The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

Better representation, better results

Josianne Cutajar Sunday, 21 July 2019, 09:17 Last update: about 28 days ago

Last May, Europeans headed to the ballot box to form a new European Parliament in the midst of an increasingly murky political climate. The results of those elections speak volumes about our continent’s current state, as well as what the electorate expects from its representatives in Brussels.

The European Parliament’s class of 2019 can be defined as different on multiple fronts. Of the 751 members, for instance, a whopping 435 – including yours truly – are new faces in the institution. The average age of the European Parliament is now 50, with the youngest MEP being just 21 years old. This augurs well for a better representation of younger generations, as well as the introduction of new ideas and a new way of doing politics.

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A successful democratic exercise should result in a European Parliament that looks like Europe. While we’re not quite there yet, we are inching closer. Over and above age differences and a variety of social backgrounds, a record 40.4 per cent of MEPs are women. A female President, Iratxe Garcia Perez, leads the Socialists and Democrats, my political family within the European Parliament. It is also highly likely that, for the very first time, women will be leading both the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Achieving gender parity is not about numbers and statistics, but about a diversity of experience and perspective that leads to better policy and law-making.

The growing equal representation at a European level also gives me hope for better representation in our own Parliament, which is still lagging behind in this area. In 2019, introducing positive measures to break the patriarchal trends plaguing Maltese politics should be a given. We need to identify the stumbling blocks still hampering women from running for – and becoming – representatives. It takes courage to address issues which   have become ingrained in our way of doing politics, but it is a necessary step towards representation that will benefit our nation in countless ways.  

Change can only happen through bold actions. It is an unequivocal fact that, without districts in European elections, the Maltese electorate has steadily elected an equal number of women and men. Could it be that the district system makes it less possible to do away with parochial politics and choices made according to group or kin ties? Does the district’s fierce internal competition, coupled with its limitation to district candidates, leave women behind?

If a vast European electorate can place its representation in the hands of women and men alike, then so can the Maltese. I remain convinced that, given an equal playing field, we can witness a more diverse Parliament enriched by the pouring in of new perspectives.

New perspectives have also featured prominently in this year’s European elections. Considerable changes were felt in the composition of political groups within the European Parliament. Smaller groups have gained considerable ground, making coalitions and alliances essential for any initiatives to go through, where such alliances between differing ideologies would have been unheard of. Positively, though, Eurosceptic and far-right groups have made fewer gains than expected.

The European electorate’s message is therefore loud and clear: the EU needs to move away from its tribalism and internal quibbling. Our focus for this legislature needs to be on the core issues that affect individuals on a day to day basis, be it employment conditions, civil liberties or environmental issues. Europeans want a European system that works for them. They want efficiency, competency and support, and this is what us MEPs must ensure.

The electorate’s vote can also be interpreted as a vote of hope and trust: despite the growing sense of political ambiguity, voter turnout increased, and pro-European politicians held their ground over Euro sceptics. While we are not out of the woods yet, the future for Europe is not looking as dark as some predicted.

The electorate has given us another chance to restore the European dream – let us not waste it.

Josianne Cutajar is a Labour MEP
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