Gżira mayor and MEP candidate Conrad Borg Manché will join the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping if elected, he declared in a manifesto published on Tuesday.

The move has raised eyebrows, with the ECR, home to some of Europe’s most prominent populist right-wing parties, and Borg Manché, who has openly described himself as a socialist, appearing to make for strange bedfellows.

Borg Manché resigned from the Labour Party last year, accusing it of betraying its socialist principles over plans to turn part of a public garden into a petrol station.

The ECR is one of the smaller political groupings in the European Parliament, with 69 representatives in the past legislature. One of the group’s two presidents is Italy PM Giorgia Meloni, who stormed to power in Italy on anti-immigration cry two years ago.

Other members include MEPs from Spanish far-right party Vox, and Poland’s Law and Justice Party, which was defeated in national elections late last year after an eight-year stint at the helm of Polish government.

‘My socialist principles remain steadfast’, Borg Manché says

But Borg Manché told Times of Malta that he is convinced by his decision, describing it as “a pragmatic approach” to marry his socialist beliefs with and fight for social justice “within a framework that promotes stability and respect for national sovereignty”.

“My belief in socialist principles, such as social justice, equality, and public welfare, remains steadfast,” he insisted.

Borg Manché says he opted for ECR because of the party’s commitment to national sovereignty, economic pragmatism and democratic accountability, as well as the group’s position on social issues.

He says that the group’s anti-abortion stance “resonates with my position”, as does its emphasis on “policies that empower parents to make decisions about the upbringing and education of their children”.

“This is something I have been fighting for over the last three years.”

Ultimately, Borg Manché says, his "dedication to democratic integrity and advocacy for pragmatic, effective policies align well with the ECR's values and mission".

‘He should reconsider his decision’: Evarist Bartolo

But the decision has come as a disappointment to one of Borg Manché’s most prominent supporters.

Former PL minister Evarist Bartolo publicly endorsed Borg Manché last week, urging people who were planning to abstain to give him their vote.

But his decision to join ECR appears to have rankled with Bartolo, who told Times of Malta that “he should have stayed away from such a political family”.

Bartolo believes that Borg Manché should have declared himself independent within the European Parliament. “This would have given him more room to manouevre to vote on issues on a case by case basis without being tied to a particular bloc,” he said.

Nonetheless, Bartolo insisted, Borg Manché’s “track record in local politics deserves respect and support”.

“He should reconsider his decision to remain true to his principles.”

Cassola hopes to join European Greens

Borg Manché is not the only independent candidate to openly declare which political family they will be joining.

Arnold Cassola, the current frontrunner amongst independent candidates, confirmed with Times of Malta that he hoped to sit with the European Greens if elected. Cassola served as the European Greens’ secretary general between 1999 and 2006.

But, he says, he will maintain a free vote on matters of conscience, something that is common to such votes within the EP.

Cassola, formerly a leader of AD, famously quit the party in 2019 over the party’s refusal to declare itself as anti-abortion.

His position puts him at odds with that of the Greens which, in a position paper on reproductive rights, described Malta’s restrictive abortion laws as “unbearable”.

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