The Malta Independent 17 September 2019, Tuesday

PN ‘split’ – I have not had anything to worry about for a while – Adrian Delia

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 19 May 2019, 09:30 Last update: about 5 months ago

Opposition Leader Adrian Delia is finding greater cooperation from his Parliamentary Group, and hints that the PN’s self-inflicted wounds are healing. He also tells Neil Camilleri that Malta’s no-abortion clause could become irrelevant if abortion becomes a right in Europe. The Nationalist Party Leader also says his real test will be the general election.

Historically in this country, elections serve as a reprimand to governments but it seems that, this time around, it will likely be the Opposition to get a warning. How much weight do you give these surveys and do they indicate that your ‘New Way’ is not working?

It might be imprudent to try to analyse these surveys when we are so close to the most important survey of all – the election result.

While, a few weeks ago, surveys might have been indicators of voting intentions, I place more importance on people’s concerns. I take a look at these concerns as expressed in the surveys to see if they tally with what people are telling us on the ground.

I agree with the statement that elections that are not general elections send a message to the government, but in order to analyse that message we first have to see what the result will be.

The most important thing for now is that our candidates meet as many people as possible. Over the last few months I have visited over 200 small businesses or shops. These meetings and people’s experiences shape the political direction we take. What they tell me helps me form an opinion, which I then discuss to see if I am interpreting things correctly.

For example, how can I tally what the government is saying about the surplus with what businesses on the ground are telling us about the difficulties they are facing.

I think these are important elections that will not change the government or the Prime Minister. Their strategic importance is that they will elect the local councils and MEPs, who truly make a difference in people’s lives.

I have focused mainly on the issues of abortion and taxation. I have been trying to help people understand that the manifestos of the two largest political groupings in the EP affect us all.

 

You are being accused of scaremongering, particularly on abortion. We have a special clause that says that we have a say over abortion, and all major parties in Malta say they are not in favour of abortion.

If you vote for the PL, as part of the Socialist group, you are endorsing their manifesto, which calls for abortion to become a right. The PL has signed that manifesto, which means that it agrees with it.

 

Endorsing a manifesto that, among many other things include a reference to abortion is one thing, but why are you saying that this will mean that abortion will be introduced in Malta? We cannot be forced.

This is a question of logic. Frans Timmermans wants abortion to become a right. If it becomes a right, any Maltese citizen can file a case at the European Court of Human Rights to invoke that right. So far we cannot do this, but it will become possible if abortion becomes a right in Europe.

 

So are you saying that our clause will no longer remain valid, or that it will be overridden?

Yes, so to speak, but I do not with to be too technical so that people understand the argument.

Take the right to enjoyment of your property. There was the classic case of the Paola Band Club. The owner decided that he wanted the tenants to vacate the property. He was not covered by Maltese law but he took the case to Europe and won it because he had that right at EU level and that was supreme.

Now, we know in what direction this government is heading. It has removed the protection for the unborn child and the definition of mother and father from Maltese Law. In our electoral manifesto we are clear on our stand on abortion, but the socialists are saying something different. And the PL has signed that manifesto.

 

So do you not believe Joseph Muscat when he says he is against abortion?

First of all, I have not heard him say that. But I have heard him say that he fully backs Frans Timmermans, who wants to introduce abortion as a right. Did Muscat say that he supports Timmermans on everything but abortion? I have not heard him say that, either.

 

The PM has said that the government does not have a mandate to introduce abortion.

Joseph Muscat said that I am ridiculing the argument. When we were due to meet on the subject earlier this week, during a scheduled debate on embryo protection in Parliament, he adjourned Parliament. He does not really want to discuss the issue. There was no reason to cancel Parliament.

 

There are some who say that if the PN suffers a bigger defeat in the upcoming elections, you should step down as party leader. Why do you feel that you should stay on, regardless of the result?

I did not enter politics because I had some right. I came from the private sector and offered to take part in a democratic election, being elected by a majority. This gave me a mandate to lead the party until the next general election. I believe that I have a duty to serve that mandate and to lead the Nationalist Party in its best possible shape at the next general election. That is my mandate and I will not back off or chicken away from it.

These elections have come just 18 months after I became leader; it is the first time that all local council elections will be held together and it is also my first election.

This election is not about Adrian Delia, it is about electing representatives of the parties, about what they stand for and about what they are proposing. And we have not stopped coming out with proposals.

 

You are inviting the PM to face you in another debate, but you haven’t really been accessible to journalists during this campaign. You haven’t taken part in any press conferences. What is the reason behind this?

We came up with a very simple plan; we did the press conferences to give space to our candidates, because we are not ashamed of them. But I am speaking every day at our activities. I am not absent.

 

Yes, but not at press conferences where journalists can ask questions.

If there ever was a politician who is accessible to journalists it is me. I never refuse to answer any questions. I stay there and let them ask. Whenever I received questions I answered them, but our campaign model does not revolve around me being accessible to journalists.

With that said, I immediately accepted to do this interview, for example. This week I even told a One News journalist that I was willing to be interviewed on the Labour Party station.

First of all, I have nothing to hide. Secondly, why would I be in politics if I am not willing to be scrutinised? Thirdly, it makes sense for me to be interviewed so that our message gets across to a wider audience.

 

The Prime Minister told us (in an interview also being published today) that he is expecting both parties to win three EP seats. Do you agree with this prediction or is the PM saying it so that more PL supporters go out to vote?

I don’t speculate. The PM keeps saying Labour is the underdog, which I think is highly inappropriate since the PL won by such a large margin less than two years ago. Labour has limitless funds. It uses government budgets to subsidise its political agenda.

Rather than speculate, I try to work harder, be clearer and try to be more persuasive because I honestly think that this country needs a stronger Opposition and a better representation from the Opposition in Europe. We joined the EU not only for the funds and opportunities but also to have a better counter balance. How can we have that if we have fewer seats?

 

In a recent speech you referred to the troubles of the 1980s. This does not appeal to young people, who do not remember those times and are simply not interested. So are you worried that you are losing the older generations?

Ninety per cent of what I say is forward-looking, critical but not destructive. This is what makes me different from other politicians. Maybe it’s because I do not come from a life of political entrenchment. I come from the private sector, where I would analyse the problem before giving advice. But to do that I need to see what precedents there are.

We cannot forget where we came from. Even with the campaign, we need to see what the government is saying, then analyse it and then start offering solutions. Our duty as an Opposition is to criticise, propose and give hope in the form of an alternative.

One cannot forget, for example, that socialist governments closed down schools. Now they are failing to invest in new ones, which is tantamount to the same thing. That is why we draw a parallel, to show that history is repeating itself.

Or take the justice sector. Before, they used to destroy the courts. Now they are making countless political or nepotistic appointments.

 

You insist on referring to the government as the ‘socialist government’, yet you also say that this government is anything but socialist. Is this not inconsistency?

It’s not inconsistent, and let me tell you why. We are using the term ‘socialist’ because we are speaking in the context of the European Parliament elections, and the PL forms part of the socialist group. At the same time we are highlighting what the socialist manifesto contains.

Truly, the PL is not faithful to the principles of socialism, because this government has abandoned the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable. Is it acceptable for a socialist Prime Minister to say that we have a problem with pensions because people are living longer? This is an anathema of the first degree. And how can you have a PM that says he is pro-business when all small enterprises are not doing well? How is it acceptable to keep importing foreign labour when this is pushing down the salaries of our young people?

 

There is some controversy over a PN billboard on cancer. Some have said that it is insensitive or insulting. What do you say to that?

I think it’s a very positive message, a message of encouragement. We invited Manfred Weber, who could be the next President of the European Commission, who said that Europe has the resources, the people and the funds to win the fight against cancer but lacks the political will to do so. That’s not offensive, it’s a message of hope.

We have already presented 30 proposals, among them investment in research and development and the sharing of information. Cancer afflicts 25 per cent of all families. Early and more extended screening can increase the chances of survival by 87 per cent.

If we have offended anyone, I apologise from the bottom of my heart. But the images we used are positive ones. And, also, I’ve met cancer patients and survivors, and they want to get that message across. We are putting cancer care at the top of the national agenda. We are pushing, as politicians, such a positive message: let’s work together to beat cancer, rather than a negative message ‘an eye for an eye’.

We have spoken about other conditions too, such as fibromyalgia and mental illness. These are issues that people talk to us about. So should we not talk about them?

 

Earlier you spoke about Party memberships. But it seems that the PN is finding it difficult to attract candidates. There are only four PN candidates for Qormi, one of Malta’s biggest localities. What’s the story there?

To be very honest, it’s not easy to find people. Let me speak about myself. I entered politics to do something for my country. I am here to do the best I can but there are those who just want to attack you from everywhere, sometimes for things you didn’t even do.

It’s definitely not for the money, particularly local councils. Politics is one of the worst paid jobs, unless you’re corrupt, which makes you a criminal.

It’s not easy to ask people to give their time, expose themselves to ridicule and have their family attacked.

We have around 300 candidates, but yes, some towns presented challenges. However, I feel that the quality of the candidates is more important than the number. I am very happy with the group of candidates we have, which includes a lot of young people.

 

What about the PN split: has it healed?

There have not been many instances when I wanted to take a decision and I was not at liberty to do so, or where we had set some targets but did not find cooperation. The PN is a mosaic of ideas, it is not a dictatorship.

We might sometimes have councillors saying that they do not agree with some position the Party has taken and we do not stop them from declaring their opinions –  in fact we encourage them. There is liberty to debate.

 

But the debate sometimes takes place on Facebook…

I do not have problem with debate, but I do with insults. Debate is good. I’d rather have debate and this internal clash of ideas than non-participation, or people being yes-men. I’d rather have more participants, even publicly, than have a few people deciding between themselves behind closed doors.

There is no division to talk about in the sense of the abilities of the Party leadership. We talk and take the best decisions for the Party. I have immense support from the Party structures and the candidates.

 

But do you have the same level of support from the Parliamentary Group?

Many people think that the Parliamentary Group is the Party. It is not. The Party has the administrative and executive committees – those are its organs as per statute. MPs are elected to discuss laws in Parliament. Yes, they are part of the Party but the leadership, the executive and administrative committees run, the day-to-day operations of the Party.

What I can say is that I have been finding greater help and participation from the Parliamentary Group with every passing week. Obviously, every leader has to establish a relationship with the different members, but I have not had anything to worry about for a while.  

 

The party had launched an internal investigation into MP Herman Schiavone over the Yorgen Fenech meeting. What stage has it reached?

I think Herman Schiavone did the right thing to call for an investigation and offer his suspension.  We were very transparent about the entire process and appointed a board to look into the issue.

It is not concluded yet but I cannot go into those matters as I would be accused of doing what the government is doing – hijacking the institutions.

What we are doing is very different to the way in which the government acted when two prominent members admitted opening companies in Panama.

 

Why isn’t there an investigation into Kristy Debono, who also attended that meeting?

Because it was clear from Herman Schiavone’s own declaration that the positions are different. I think we acted in the most transparent and calm manner and we are now allowing the investigation to take place.

 

Will the outcome of this investigation be made public?

There was a decision by the Administrative Committee, the Board was appointed and it will now report back. We will see from there. It’s not something which, in my mind, is controversial at all. There is a process, it will be carried out and then we will take it from there.

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