The Malta Independent 23 May 2024, Thursday
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Joseph Muscat’s legacy is a strong one, despite shortcomings, ‘which were addressed’ – Cyrus Engerer

Semira Abbas Shalan Tuesday, 21 March 2023, 10:16 Last update: about 2 years ago

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s legacy is a strong one, despite the shortcomings on certain issues, PL MEP Cyrus Engerer said, adding that these ‘shortcomings’ have been addressed, and the country is moving forward.

The Malta Independent spoke to Engerer on various matters occurring in last week’s plenary session in Strasbourg’s European Parliament, where MEPs from all over Europe discussed and voted on several legislative proceedings on significant matters in the European Union.

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Engerer was known to be close to Muscat while he was in office. In light of the scandals, deals, as well as the recent court annulment of the three hospitals’ concession, Engerer was asked if his views on Muscat have changed.

“I think Muscat’s legacy is a strong one for Malta, with regards to civil rights, huge economic reform, social issues, all very strong points which had us moving forward,” Engerer said. He said that Muscat has managed to save the country’s economy after Malta was undergoing large deficit procedures in 2012.

“He [Muscat] himself has said that on certain issues, there were shortcomings, but those shortcomings have been addressed, and we are moving forward as a country to strengthen our democracy, institutions and functions,” Engerer said.

He added that the EU Commission, the Venice Commission as well as the Council of Europe have said that Malta is on the right track, and Engerer will continue to work on convincing his colleagues that during the past months and years, Malta has made major changes in its judicial system and democracy.

“I will continue to work to ascertain that Malta has a strong democracy with functional institutions. That is what we have today,” he said.

Engerer was asked on his opinion on the infamous abortion bill, where a majority of Maltese people are opposing the controversial amendments to the law, saying that government is trying to introduce abortion into the country.

“No, government is not trying to introduce abortion. The amendment we have, which is there to guarantee the life of the woman, or her health, if it is in grave jeopardy, is very different to what we understand by abortion,” he said.

Engerer continued that abortion entails a woman or a couple who have decided they want to terminate their pregnancy because they do not want their child.

“When it comes to the amendment government wants to introduce, we are speaking of women or couples who do want their child, but unfortunately, due to health, of life threatening matters, they need to terminate their pregnancy. It is there that I make this distinction,” Engerer explained.

“I am fully behind Prime Minister Robert Abela and his government in the amendment they have proposed, and I look forward to seeing it come into place to make sure that doctors and professionals can save lives, and make sure that the health of all women is ascertained,” Engerer said.

When pressed to comment on the “health” part of the amendment, which is what most concerns the public, paving the way for possible abuses, Engerer said that according to surveys, the majority of the public is against abortion in itself, not the amendment, while appealing for Maltese people to trust in our medical professionals.

“Let’s trust medical professionals and forget the biases each of us may have, either way of the spectrum. It is up to them to decide at that moment in time whether the condition of the mother would be a grave one, putting her health in jeopardy,” Engerer said, giving an example of cancer, where pregnancy could accelerate its spread through the woman’s body, making it difficult for doctors to treat after her term has ended.

“This is not something for yourself, or myself, or other people to decide. This should be in the hands of medical professionals,” he said.

Engerer was rapporteur on a report on the revision and extension of the Market Stability Reserve (MSR), which aims at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while improving stability in prices under the EU Emissions in Trading Systems scheme (ETS).

The Commission concluded, that, in order to avoid a surplus of allowances and a weakening of the ETS, the continuation of the current measures until 2030 is the most favourable solution, with the minimum amount of allowances to be placed into the reserve of 200 million allowances.

Asked on the importance of this extension, Engerer said that it is crucial in order to ensure stability at a time when the world is experiencing rising prices, coming from Russia’s aggression on Ukraine.

“We needed to make sure we have price stability when it comes to emissions, not only because of the current crisis, but also because we want to achieve the bigger ambition and targets we have for the environment, and the fight against climate change,” he said.

Engerer continued that the MSR is one of the tools which will help achieve environmental and climate ambitions at EU level, but also to make sure that the EU is energy independent from Russia.

“If we’re independent from Russia, it means that we will also focus on renewable energy generation, which is where we want to reach,” Engerer said.

The plenary in Strasbourg included a discussion on a resolution which demands EU countries to gradually increase their Minimum Income Schemes.

Asked about this, Engerer said that it is fundamental for every European citizen to be covered by a minimum income scheme and that our pensioners are guaranteed an income which is above poverty line.

The adequate minimum income would consist of cash payments given to households to bridge the gap to a level of income which ensures the right to a decent life, particularly in the current challenges faced around the world, he said.

“This is extremely important especially when one considers that over half of EU countries' schemes did not manage to ensure a minimum standard of living. In fact, less than 50% of households which are considered as falling under extreme poverty, are receiving the required support,” Engerer said.

On legislation for adequate minimum wages in the EU, Engerer explained that last September, the EU Parliament adopted the law which establishes minimum requirements for the adequacy of statutory minimum wages under national law and collective agreements, while also providing for enhanced access of workers to minimum wage protection.

Engerer said that a basic minimum wage should be adopted across all of the EU, standing up for basic worker rights. This should be calculated depending on the country’s GDP, as each member state has a different reality.

“We need to make sure that this scheme happens everywhere, and we cannot tolerate abuses, such as we are seeing in a number of member states and even in Malta, where are there employers who decide to abuse of third-country national workers,” he said.

Engeger said that the working conditions of all workers must be improved, with no room for discrimination and inequality.

MEPs have also discussed the issue of migration, appealing for solidarity and responsibility sharing in Europe, given that many Mediterranean countries have had to take the brunt of migrants coming from North Africa alone.

At the same time, the EU has effectively granted temporary asylum from the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive to Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion. Proving that Europe is capable of suddenly relocating millions of migrants, Engerer said that migration is not a reality solely for frontline member states, but a reality the EU is facing.

“It is unacceptable that for eight whole years, the Council of the European Union has been stuck on migration issues, while at the same time, the EU needed more and more workers. Everyone started getting workers from across the world, while forgetting the people asking for asylum or escaping persecution,” Engerer said.

He said that the longer the Council takes to agree to put forth a legislation on a shared responsibility and solidarity system, the more people will die at sea, and more people will remain in limbo with their asylum process.

“There should be total solidarity between the 27 EU Member States, and each country should bear and shoulder its burden when it comes to migration,” Engerer said.

Engerer called out leaders in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, who have been holding off discussions, impeding the EU to move forward on such an important issue, especially given that the Temporary Protection Directive worked out smoothly for Ukrainians fleeing war.

The EU border control agency Frontex, is facing scrutiny from MEPs due to allegations of misused funds and alleged fundamental rights abuses. In light of the many deaths at sea Europe is currently witnessing, Engerer was asked if Frontex is truly effective, and whether the agency would be dismantled.

“We have seen a change in the agency’s leadership recently, and I look forward to working with the new leadership, while continuing to scrutinize this agency as we do all other agencies at EU level,” Engerer said.

He said that he believes Frontex has a very important role to play, which must be played within international and European Union laws.

“As the only Maltese member of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), together with my colleagues, I will keep looking closely at the work of Frontex to make sure the fundamental rights of people are always being safeguarded, and that it is doing its job as it should be,” Engerer said.

Engerer was appointed for MEP through a casual election, replacing current Environment Minister Miriam Dalli after she acquired a seat in Malta’s cabinet. There have been speculations that the CEO of the new agency overseeing green projects in Malta, Steve Ellul, could be a potential candidate for the MEP role.

Asked if he is worried over once again obtaining his seat for MEP, Engerer said that he is not worried, but rather looking forward to having more candidates from the Labour party.

“We need the strongest candidature possible to go forward in the next elections, and to win another majority in seats,” Engerer said. PL MEPs Alex Agius Saliba, Josianne Cutajar and Engerer himself will be contesting the upcoming MEP elections for 2024.

“We are four currently, and we’re managing to reach out to as many Committees as possible. I look forward to having the strongest candidates possible to make sure the interests of Maltese and Gozitan people come first and foremost in our work at the EU Parliament,” Engerer said.

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