The Malta Independent 23 April 2024, Tuesday
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Abela criticises ‘Brussels bubble’ for not respecting farmers' realities, backs protection of sector

Albert Galea Friday, 16 February 2024, 13:29 Last update: about 3 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela on Friday said that he “firmly believes” in the protection of the agricultural sector, and criticised the “Brussels bubble” for drafting regulations which do not respect the realities that farmers face.

Abela was speaking the day after a second farmers protest in as many weeks, with farmers this time putting forward five proposals which they believe the government must implement in order to safeguard Malta and Gozo’s agricultural industry.

Asked by The Malta Independent whether the government intends to implement any of these proposals – which ranged from a variety of subsidies to more checks and limits on the importation of products from outside the European Union, Abela did not speak of any particular proposal but instead said that the government had introduced a number of incentives and managed to receive several derogations from EU rules for this sector already.

“There is naturally a lot more work to be done,” he said.

He continued that when he spoke with farmers at the first protest which was held last week, a point which was mentioned to him was the importance of inspections on products entering the country.  Here he referred to a recent inspection which resulted in three tonnes of citrus being sent back to Sicily for not meeting the necessary standards to enter Malta.

The confiscated citrus consisted of 306 crates equivalent to 3,032 kilograms of Citrus sinensis, reticulata, and lemon, and they were sent back to Sicily after not being free of leaves and stems – something imported citrus must be in order to reduce the risk of transport insects which could spread the Citrus Tristeza Virus in the country.

Abela noted how the inspections targeted a consignment coming into the country from a fellow EU member state, and not just non-EU shipments, and that that the government intends to keep following this direction.

“I firmly believe in protecting the agricultural sector – we saw its importance particularly during the pandemic – and I also believe that we cannot have regulations drafted from inside the Brussels bubble with its bureaucratic offices that do not respect the realities of the farmers,” Abela said.

“When you speak to farmers, you understand the sacrifices they go through to make a living for them and their families, and they are doing that ultimately so that they can supply essential products to the Maltese people,” he continued.

“I believe in the qualities of the Maltese product and naturally we will do everything possible to keep protecting this very important sector for the Maltese economy,” he concluded.

Nurse shortages: Collective agreement was in part aimed at attracting more students – Abela

The Malta Independent also asked Abela about concerns in the health sector after it emerged that the number of people graduating from nursing courses at the University of Malta was at a record low – with just 83 graduating in the last scholastic year.

Asked what the government’s solution in this regard is, Abela said that it was because the government knew the number of nursing students enrolling at the University of Malta that it moved forward with an “unprecedented collective agreement for nurses, midwives, and ECG technicians.”

“The increases we gave through that collective agreement were not picked out of thin air, but were born out of the fact that we identified this shortage in what is a very important sector for the wellbeing of our patients, and so we strategically decided that to incentivise more students to enrol as nursing students we need to give better working conditions and stronger salaries,” he said.

“I’m satisfied that after months of dialogue with the MUMN we reached an agreement, and today you have nurses who are all talking about having a salary which they deserve for the work that they do and their commitment to their jobs,” he concluded.

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