The Malta Independent 27 January 2020, Monday

Cordial final BA debate between PL, PN leaders focuses on central themes of the campaign

Rebekah Cilia Wednesday, 22 May 2019, 22:00 Last update: about 9 months ago

Just a few days before the European and local council elections, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Leader of the Opposition, Adrian Delia went head-to-head in an unexpectedly calm debate by the Broadcasting Authority.

The central theme of the debate was the European Union, 15 years of experience and the future.



On the ever-present issue on abortion, Delia said that whilst the PN was clear on the issue the PL was not, since it agreed and supported the EU Socialist party manifesto. He noted that in black and white, the Socialist's manifesto includes the abortion to be made as a fundamental right.


Whilst he agreed with moderator, Mario Xuereb, that abortion cannot be imposed in Malta, due to an agreement made previously with the EU, he also said that the PL supports the European Commission presidential candidate, Frans Timmermans.

Timmermans had said that abortion should become a fundamental right, with Delia going on to explain that should abortion become a right in the EU "every person in our country will have a right to incite that right."

Muscat replied to this by saying that the PL has been part of the EU Socialist Party for the past 15 years and there was never an issue about whether Malta should introduce abortion or not. "This is a decision that will only be taken by the Maltese people."

He said that like his predecessors when Delia found his back to the wall, he invented an issue that does not exist. 


Foreigners in Malta

Speaking about the issue of foreigners in Malta, Muscat said that it is useless saying that the PN introduced Malta to the EU, although this is part of history, then uses foreigners coming to Malta as its main battle point.

"Seven out of ten foreigners come from the EU... Liberty of movement is a crucial point of the EU by which us Maltese can go to other countries. He wants that we go to other countries but they do not come here."

Delia explained that he was not moving the PN to the far-left of the political spectrum when during his campaign he spoke about the quality of foreigners coming to Malta. "When we speak about the larger number of foreigners in Malta, we are speaking about the growth of the economy because of the population."

Delia said he was not speaking about illegal immigration or racism but an economic model. "Zero tolerance to racism", Delia instead, "one argument has nothing to do with the other." He also noted that the economic model the PN is proposing is one of added value.

Regarding racism, Delia said that we have to see where such a culture is coming from. He also said that Muscat has spoken about pushbacks and used to speak badly of the fact that Delia was one of the lawyers that had signed a judicial protest against pushbacks.

In reply, Muscat said that if the economy was growing because of the population then Africa would be the richest place in the world since they have the largest population.

When asked about the carrying capacity of Malta, Muscat said that we cannot come to stage when we have to introduce a one-child policy so we cannot think this way. "Also, we should have asked this 15 years ago when we entered the EU when the principle of allowing people from the EU was introduced."


Campaign Issues

When questioned why the campaign has not been about the EU and why Muscat made it a choice about Delia and himself, he replied that "if it wasn't a choice between me and him why are we debating."

In reply to this Delia said he had no problem debating, in fact, had invited Muscat on many debates including the one on Xarabank.

Muscat said that infrastructure is one of the main principles of the manifesto, adding that the leader of the opposition is disappointed that the government have taken the responsibility of the roads from the local councils.

"I did not meet any mayor, from any area, from any party, that told me to leave the responsibility on the local councils."

Muscat did not specify when the housing units that have been promised will be ready but he said that they will be done, just like the power station was done when some said it would not, just like the Barts Medical School was done when some said it would remain a hole.

He also said that poverty is not a perception but that the government has worked on a number of social measures like increasing pensions and the minimum wage. He admitted it was still not enough but had the previous government worked on it we would not have this problem.

In a break from the generally cordial debate, Muscat confirmed that he agreed with all the Ministers and deputies he worked with, including Minister for Health Chris Fearne, something Muscat said Delia did not have the luxury of.

Regarding development and the environment said that "yes we could have been more sensitive," but that the most controversial applications of the past few years were on land that was introduced into development zones in 2006.

Whilst Delia said mistakes were made in the past, he added that we need to move forward. "If we are speaking about the environment a week before the elections it is like we are going to make green areas everywhere."


CoE draft report

Muscat also took aim at the credibility of the Dutch MP who was the rapporteur behind a damning Council of Europe report on Malta. He said the Dutch MP had peddled in conspiracy theories in the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukraine in 2014. It eventually turned out the theories were untrue.

Other reports like the Venice Commission did criticise some of Malta's system, Muscat noted but said that these have been in place since independence. "The commission did not criticise one law this government introduced."

On the subject, Delia said that democracy in Malta is under threat and the latest report from the Council of Europe proves this. He also noted that this report followed other reports by international institutions that harm Malta's reputation.

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