The Malta Independent 22 July 2019, Monday

Malta’s MEPs talk about EU top jobs, environmental and social issues in first public discussion

Friday, 12 July 2019, 19:08 Last update: about 9 days ago

In the first public discussion organised by the EP Office in Malta after the European elections, MEPs Roberta Metsola, Alex Agius Saliba and Josianne Cutajar covered a whole range of issues from the EU top jobs package and the Spitzenkandidaten controversy, to the living income goal and the balance between interests as diverse as presented by Birdlife and FKNK.

New MEPs Josianne Cutajar  and  Alex Agius Saliba, in this introducton to the public as new MEPs, shared the reasons why they decided to run for elections: to bring Maltese people closer to Brussels and a belief that the European Parliament is the most democratic institution within the European Union respectively. The more experienced MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa (the latter through a recorded message) emphasised the need for public discussions to keep up the exchange with citizens and media and build on the many sectoral interests candidates are presented with when campaigning in the 'most democratic type of electoral system that allows people to elect their candidates directly and not just as names on a party list' as MEP Metsola put it.

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The MEPs noted the increase in cross-party voting, and whilst the traditional political allegiances are still held by part of the electorate, they noted a growing trend for voters to assess the candidates individually and to identify the positions they take on European issues.

Big on the European agenda currently is the nomination by the EU Council  of Ursula von der Leyen as the next European Commission president after Jean-Claude Juncker, despite criticism of her nomination partly based her not being one of the lead candidates for the job during the European elections campaign.

'The EPP supported Manfred Weber, its lead candidate, but will support von der Leyen as she meets all the requisites for the post', MEP Casa said. MEP Metsola criticised the Council's disregard of the Spitzenkandidaten process, but stated she will support the nominee as part of the top jobs package proposed and because delaying the appointment of the Commission president would mean no new Commission for months, holding up the EU's legislative work. 

MEP Cutajar called for more discussion of the Spitzenkandidaten process, whereas MEP Agius Saliba, who sees the process as a motivator for people to vote, noted he was yet to be convinced by Ms von der Layen 'who presented some ideas on environmental issues but appeared weak on migration and evaded a number of questions' when she met the S&D group this week. He will decide on his vote next Tuesday after the debate with Ms von der Leyen in plenary, as 'Parliament is an independent institution and will make up its own mind'.

MEPs presented the European Parliament Committees they have chosen to be part of and what they expect to be tackling: from consumer affairs to employment, connectivity and migration, the latter being the main concern for Maltese citizens based on Eurobarometer polls.

MEPs want to see responsibility sharing on migration, with MEP Metsola emphasising her 'strongly-held position for returns in cases of illegality and regularisation for genuine asylum seekers'. Alex Agius Saliba will be following the tradition of Maltese MEPs' active work in the consumer affairs committee, including former MEP Marlene Mizzi, working also on greening the economy. Josianne Cutajar aims to work for this also within the industry committee, as well as on transport and regional issues. David Casa aims to build on the work-life balance directive for more work on social Europe in the employment affairs committee.

The need for a living income was applauded when raised by Caritas in the discussion, with MEPs agreeing that a minimum wage across the EU would not be feasible but a system to determine what is needed for a decent living wage should be worked on. MEPs also supported the need for more education and for integration in society to be a two-way street. Environmental challaneges achievements - such as work on emissions cutting and the single-use plastics ban -  and the need for a rule of law fitness-check mechanism for all Member States equally were also discussed.

Birdlife called for MEPs to push the Commission presidential-nominee on environmental issues, for pressure on the Commission for enforcement of laws, and to tackle CAP as main culprit for biodiversity loss. FKNK differed on enforcement being a weak point, and called on MEPs to join the hunting intergroup at the European Parliament to safeguard the hunters' interests. MEP Cutajar said balance can be found, MEPs Metsola and Agius Saliba agreed that there can be no promises to amend the Birds' directive, but Metsola noted that the Environment Committee also deals with related issues, whereas Agius Saliba stated he would work for the protection of Maltese traditions and whilst not against trapping, is definitely against a return to a situation of lawlessness. MEPs also expressed support for the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and environmental issues.

The Chamber of Architects got the Members' support for the promotion of higher quality architecture and more environmentally-sustainable buildings with MEP Metsola pledging to carry on work done by former MEP Zammit Dimech.

The discussion was held at Europe House, and moderated by the Editor-in-Chief of The Malta Independent Rachel Attard. All MEPs were invited, with MEPs Dalli and Sant sending regrets due to prior commitments.

The acting Head of the EP Office Anna Zammit Vella, launching the discussion,  emphasised the increase in voter turnout across Europe for the first time in 40 years and a new Parliament with over 60 % of new MEPs.  The EP's This Time I'm Voting campaign is now re-launched as the community platform www.together.eu and in Maltese www.flimkien.eu.


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