Small island with big ambitions

How will UK-Malta relations change post-Brexit in the bilateral and multilateral context? The High Commissioner for Malta HE Mr Joseph Cole explains.

What would you say your main priorities are for your mission here in London?
There are a number of priorities that I have in mind during my tour of duty in London however top of the list includes:

The enhancing of bilateral relations between Malta and the United Kingdom.

  1. Follow closely the BREXIT process and evaluate how Malta and the UK can mutually benefit from the process.
  2. Ensure that certain bilateral agreements between Malta and the UK especially in the health and education sectors are maintained.
  3. Work towards attracting more investment to Malta and possibly a further increase in the tourist traffic between both countries.
  4. Promote and support Maltese artistic talent in the UK.

As someone with great knowledge and experience in EU affairs, how do you see the relationship between Malta and the UK evolving as the UK leaves the EU? Are you hopeful that a good Brexit deal can be reached in the time-frame?
Brexit or no Brexit the relationship between Malta and the United Kingdom goes back hundreds of years. The people-to-people relationship has always been good and will remain so for many years to come. The coming months will be crucial for both the UK and the EU to find an understanding that will be beneficial to both sides. I hope that common sense will prevail.

Looking ahead, as Malta and the UK concentrate on bilateral relations, which facets of the many-faceted relationship will you be focusing on?
Ensuring that there will be a continuous dialogue between both countries aimed at consolidating the bilateral relations and, specifically to ensure that the bilateral agreements that do not fall under the competence of the EU will continue to operate as swiftly as possible. In addition, work towards the amelioration of the business environment between Malta and the UK through the Malta Business Network and Malta Enterprise.

What would you say are the major challenges (and indeed opportunities) of Brexit for Malta?
Malta has a vibrant and highly qualified working force and an excellent communication infrastructure. It also has a solid financial services sector and the country is looking forward to be one of the leading countries in the block-chain technology and innovation. The Maltese are multi-lingual and the vast majority of the Maltese can speak English. Therefore, the opportunities and ingredients are all there for the British business community to take advantage of after Brexit.

If you had to pick an object/symbol/document/image in this High Commission that depicts UK-Maltese relationship what would it be and why?
I would say myself and my wife! We both have British ancestry. Mine from Aldershot and my wife’s from Chesterfield.

Commonwealth – Malta is an active member of the Commonwealth, particularly as a voice for small island states. The UK and Malta worked closely together in the two recent CHOGMs. What was Malta’s view on the outcomes of the April CHOGM and the future of the Commonwealth?
At times, every organisations needs to take time to reflection and seek how it can improve its operational structure and adjust its mechanisms according to the fast changing global environment. I strongly feel that the last two CHOGMs held in Malta and the UK addressed this particular aspect of the Commonwealth. Work is still in progress but the indications are that in the not too distant future the Commonwealth will be better equipped to face current and future global challenges.

IMO – As a maritime nation, Malta was instrumental in the formulation of UNCLOS – what would you say are the major challenges facing the oceans and how does Malta propose to work with international institutions to meet these challenges?
Malta’s track record at the United Nations is quite remarkable. Malta was the country that introduced the concept that the Oceans should be the Common Heritage of Mankind. It was also the first country to raise the issue of climate change. It also hosts the United Nations Institute of Ageing. We are now vying for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the term 2023/2024. It is amazing what a small country can do and contribute to the international community.

Anti-modern slavery is a big priority for the UK government and for Malta, which bears a heavy burden as a refuge for migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. How can the two countries work together, within international institutions, to address this troubling issue? Is Malta satisfied with the current EU approach to migration?
People have been moving from one place to another since time immemorial. It is therefore futile to speak about eradicating migration. One can only hope that countries and specific organisations reach a singular understanding how to manage the migration phenomena. Unfortunately, during the past years the Mediterranean became a burial site for many trying to reach the shores of Europe looking for a better life.

One needs to understand that there are human beings behind the numbers and statistics we read and see in the media in respect of migration. It is equally important for countries to respect the provisions of international treaties and shy away from making popular statements.

It is also imperative that the international community recognises the difficulty and burden small countries like Malta are facing with the endless influxes of migrants coming from North Africa and be part of a process to avoid further loss of life on the high seas.

UN – Malta is campaigning for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council in 2022 – why does it deserve this seat and what common concerns would it be working on with P5 member, Britain?
Every UN member states has the right to campaign for a non-permanent seat on the UNSC. As already intimated, Malta’s track-record in the United Nations is incredible and we strongly feel that now is the right time for Malta to sit on the UNSC. A small island state like Malta does not have a hidden agenda and is genuine with its thoughts and initiatives. This gives credibility to a member sitting on the UNSC.

You have worked with the British in international fora (at the International Court in The Hague, OPCW etc) – how effective is Britain in these fora and how do you think Brexit will affect how Britain operates in these fora?
The effectiveness of British diplomacy can only be judged by the British themselves. What I can say is that during the various meetings in The Hague at the OPCW, ICC and elsewhere we always had a very good and reasonable relationship with British diplomats as did other diplomats serving during my time in The Hague.

You were posted here at the turn of this century – how has London and the UK changed for you?
I must say that during my first months in London the weather has been unusually mild and kind. Otherwise I have seen little change in the city which remains vibrant, challenging, culturally entertaining and very interesting politically.

You also served as Ambassador in Washington (and non-resident to Canada) and the Netherlands (and non-resident to Sweden, Norway and Denmark) and Consul General in Australia – what were your abiding memories of these tours of duty?
In Australia the vast number of Maltese or persons of Maltese decent and their endless requests and challenges but with a heart of gold. In Canada the six-feet of snow and the coldness of the blizzard when I presented my Letters of Credence to the Governor General. In Washington DC the enrichment of politics, meeting and presenting my Letters of Credence to the leader of the democratic world and the kindness of the American people. In Scandinavia the organisational skills and discipline of the civil servants and the people at large.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Walking serves both as a means to keep health as well as a mental therapy. Reading is also one of my main activities in my spare time as is watching my favourite football team play.