The Malta Independent 17 September 2019, Tuesday

The call to serve

Wednesday, 22 May 2019, 10:55 Last update: about 5 months ago

Ramon Bonett Sladden

A few days from now, voters are called to elect six individuals to occupy Malta’s allocated seats in the European Parliament. In order to carry out this task responsibly, voters must know the candidates. To this end, Life Network Foundation formulated a questionnaire and sent this to the candidates. The questionnaire was composed of four questions on four topics: abortion, surrogacy, euthanasia and freedom of conscience. Through this questionnaire, Life Network Foundation wanted to learn each candidate’s position on these matters in order that the electorate may be better informed.

The result of the questionnaire was as encouraging as it was disappointing. Results were disappointing in the sense that although a majority of candidates answered the questionnaire, there was a sizeable minority which failed to answer. However, results were encouraging in the sense that the majority of candidates answered in such a way as reassures voters that they would uphold the right to life from conception to natural death, would oppose surrogacy, which is profoundly damaging to women, and would uphold freedom of conscience.

 

The role of the European Parliament

Neither the European Parliament nor any other institution forming part of the European Union can impose abortion, surrogacy or euthanasia on Malta. If these are ever permitted within these islands, they can only be permitted by our MPs in Valletta. The same applies to freedom of conscience. This fundamental freedom cannot be abrogated by the European Parliament or by the European Union. Indeed, were the Union to attack this, it would be attacking its own Charter of Fundamental Rights. Accordingly, it is legally incorrect to claim that the European Parliament can force Malta to introduce abortion, surrogacy or euthanasia.

This being said, the European Parliament’s functions go further than sharing legislative power with the Commission. Just like national parliaments, the European Parliament has various committees and sub-committees. These subsidiary bodies formulate reports which are submitted to the entire Parliament for adoption or otherwise. Upon a vote, the report is either adopted or rejected. The European Parliament can also adopt resolutions which call upon a state or other body to do something or to refrain from doing something. Although these reports and resolutions are not binding, they place political pressure.

Members of the European Parliament who cherish life from conception to natural death would be ideally situated to provide critical pro-life perspectives to the drafters of reports and of resolutions. They bring pro-life perspectives which would otherwise go unheard. They could shepherd the drafting of such instruments in such a way as to ensure that the European Parliament truly carries out its task of representing all the people of Europe, from the very youngest to the oldest – first and foremost, by safeguarding the fundamental right to life.

In 2013, Portuguese MEP Edite Estrela drafted a report which recommended that abortion be made available across the European Union as a human rights and public health concern. All six Maltese MEPs declared their opposition to this report – some even in defiance of the official party line (at a European level). This clearly demonstrates the value of having MEPs who are truly in favour of the protection of all human life.

MEPs may also address questions to the Commission. For example, in 2017, Polish MEP Marek Jurek asked the Commission to comment on euthanasia in the Netherlands. Vytenis Andriukaitis, replying on behalf of the Commission, clearly stated that euthanasia is a matter for each member state to decide. This is yet another way pro-life MEPs can work – by holding the Commission and other institutions of the Union to account.

Life Network Foundation firmly believes that a group of Maltese MEPs who genuinely commit to safeguarding all human life from conception to natural death can do a great deal of good not only by defending Malta’s admirably tenacious pro-life stand as a nation, but also by being voices for life, influencing their colleagues along the way.

 

Holding parliamentarians to account

This is a good time to reflect on the fact that in various parliaments, including the European Parliament and the UK House of Commons, it is possible to track MEPs’ and MPs’ votes on every bill, report, resolution or other instrument. As votes are tracked, parliamentarians can be held accountable for the way they voted. Knowing the way one’s representative would have voted enables the voter to ask that person to justify the way he would have voted. If, for example, a candidate promises to vote in favour of something and when elected, votes against that same thing, the voter can ask the candidate why he did not honour his promise. However, in order for there to be this level of transparency domestically, there needs to be a system which records every vote electronically and which makes those voting records available to the public at no charge. It is high time that such a system be made available to the Maltese voter.

Of course, this is not to argue that candidates should vote solely according to their constituents’ wishes. The argument articulated by Edmund Burke in the Speech to the Electors of Bristol of 1774 still holds true. A legislator must not substitute his own conscience and his own convictions with the whims of his constituents. Were he to do so, he would betray, not serve, his constituents. A legislator is bound to listen to his constituents but ought not to be shackled by their opinions.

I was quite impressed that relative to the recent votes on Brexit in the House of Commons, there was enough publicly-available information to know the way each and every MP voted each time. Such transparency makes people better able to hold politicians to account. Instead of people having to retain photographs of their ballot papers in order to be able to beg favours from politicians, politicians would have to flaunt their voting records in order to persuade voters that they deserve re-election.

Various interest groups in the United States rank legislators according to their votes on particular issues and publish rankings. For example, a particular legislator whose voting record is sympathetic to fossil fuel use would earn a “D” or “E” rating from environmental NGOs. Another legislator whose voting record reflects commitment to renewable energy sources would earn an “A” or “B” rating from such NGOs. It is in voters’ interests to have politicians’ voting records made easily available to the public.

 

Human life as the foremost good

Life Network Foundation augurs that the final published results of its survey are used by voters to elect candidates who stand for the protection of human life from conception to natural death as well as for freedom of conscience. These are not the narrow interests of one organisation, but the common interest of all, as after all, we are equally human and thus, equally deserving of protection, irrespective of age.

Dr Ramon Bonett Sladden is a lawyer.

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