It has always been a dream for me to raise our country’s profile within the EU institutions to new heights. And to do so in a manner that projects us as a confident and dynamic country with a clear sense of purpose that can do things well and with a touch of flair.
That dream came true last week when Malta Week took the spotlight in the heart of Brussels, marking a first for any national delegation in the European Parliament to roll out an event on such a scale, occupying 2,500 square metres of central space just outside the parliamentary building.
Many of you may know by now that Malta Week was a success and presented a delightful collage of the best in Maltese culture, cuisine and commerce.
But allow me to share with you some of my own reflections about last week’s experience.
The first is that, last week, all five Maltese MEPs broke the ice in cross-party cooperation by teaming up together for the first time and projecting a united front in what was essentially a national project. This does not mean we do not or will not cross swords over political issues. But it does mean we were able to rise above the partisan fray despite the significant constraints of party politics that often tend to steer you away from cooperation and closer to confrontation.
And guess what? Far from feeling uncomfortable, Louis Grech, Edward Scicluna, John Attard Montalto, David Casa and I actually enjoyed the experience. And Mr Grech, my counterpart in the Labour delegation, was particularly supportive in seeing this project through.
Surely, this message will not be lost on the discerning public in Malta.
The second is that the event did not just belong to MEPs. It belonged to a much wider group of people who came together to contribute to its success with a sense of belonging and a sense of pride. Sponsoring companies, for instance, did much more than offer financial support. Most of them were present in Brussels dealing with the organisation and making sure things ran smoothly.
Artists, singers, the crafts-people and all the staff from those dealing with catering to those responsible for design, tents, transport and logistics. Not to speak of the small team of helpers, all of them worked tirelessly and well beyond the call of duty to ensure a quasi-seamless organisation throughout the entire week.
I saw it with my own eyes and the sheer teamwork among all involved was truly inspiring.
Thirdly, the event delivered an important message to the hundreds of Maltese now living and working in Brussels, many of whom are EU officials. Malta Week was also targeting them because we wanted to bring them together in an event that made them feel proud to be Maltese.
Hundreds of Maltese nationals now work in EU institutions across Brussels but they have very few occasions to get together in an event that underscores their common thread which is their nationality. Without these occasions, there is a risk this cohort of highly qualified and proficient co-nationals become fragmented and lose touch with their roots.
We should not let this happen and their participation and feedback last week should give us good reason to be optimistic.
Fourthly, Malta Week made a splendid mark on its other target audience, namely the MEPs from other EU countries and the thousands of officials who work in the institutions. Their participation was excellent – suffice it to say that the aquaculture stall reported that it distributed some 15,000 tastings of fresh fish over three days. But their feedback, at times laced with surprise and intrigue at how the smallest national delegation could take this kind of initiative, was also very encouraging.
It is for this reason that, in my introductory speech, I augured that Malta Week could set an example to other national delegations to take it in turns to organise events of this nature, where national culture and experiences from all over Europe could be shared in Brussels, the hub of European integration.
The Polish delegation immediately took the cue and informed me it will organise a similar event to inaugurate the Polish presidency in the second half of next year.
That leaves just one question which is when (rather than if) will Malta Week be held again. Of course, my hope is that this will become a regular feature in our Brussels life. But realism dictates we should take things one step at a time.
What is certainly clear, however, is that Malta Week was a veritable roadshow showcasing the best that our country has to offer.
Perhaps it would not be amiss if this kind of road show had to be put on wheels and started touring the capitals of the European Union.