The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

‘My electoral mandate stays, and I will remain true to it’ – Roberta Metsola

Karl Azzopardi Sunday, 22 November 2020, 08:15 Last update: about 12 days ago

'I will use my new role to keep migration at the top of the EU’s agenda'

“My electoral mandate stays, and I will remain true to it,” newly elected First Vice President of the European Parliament (EP) Roberta Metsola said during an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday.

After being nominated for the post by the European People’s Party (EPP), which she forms part of, Metsola was elected as the First Vice President for the EP two weeks ago with a unanimous vote across all political parties, replacing Mairead McGuinness who became European Commissioner.

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The position is the second-highest position in the whole EP, after the President, and there are 13 other Vice Presidents who deal with different matters. She is the first Maltese MEP to become Vice President.

The Malta Independent on Sunday interviewed Metsola, who described what her role entails, how she will represent Malta, as well as her opinion on migration and the Moneyval evaluation, among other topics.

Would you have ever imagined that you would be holding this position when you started working in the EU?

I wouldn't have imagined holding this position a month ago! It was such an out of the blue opportunity which is proof that even a day is a long time in politics. It was a moonshot, but it happened somehow.

Did you not contest for the PN leadership race because you knew you were in the running for the post of First Vice President?

No, I had no idea about this. If you look at Phil Hogan's resignation date (26 August), it was towards the beginning of September, long after a difficult summer for the PN where I was involved in negotiations, discussions and self-reflections as to what was the best option for the party to avoid a very long, protracted leadership election.

It was precisely that consideration which led me to pave the way for an open race between Bernard Grech and Adrian Delia. And I think now the PN is slowly winning back votes while projecting itself as an alternative government with an alternative economic and political vision.

 

What does the role entail exactly, and what will your responsibilities be?

The clearest role I have is to replace the President for everything he is not either present or available for. This ranges from meetings with the European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen or with our US counterparts, as I am responsible for US relations.

I am also responsible for Brexit where we are looking for some kind of clarity by the end of the year and then I deal with religious minorities which is something that the EP and the EU overall take very much to heart because of the very intercultural dialogue that is at the very core of what makes us European.

Apart from this, I will continue to work on media freedom and I also do not want to lose sight of migration and the concerns it poses for Malta.

I will still be a member of the committees that I am a part of, including the civil liberties and migration committees as well as the environment and public health ones. It is important for Malta to have members in these committees which is why I insisted on keeping them.

I am also looking forward to having more time to work on legislation now!

Whereas before I was coordinating entire committees, I can now focus on individual legislative instruments.

 

How will you better represent Malta through this position?

This is an institutional position, but I am elected to it in the name of the EPP of which the PN is a member. So, my electoral mandate stays, and I remain true to it.

This means that every vote I take, every decision I make cannot, in any way, let me forget who elected me and who I represent here.

Of course, there will be a distinction to be made between when I represent the Parliament or when I preside over political sessions, but this will not impact the way I vote individually when I speak for the preliminary, when I speak as an MEP and when I draft legislation as an MEP.

Everything else in terms of constituency work and representation will top anything I used to do before; I will still continue to make sure that I have Malta at the top of every decision I make and every word I say.

 

One of the most pressing issues that the EU and Malta itself has been dealing with is migration. Now that you hold a relatively top post, how do you intend to work on this issue?

I think migration transcends all issues. I have contested four EP elections now and in all four, migration was at the foremost of concerns of Maltese and Gozitans. With regard to the other 28 member states (including UK because it participated in elections), 27 of them had migration as their top concern (excluding UK which prioritised Brexit). This is a signal in itself for different reasons.

You have people who have genuine security concerns, people who are unhappy with how their government's managed it, people who think the EU has abandoned them and people who do not think that their country should handle the situation by themselves depending where they are geographically or politically. This can never be taken off the table.

I will continue to use my role as First Vice President to keep migration at the top of the EP agenda. I have already spoken with President David Maria Sassoli about this and we had meetings with Von der Leyen and the German Presidency in order to make sure that by the end of December we will have a political decision that is stronger than we have ever had before. If we do not succeed now, we never will.

 

Do you think you'll be able to do that by the end of December?

Because of the influx in 2015, Malta triggered the need and responsibility of the German Presidency, specifically Angela Merkel, to come up with realistic proper solutions that involve all member states which have no option to veto it. This is to be commended as it is happening now.

After the German Presidency, we have the Portuguese Presidency coming up, which has placed migration at the top of the agenda as well. So, this is why I am quite optimistic as we have two back-to-back presidencies who want to talk about it.

 

If Malta doesn’t get a good Moneyval evaluation, what effect will this have on Malta in the EU?

Let's start with the impact on Malta. I understand there are a lot of changes being put into place; laws are being changed, appointment processes are being revised or improved and on paper the government is addressing those recommendations because the impact of such a report would be catastrophic.

What we have seen on the Financial Services scale, on banking and on expat companies trying to set base in Malta is a sense of discouragement as the scrutiny is so high that it makes it hard to invest in Malta which effects hundreds of employments in the longer term.

 

How can we tackle this? This is not about PN versus PL.

It is in our interest to make sure that Malta, in implementing the recommendations, passes those tests. That means that even if we have the best laws on the table, if they are not enforced, we are back to square one.

We can have the change of the Police Commissioner and Attorney General but when is our justice system going to be reformed which is so long overdue? When is our political appointment system going to be addressed properly? When will our Parliament become full time so that you don't have part-time politicians? When are political parties going to be state funded? When is our political scenario going to change so much to regain trust again?

We do it with seriousness, credibility and with better standards across the board. Even when we are taking about environmental standards. These are things that need a bit more in-depth thinking across the board.

What we need is a government that looks at reforms and implements them properly and not inaugurate a half-tarmacked piece of road with a billboard and a press conference. And not insult the intelligence of citizens over thinking that the pandemic is over just because the Prime Minister wants to go off to Sicily every weekend.

This is a reality we are living in and we need to be grown up enough to admit mistakes, admit that things need improvement and then we move on and have proper discussions. 

 

Will Malta lose its vote in the European Council if we fail Moneyval assessment?

These are different processes. Loss of vote on an institutional level requires the commencement of an Article 7 procedure, and God forbid that an Article 7 procedure is triggered! This is why it is important that when we criticise or comment or question.

For us that would mean that, not only will we lose our vote, but we no longer receive funds that so many individuals, NGOs, stakeholders, pilots, farmers and fishermen on our islands need. If the government will really not pay attention to that, then we risk what we should really consider a catastrophe not only economically but even politically in our country…

 

…and do you think this is a possibility?

I think all of the alarm bells have been rung and the government needs to heed them ASAP.

 

Finally, are you seeing this achievement as a step towards getting a higher EU post?

I've been in this position for what? 5 days? In politics the future is something you should not speculate about. I am super proud of having reached this position, as I said I didn't think I would be here a month ago, so I am going to treasure this position day-by-day and make sure that each day I make a difference in the lives of people in our country.

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