Malta is “open to discuss” taking over the U.K.’s slot in the rotating presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2017 following Britain’s vote to leave the bloc, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.
The EU presidency, currently held by the Netherlands, rotates every six months among the member states and the country holding the presidency chairs meetings of the EU governments during its tenure. Slovakia will take over the EU presidency in the second half of this year, followed by Malta in the first half of 2017. The U.K. is scheduled to be next, in July-December of next year.
The Maltese government is “open to discuss the way forward after Malta’s Presidency given that the U.K. would have been next,” Muscat told lawmakers in the Parliament in Valletta on Monday. “Should the EU request Malta to extend its Presidency, we will discuss.”
With the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU, “Malta has lost an important ally on issues of great importance, most especially economic, where we had converging thoughts,” Muscat said. “We disagreed, however, on migration and policy on Russia.”
He said the vote to leave in a referendum last week, which prompted U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to say he will step down later this year, “will have serious repercussions on each and every member state” of the EU.
“There is a need to focus discussions on what motivated a majority in Britain to vote to leave the EU,” Muscat said. “These same motivations are not just limited to the U.K.”
The EU “must react with all its strength and understand that any mistake at this stage will lead to other countries and extremist parties wanting the same fate of the U.K.,” Muscat said.
“It is clear that Article 50 will surely need to be invoked” to trigger the exit process, Muscat said. “I also understand Prime Minister Cameron’s choice to win time. We must, however, treat the U.K. with respect and any agreement which will ultimately lead to Britain’s exit from the EU must be clear.’