If, two days before the European Parliament vote, you are still hesitant about whether to vote and how, then it is almost certainly the case that you are torn between the candidate you’d like to vote for and his or her party affiliation. You are afraid that your vote will send a message you don’t want to give.

The dilemma arises for certain voters of Labour disposition as well as some Nationalist-inclined voters. These voters feel like the god Janus, looking in two different directions at once.

Labour is cohesive nationally, all candidates at one with Joseph Muscat. However, Labour has distanced itself from important planks of the European Socialists’ manifesto – on abortion (about which the PES says it wants a ‘binding strategy’ so that everyone can access their ‘reproductive rights’), and tax harmonisation (since the PES regards cross-border tax avoidance, a key financial service offered by Malta, as contrary to social justice).

The PN has no major issues with the European People’s Party but it is not cohesive nationally. Adrian Delia’s leadership has been controversial with a segment of the PN core vote.

In both cases, some voters might fret about whether a vote for a preferred candidate might aid a cause – say, the Socialists’ radical programme of European integration, or Delia’s leadership – that they don’t care for.

So here’s a brief guide to the issues. There are three fundamental points:

First, beware of any advice that makes up the facts. Any definition of the national interest can be controversial, so it’s understandable if the stand taken by the outgoing PN MEPs on rule of law issues is divisive. But it’s simply untrue to say that no other member state sees its MEPs criti­cise their national governments on the European stage.

Hungary’s socialists have done it in the EP in terms as harsh as anyone’s. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, a Pole, has even criticised deve­lopments in Poland while expli­citly stating he’s doing so in his capacity as President.

Second, beware of any definition of this vote as a referendum. A referendum is a vote on a single issue. Parliamentary elections always involve multi-issue mani­festos, which are package deals.

Saturday’s vote is not a choice between Muscat and Delia. It’s true that the vote will reflect the relative support for Labour and the PN (not to mention the smaller political parties). But how can it be a choice between the two leaders when one, Muscat, is on the way out? A vote for an outgoing leader transforms the EP vote into mere applause, a curtain call, instead of a political choice.

Nor is the vote a referendum on Delia alone. Yes, any vote for any PN MEP candidate will inevitably shore up Delia as leader. But abstention from voting, or not voting for a PN candidate that you otherwise approve of, will be interpreted as punishment for that candidate’s principles or behaviour. The consequences are always a package deal, because that’s what you’re being asked to vote on.

As a voter, when faced with a package deal, you need to prioritise. Vote for what is most important for you, and consider the other consequences as a trade-off.

Saturday’s vote is not a referendum on abortion either. It is true that the PES has been emphatic in speaking about granting universal access to abortion. Its main target audience are Polish voters. With the UK’s participation in the EP elections, the PES is likely to do better than expected (thanks to British Labour seats), as are the European Greens and Libe­rals. A centre-left coalition on civil rights in Europe is now a distinct possibility.

So there will be pressure to reinterpret the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. However, the legalisation of abortion is a matter of national competence, and therefore what the EP decides is irrelevant. Labour states it has no mandate to introduce abortion in this legislature.

The legalisation of abortion is a matter of national competence, and therefore what the European Parliament decides is irrelevant

Third, the relevant real issues are migration, rule of law and tax avoidance.

On migration, the issue is whether most member states can be moved to commit to re­distribu­ting migrants (deserving of humanitarian protection) between them. For this to happen, Malta’s interest needs to be represented in as many political groupings as possible – not so much to make the principled case, as much as to be able to twist arms in exchange for votes.

If this is your main issue, your most rational choice is to vote for at least one mainstream party, and hope the others do well too. Only mainstream parties have the heft to change things here.

The same rationale governs tax harmonisation. It is going to be a cross-party issue in the next European legislature. It is true that any important decision, under current rules, would be taken in Council, by national governments; and Malta has a veto. But the EP can affect the climate of opinion. 

If you think tax should remain a national prerogative, then the best result is actually to have like-minded Maltese MEPs in as many major groupings as possible.

If you believe the EP is blowing Malta’s rule of law issues out of all proportion, then you have nothing to fear from the PES. The Socialists do have rule of law on their manifesto but it’s Hungary and Poland that they have primarily in mind. In Malta, Frans Timmermans, the Socialist candidate for Commission President, endorsed Muscat.

Vote Labour in all tranquility. Beware of the Greens because Sven Giegold, one of the Muscat government’s strongest critics, is likely to be more influential in the next Parliament.

If, on the other hand, you believe that the EP has not done nearly enough on Malta’s rule of law, but are still hesitant to vote for one of the PN candidates, it’s likely that your dilemma is caused by an aversion to Delia.

In this case, what applies is the advice every voter, of whatever persuasion, should heed. You are not morally responsible for the interpretation of your vote, which depends on things you can’t control (like the overall results). 

You are only responsible for whether you vote, which candidate you vote for, and whose path to victory you make easier or more difficult.


This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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