Last week at a plenary debate of the European Parliament in Strasbourg about the Connecting Europe Facility programme 2021-2027, I had the opportunity to highlight the seclusion that Member States such as Malta face when it comes to connectivity. Being an island, Malta and Gozo naturally suffer from geographic isolation given that we are not connected to the mainland, and therefore it is paramount that we continue to secure European funding for transport, digital and energy projects that serve to connect us further with our European peers.
Perhaps at first glance debates relating to such topics might seem abstract for some, however rest assured that they are not. Practically speaking, the benefits that we can reap from such programmes are both tangible and concrete, being felt by all of our citizens on a daily basis. It is impossible to mention the Connecting Europe Facility programme and the Ten-T Road Network in Malta without mentioning the Marsa Junction, for example. Had it not been for these programmes, along with the will and work of the Labour Government, it would have been impossible for the Marsa Junction project to be developed as it was. For this reason and much more, it is very important to see that such programmes continue enabling the commission of such important projects that win the hearts and minds of all.
On a technical level, the Connecting Europe Facility is split into three major pillars having a grand total of €30 billion. Whereas €23 billion will go to transportation projects, €5 billion will be laid aside for energy projects, with another €2 billion being saved up for digital initiatives. Also of note is the fact that 60% of these funds will go to climate related objectives, therefore meaning that we are foreseeing a green transition to take place in this regard.
In order to achieve connectivity goals, while keeping in mind the environmental and digital leaps that we have to make, we also need to invest in research and innovation (R&I). Last week I noted in plenary that while R&I is crucial to enhance sustainable competitiveness, unfortunately this area is one that is often not given the attention and priority it deserves, not just in Malta, but even on a European level. R&I is key, especially when it comes to projects that offer solutions for long-standing problems. Looking at transportation, energy and digital projects through the European Research Area lens can thus lead us to recognise that an opportunity thus presents itself for island states like Malta.
Long-standing problems are nothing new when it comes to transportation and energy. And if there is one aspect that we need to focus on, in order to come up with solutions in relation to this, it is definitely R&I. For this reason, I happen to be of the opinion that we can position ourselves as potential test beds where pilot projects can be tested out.
Over the last 18 months, we have seen how important R&I can be. Whenever global problems crop up, it is R&I that we turn to, to solve our problems. However, we must also acknowledge that although it had troubling effects, the pandemic was just the tip of the iceberg. In wolf pack terms, if the pandemic was the beta, climate change and global warming are the alpha.
Scientists predict that in 80 years’ time, the average global temperature will see an increase of between 1.1 degrees celsius to 5.4 degrees celsius. By 2100, sea levels are also expected to rise by at least 12 inches as a result of the melting of the polar ice caps. It goes without saying that this situation is both urgent, as well as challenging. Sustainable solutions are needed – and fast.
With that being said, I have never been one to be intimidated by such challenges. On the contrary, I was taught to look at challenges through another lens. Where others see walls, I believe that we should see ladders. This situation is no different. Through challenges, countless opportunities present themselves, opportunities that will enable us to continue investing in cleaner transport and energy options, including via digitalisation.
Being a resilient and determined nation, as Maltese and Gozitans we should seize these opportunities in the coming months and years. Lastly, if help is what you are looking for, Europe stands there to provide and assist via dedicated programmes, and I would thus like to urge all readers to utilise European funding when tapping into such opportunities. Where there is a will, there is always a way!