colleagues to discuss pressing matters on the European and international agenda.
The broad themes that we will be addressing in Malta concern security to the East and South of the EU, and the increasing need to address global injustices such as disparities in accessing health and education, basic services, and mobility.
I hope to reciprocate the great generosity extended to me and my delegation by President Karis and Mme Karis and the team at the President’s Office in the coming weeks.