Following the debate leading up to the voting that will take place on Saturday, one may easily feel that it is part of the run-up to a general election, rather than about membership of the European Parliament. Malta has to elect six members to do a European job in an important European forum. But the rhetoric of the debate is all about politics in Malta.
It is natural enough that politics will come into the exchanges. Even if that were not the case, politics would still rear its intrusive head, as it does in every discussion anywhere on the Maltese islands. By resorting to the usual tactics the political class is short-changing the Maltese electorate.
The exchanges should, in the first instance, be about the European Parliament. What is it? What does it do? What are its main concerns and how do we fit in them? What relevance does it have to Malta as a member and specifically so? How can our six members best contribute to the workings of the EP itself and, above all, to Malta?
These questions are not addressed at all. Instead, our politicians repeat themselves endlessly about domestic matters. The Labour leader and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has also openly declared that Saturday should see him pitted against the Opposition leader to see which one of them is the better man.
The reason why he did that is easy to see – and it is purely domestic politics. The latest opinion polls continue to give him a better trust rating than the leader of the Nationalist Party and the Opposition, Simon Busuttil. On his part, Dr Busuttil did not take up the gauntlet. Instead he said the issue was the way the government was governing, an opportunity to send a message to it.
The two stances are fair enough in a general election campaign. But we are discussing Europe, not Malta. We should want to send to the European Parliament the best six individuals who can master the intricate workings of Parliament and cut out a good figure in the tasks they are given. They should also be the best individuals who can stand up for Malta whenever her political and particularly economic interests are in play.
It is an opportunity to seek out every chance of bringing some more bacon home to Malta, to make the EP work as best as it can for the interest of Maltese Malta
We should not send individuals already committed to give the government of Malta, and thereby Malta, as bad a name as possible by washing our dirty clothes over there. That is what has been happening in recent months to the detriment of Malta and her people.
We should tell whoever is elected that this is not what the European Parliament is for. It is an important third pillar of the European project. It is a place where to build sound relationships, as Dr Busuttil, Dr Muscat and others did when they were members of it. It is an opportunity to seek out every chance of bringing some more bacon home to Malta, to make the EP work as best as it can for the interest of Maltese Malta, especially now that there is no question about agreement on membership of the EU.
This concept is easy enough to understand and one about which there should be no difference of opinion. Instead, the EP candidates are conditioned by their parties to carry as much partisan baggage to Brussels and Strasbourg as possible.
Examples of how not to treat our relations with the EU abound. The latest one was aired by the Leader of the Opposition last week. He is alleging that the government ought to shoulder responsibility for a European Commission decision that will see Malta reducing fiscal incentives to its industries.
If that is the case, and apparently it is, Dr Busuttil, as a politician who first and foremost ought to have Malta’s interest at heart, should be taking on and criticising the European Commission, and trying to make it change its mind if that is at all possible.
Instead, Dr Busuttil implicitly accepted the Commission’s decision without a murmur and instead lambasted his country’s government, showing that his loyalty lay with partisan politics, rather than Malta. In addition to calling the government incompetent, he said the issue revealed the government’s lack of knowledge about the workings of the EU.
I wonder how long it will take Dr Busuttil to realise that, aside from being disloyal to Malta, he was playing bad politics. The government of the day, whoever it is, has a substantial team of civil servant experts on EU affairs working from Malta and in the heart of the EU itself. They follow what is going on in the EU and prepare background for the political administration to act upon. The flow is bottom-up, not top-down.
Dr Busuttil, himself an expert on the EU, knows that well enough. His ferocious attack, therefore, was not really on the government, but on the team of EU expert civil servants. I doubt that they will take kindly to his wild charge that they have not been doing their job.
Aside from the political replies given to him by the Minister for EU affairs, Louis Grech, the Leader of the Opposition might have had some leg to stand on had he produced proof that the civil servants had given pertinent advice which the government ignored. He did not even hint that, let alone prove it.
The approach and attack were purely partisan, lobbed over the head of an electorate which finds such things not easy to understand. It was also a childish political effort, since the mud cannot stick.
Nevertheless it typified the Opposition attitude towards the EU. If this attitude is once again carried into the European Parliament, Saturday’s voting exercise will have been an expensive waste of time and money.
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