The Malta Independent 22 July 2019, Monday

Watch: George Vella - Who is Malta's new President of the Republic?

Rachel Attard and Albert Galea Thursday, 4 April 2019, 07:43 Last update: about 5 months ago

Today will see the official appointment of the 10th President of the Republic of Malta, and the successor to Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. 

Addressing Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that, “In George Vella’s case, I have no doubt he is the best person to be our country’s head of state at this particular moment” before going on to laud his political experience and unfailing integrity.

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These are strong words of praise, coming from the Prime Minister no less; but who is Malta’s new president and what is his story?

George W. Vella was born on 24 April 1942 in Zejtun.  After getting his secondary education at De La Salle College in Cottonera, he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery in what was back then still the Royal University of Malta.

He was exceptionally active in the student activism scene, and served as the Exchange Officer and later the President of the Malta Medical Students Association (MMSA) between 1962 and 1964.  During this period, he was also an Executive Board Member of the International Federation of Medical Student Associations (IFMSA), and attended various medical student conferences in Oslo and Gdansk.

George Vella, left, with then Labour leader Alfred Sant and deputy leader Joseph Brincat (right)

Video top: Alenka Falzon

He graduated from the Royal University of Malta as a Doctor in Medicine and Surgery in 1964, and moved straight into working as a houseman in St. Luke’s Hospital, where he stayed for two years.

In 1966 he then became the Medical Officer at the Malta Drydocks and was also a Demonstrator in Physiology and Biochemistry at the University of Malta’s Medical School.  He remained working at the Drydocks till 1973 and remained a demonstrator till 1975.

From 1973 onwards, Vella became a General Practitioner – something which he kept on doing for 40 years, till 2013.  He also continued his education, receiving a certificate in General Aviation Medicine from the College of Aviation Medicine in Farnborough in the UK.  He received this certificate in 1977, after which he worked with Air Malta as a Consultant in Aviation Medicine – a role which he held till 1990.  Later in his career, in 2003, Vella also began to specialise in family medicine.

George Vella is however more than a doctor; he is also a veteran politician who has seen Malta change before his very eyes as the years passed by.

He was a general election candidate for the first time in 1976, when he contested for the Labour Party in his home third district.  He was not elected, but by January 1978 he was in Parliament anyway, following a by-election within his district.  He was subsequently re-elected in the 1981 elections, and up until 1987 he held various roles in different entities.  In fact, he was a member of the Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, (CLRAE) and a Substitute Member in the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly as well.  In 1982, he was the Rapporteur to the CLRAE on Marine Pollution from Maritime Sources, and between January and May of 1987 he was Malta’s permanent representative at the Council of Europe.

George Vella (right) with then Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat ay the old Parliament building

Despite all this, he was not re-elected in the 1987 elections, and would have to wait another five years to the next set of general elections – in 1992 – to re-take his seat in Parliament.  In 1992, Vella turned down a nomination to be the leader of the Labour Party, instead becoming the party’s deputy leader for parliamentary affairs – a post which he held till 2003 – and the Opposition’s spokesperson on foreign affairs.

He was once again elected in 1996 and, with the Labour Party now in government, Vella became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs.  During his stint he also served as the Honorary President of the Second Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference, but his time on the governing side of the House was cut short early, when the government – under Alfred Sant – collapsed.

Labour subsequently lost the 1998, 2003 and 2008 elections, but Vella was elected all three times and all three times was the Opposition’s spokesperson for Foreign Affairs.  He served as Party Representative to the International Parliamentary Union, and once Malta entered the EU in 2004, his remit as a spokesperson expanded to include European Affairs specifically as well.

The Labour Party took back power in 2013, and Vella – who was elected from both the third and the fifth district – became Minister for Foreign Affairs.  This proved to be his last term in office; just prior to the 2017 general election, Vella announced his retirement from active parliamentary life.

Still, in 2018 he was chosen by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth as one of eight ‘Eminent Persons’ from the Commonwealth to prepare a report on the ‘Governance of the Commonwealth Secretariat’.

All in all, Vella has led many delegations abroad, and attended numerous conferences and seminars, as well as delivered speeches, mostly on the environment and on foreign affairs, in Strasbourg, Aachen, Tripoli, Palermo, Tunis, Marseilles, Cagliari, London, Brussels, Rome, Paris, Cairo, Lille, Damascus, Moscow, Marrakech and more

As Minister of Foreign Affairs in the 2013 legislature, Vella met numerous political personalities, and made official visits to China, Italy, Belgium, Tunisia, Australia, the U.K., Sweden, Greece, Germany, and Libya and Egypt, amongst others, besides leading delegations to conferences and meetings in numerous countries including Portugal, Colombia, Spain, and India.

Furthermore, he participated in organising and chairing sessions during the EU-Africa Summit (2015), Conference of Heads of Government of the Commonwealth (CHOGM) (2015), as well as during Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union (January to June 2017).       

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, besides regular monthly Council meetings in Brussels, he made numerous official visits to European countries, Gulf Countries, Western Balkans, North African and Middle East countries, besides China, and chaired numerous meetings with representatives of the European Parliament, Council and Commission, as well as Association Council meetings with non EU countries on behalf of the Vice President of the Commission and High Representative Federica  Mogherini.

He has travelled extensively to countries including Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Sri Lanka, and Mongolia, and he accompanied the President of the Republic on official state visits to Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Albania, Algeria, Montenegro and the Vatican.

George Vella with, from left, then Labour deputy leader Charles Mangion and European Socialist leader Martin Shultz

Over the years, Vella contributed hundreds of articles to the Maltese press, and foreign publications, in Maltese and in English on various topics as seen from the political perspective. His main political interests center round Mediterranean, Euro Mediterranean relations, the Middle East and Gulf Countries, with special attention to Libya.

In his personal life, Vella is married to Miriam nee Grima and together they had three children: Claire, Elaine, and George Jr.  He also now has seven grandchildren.  His pastimes include reading, music, philately, Melitensia and a spot of antique bargain hunting.

Vella will be officially appointed as the 10th President of the Republic of Malta today, after both the government and the PN voted in favour of his appointment last Tuesday.  Only PD abstained, in protest against the vote not being subject to a two-thirds majority.

Another interesting trivia point is the fact that Vella will today become the second member of the medical profession to take responsibility of the highest position in the country. The first and only doctor to be named President so far was Censu Tabone, who served the country as its head of state between 1989 and 1994.  Since then, all Presidents have hailed from the legal profession.

Vella will be officially appointed today, in a ceremony that starts at St John’s Co-Cathedral at around 10am. Follow our extensive coverage on our portal www.independent.com.mt

George Vella with then Labour leader Alfred Sant
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