During the long and protracted debates which took place ten years ago in the run up to the EU membership referendum, a common question being bandied about again and again by politicians was, ‘what would Malta be getting out of it?’
You all remember those fun times of constant campaigning don’t you?
The No camp were full of alarming stories of us being run over by ‘the foreigners’, while the Yes camp painted a rosy picture of freedom of movement, career advancement and educational opportunities throughout the member states. In a way they were both right; Malta has never seen such a proliferation of multi ethnic groups who have made this island their home, while the numbers of Maltese who have packed their bags and spread their wings throughout the European mainland continues to grow.
I had hoped, way back in 2004, that becoming EU citizens would help to nudge us out of our insularity, leading us to think in a more broadminded way, becoming more tolerant and accepting of other cultures and races, and less fixated on the often petty issues which make up the minutiae of our everyday lives. But there are times when I think we have become even more inward looking since joining the EU. And very now and then I am reminded that the motto of this little island should really be ‘what’s in it for me?’
Take residency, for example. The thousands of 20-somethings who have waved goodbye to Mum and Dad at the airport, and taken that bold step to venture to live on their own for the very first time in their lives, land in the various European cities they have chosen to settle in, and with the minimum of fuss and paperwork, violà, they are residents. So, you would think that, logically speaking, it should work just as easily the other way around, right? You would think that it should be easy for all the French, British, Italian, Spanish and others who are also EU citizens to ease into actually living here. They must have taken one look at our year round sunshine, our relaxed, laid-back way of life and our familiarity with different languages and decided that this would be a great place to live.
Ah, but what many fail to grasp is that a short spell of beaches, suntan lotion, clubbing and alcohol while in holiday mode does not ever bring you face to face with that insurmountable wall of officialdom known as Maltese Bureaucracy.
As I continue to follow the progress of a very tenacious group of ex-pats who are battling against the blatant and illegal discrimination when it comes to their E-residency card, utility bills, public transport, Internet services and other areas, I cannot help but wonder what kind of uproar Maltese people would raise if they had to go through all these shenanigans when they choose to emigrate. But they don’t need to cause an uproar, do they, because they simply register with their local authorities and are treated exactly the same as those who were born and bred there.
The utility bills saga was a Catch 22 situation: EU nationals who rent were being forced to pay utilities at a higher rate since ARMS Ltd was demanding proof of residency, namely the new E-residency card for which there is a ridiculously long wait. This now seems to have been resolved after meetings with Minister Konrad Mizzi and ARMS Ltd, which will now accept other documentation such as a passport or the ‘A’ ID card. There are still a lot of loopholes, however, because many landlords and real estate agents do not inform new tenants about the existence of the different rates and the bill continues to be issued in the name of the landlord (for reasons which are quite obvious). Put simply, if tenants are not listed on the utility bill as the occupants, they will simply be charged at a higher rate for their water and electricity consumption.
Then there is the unacceptable situation regarding the E-residency cards for EU citizens. I am informed that the introduction of this card (which is to replace the I.D card with the letter ‘A’ for alien at the end) was funded by the EU, and should really be just a formality. It should be simply applied for and issued immediately.
Instead, it has been made into a long, mind-numbing, drawn out process with people queuing for appointments, applications sent by post or online being ‘lost’ and a lack of staff to deal with what is reported to be a 9000 person backlog.
Instead of EU nationals having their paperwork processed automatically, they have to trek down to Evans building just to get an appointment, to join the queue along with non-EU nationals (who have their own very different and specific needs) and where fights break out on a regular basis as tempers flare.
Over two weeks ago, I sent a number of questions to the Ministry of Home Affairs to try and get to the bottom of this unnecessary E-residency bureaucracy and what seems to be sheer negligence. I pointed out that ex-pats have joined forces and are now fighting this at EU level. This is obviously causing harm to Malta’s reputation as an ideal, welcoming place for EU nationals to settle and that this, in turn, will be a loss for our economy. I have read several accounts of those who have left or are thinking of leaving because they are being made to feel that Malta does not really want them here.
To date, despite repeated reminders, I have not received any replies.
If you are an EU national living in Malta and wish to be kept informed of developments concerning residency and related issues, you can join these two groups on Facebook : Class Action against Arms Ltd and Expats/foreigners in Malta