Address by Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Evarist Bartolo to Foreign Ambassadors accredited to Malta on the occasion of the New Year

Reference Number: PR210056, Press Release Issue Date: Jan 12, 2021

My dear colleagues, best wishes for a new year to you, your dear ones, and all the people of your country. 

75 years ago, as the world was slowly emerging from the deadliest military conflict in history, and a short time after surviving Auschwitz, Viktor E. Frankl wrote: “For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”

These words are more relevant than ever today in a world still caught in the claws of Covid-19, that has killed millions, infected millions more and brought about a deep political, social and economic crisis that we are all still trying to deal with. 

Responding to this threat to our lives and livelihood, we have had no blueprint to follow.

As we start the new year of 2021, we know that the year 2020 is still with us.

To what extent will 2021 be different from 2020? How much of the old world of 2020 will die and how much of the new world of 2021 will be born? At this crossroads of uncertainty all we know for sure is that the world will not revert to what it was before Covid-19, so more of the same medicine will not work.

We have a chance to change things. Will we take this chance?

Confronted by a common enemy one might have hoped that world leaders would take the opportunity to put differences aside and work together. Did it happen? Sometimes it did, at others it didn’t.  

Covid-19 has brought out the best and the worst in us: selfishness and selflessness, caring and recklessness, national egoism and international cooperation, science and research to develop vaccines and the rejection of science and the embracing of conspiracy theories, the awareness that we are all human and vulnerable but also racism, stereotyping and stigmatization.

No country will be safe unless all the world is safe. Our ability to make the world safe from Covid-19 and its social and economic impact still depends on how much governments and citizens cooperate to control the transmission of the virus and how long it takes in each country for the vaccine to reach enough people to build global herd immunity.

Unless a substantial number of countries are made safe from Covid-19 tourism and travel will not re-emerge soon and airlines, hotel chains, the catering, entertainment, heritage and culture industries will take longer to recover.

The health of the world economy depends on the effectiveness of the vaccination programmes. The longer these programmes take to be effected, the more difficult economic recovery will be, the more unsustainable it will be for governments to keep workers and businesses on life support and the heavier will the burden of public debts and deficits grow.

Governance will be become more difficult if unemployment rises and social protection is weakened. Popular unrest and social tension can create the right eco-system for populism to flourish. This has implications for the future of Europe as elections will be held in a number of European countries in 2021 and next year.

Will the European Recovery Fund take too long to be implemented to have positive effects on the daily life of European citizens?

As we rebuild our economies and our way of life, to what extent are we going to use the Green Deal in the interests of future generations and stop or at least slow down our planet’s decline by decarbonising our businesses and transport systems? 

Will we make the best use of digital technology for wealth and job creation, democratic and participative citizenship?

How will the leadership of the European Union be affected by the departure of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her sober and robust diplomatic skills, both to deal with internal conflicts and tensions and to handle geopolitical crises like that in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Will we reach a Europe-wide agreement on the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, to prevent irregular migration and return irregular migrants to their countries, promote sustainable legal migration, safeguard human rights of migrants, fight human trafficking and smuggling, support transit countries to manage their borders and improve terms of trade with countries of origin so that they can create wealth and jobs for their people?

2020 has been a tough year for energy producing countries in our neighbourhood. As global energy demand collapsed, energy prices fell and governments in the Middle East and North Africa had less money to spend on their people. Will 2021 be even worse for them? Will we see more unrest and protests as people feel their daily needs are not being met?

Will the international community really act on its promise to support Libyans in their battle to regain control of their country, and to use their resources to improve the life of their citizens who have suffered so much for so many years?

We will have no stability in Europe unless we have stability and peace in the Mediterranean and Africa.
More than ever we need the peaceful settlement of conflicts and mediation. Have we given up on peace diplomacy because the military industrial complex brings profits and creates jobs, causing foreign ministers of arms exporting countries to be more effective as arms dealers and salesmen than as peacemakers?

In 2021 will the major countries use politics and business as geopolitical battlefields, as the continuation of war by other means and expect the rest of the world to take sides? For countries like us, who do not want to hurt others but do not want to be hurt by others, recent developments like the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between Brussels and Beijing and the full normalisation of relations among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are very welcome. Also very welcome is the agreement reached between the European Commission and the United Kingdom on future cooperation with the European Union.

We should live in a world where it is possible even for small countries like us to have political differences with countries and still do business with them.

How will the new Biden administration influence the world of 2021? Having to deal with the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic at home and deeply polarised domestic politics, how much time, energy and resources will it devote to issues in the rest of the world? How will US relations develop with China, Russia and Iran? What kind of multilateralism will the US return to?

It has never been easy for micro-states such as Malta to survive in a world where might is right. It is in our interest to uphold the principles of the United Nations that include the equality and self-determination of nations, respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the obligation of member countries to obey the Charter, to cooperate with the UN Security Council and to use peaceful means to resolve conflicts.

We will continue to seek to build peaceful relations with as many different countries as possible, in our immediate neighbourhood and beyond. When there is conflict between nation states we will continue to advocate for dialogue, compromise and international law instead of confrontation, armaments and the law of the jungle.

We are guided by the values of neutrality, peace diplomacy and disarmament. We will not let our country be used for the purpose of wars with others and will keep our country out of any military alliance.

Our neutrality does not mean that we are indifferent to what happens to others. We will contribute to the fight against terrorism and international economic crimes such as human trafficking, the trafficking of oil, arms and drugs and money laundering.

We recognise our global responsibilities in giving our contribution, however modest, in addressing today’s global challenges such as the climate emergency, cyber security, immigration, the spread of hate speech and fake news online, the persistent threat of nuclear arms and the new autonomous weapons known as killer robots.

Together with other countries we will work to spread the values of inclusion and diversity, mutual respect for different cultures, races, religions and civilisations and seek common ground to live peacefully together.

We believe that we all have a role to play, however small and we must not abdicate our responsibility to play that role to the best of our abilities, for the common good. What Viktor Frankl said around 75 years ago remains as relevant as ever:

“For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
Thank you very much.