The Malta Independent 15 April 2024, Monday
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‘I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Robert Abela’ – Claudette Abela Baldacchino

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 17 March 2024, 08:00 Last update: about 29 days ago

Labour MEP candidate Claudette Abela Baldacchino said that the reason she has decided to contest for the upcoming 2024 European Parliament elections was because she could not say “no” to the Labour Party, and to Prime Minister Robert Abela once again.

Abela Baldacchino – who has previously served as a Labour MEP in 2013, spoke to The Malta Independent on Sunday on her return to politics. She had contested the European Parliament elections in 2009 for the first time, losing a seat to John Attard Montalto by a few votes.

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She was then co-opted to the EP via casual elections in 2013, and served until 2014 as Labour MEP. She did not contest for the elections in 2014 and 2019.

Asked what prompted her return, Abela Baldacchino said that she had never truly left the political scene, having acted as President of the Labour's women's group between 2014 and 2017.

"There, I led the vociferous campaign in favour of the IVF amendments," Abela Baldacchino said, describing her role in the proposals put forth as 'instrumental.'

After 2017, she felt that she needed to take a step back, to focus on advancing and developing her career in the social sector. Her job in the social sector did not allow her to fully participate in politics at a party level, she said.

Abela Baldacchino said that this was the best decision she could make at the time, as it gave her more insight and knowledge on the wide social sphere.

Then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had asked her if she was certain in her decision to leave her role as president of Nisa Laburisti, Abela Baldacchino said, noting that she had the option to stay on. But she chose to leave.

When Robert Abela eventually became PL Leader and Prime Minister in 2020, Abela Baldacchino said that she was once again asked to contest the general election in 2022. Again, she refused so that she could raise her then-four year-old twins, Pinar and Arthur, with her husband, Kevin.

Things have changed now. "When the PL Deputy Leader for party affairs Daniel Micallef sent for me, as well as the Prime Minister himself, they told me that it is my time now," Abela Baldacchino said on submitting her candidature for the 2024 elections.

After consulting with her husband, Abela Baldacchino said that she could not say "no" to the Labour Party and the PM once again.

She also discussed the matter with her mother, who remained neutral, yet agreed with a statement made by PM Abela where he told Abela Baldacchino that she should contest, and to "do it for Malta's children," believing that the Labour Party can achieve the best results.

Her political approach has always been one which is by the people, for the people.

"I believe that people want that personal contact," Abela Baldacchino said. Over the years, she has always worked with people, and felt that through her speech at a political event last week, she managed to reach various sections of society.

Projecting a new image since she was last in the public eye, Abela Baldacchino was asked what has changed for her in the past few years.

"My children kept me young," she jokingly said.

Abela Baldacchino said that she had never had a problem with her image, not even in her previous role as a journalist when she delivered news on TV.

"For me, size is not an issue," Abela Baldacchino said, adding, however, that the risk of contracting more chronic diseases increased when she had her children, and decided not to cross that fine line.

In 2017, Abela Baldacchino said that she started her diet, embarking on her path to fitness and healthy eating. She said that she speaks with many people who have a difficult relationship with food, adding that awareness around the issue needs to increase.

She commended services offered by foundations who aid persons with a difficult relationship with food and their image, namely the Dar Kenn Għal Saħħtek, a foundation set up to provide support for those struggling with eating disorders and weight behavioural problems.

Her healthy eating lifestyle was transposed to her children, who now ask for healthy snack options, because they see their mother opt for such foods. Abela Baldacchino noted that she does not keep certain foods away from her children, but rather practices moderation, complementing it with sports and exercise.

Asked about her first experience as an MEP at the European Parliament, and what she has learnt since then, Abela Baldacchino pointed out that politics at the EP is done "very differently" than in Malta.

She noted that as an MEP, she can provide her input and influence the directives whilst being drawn up in their respective committees, as well as vote in the plenaries.

10 years ago, she was also part of several inter-groups within the EP, such as MEPs Against Cancer, as well as social care groups.

"I learnt that what happens in Brussels does not stay in Brussels. What happens in Brussels impacts our daily lives at a local level," Abela Baldacchino said, adding that members must ensure to vote for directives which would benefit the country, and vote against ones which would not.

She also worked on a report on seafarers, on maritime conditions, where she spoke to several key Maltese unions in the sector, and how it would impact the industry at a local level, with the Malta Flag being one of the largest merchant ship register in the world.

On the citizenship by investment scheme, Abela Baldacchino said that when it was introduced, then-Labour MEPs took a stand against criticism on Malta.

"If it wasn't for this, today, we would not be bearing the fruit of this scheme," Abela Baldacchino said, adding that citizenship is not just having a passport, but includes inclusion, equality, participation, and human rights.

"While previous PM Joseph Muscat worked so that Malta's economy grows, current PM Robert Abela is ensuring that the wealth we have generated is being invested in social justice," she said, adding that the country's economic growth is reaching everybody.

She was asked what she would like her work to focus on if elected to the EP come June 2024.

Abela Baldacchino said that she has already previously worked in the committee centred around social policy, and despite the fact that circumstances and matters have changed in 10 years, the principle has remained the same.

"There, it is a matter of 'plug and go.' I want to work for Maltese families, children, youths and elderly," Abela Baldacchino said, adding that she would like to further her work on social packages and issues addressed in that committee.

She said that due to her background in the sector, she would naturally like to further her work at European level in Malta's best interests.

One thing which needs to be pushed on the European Parliament agenda is the advocacy for children with ADHD and Autism, and the child and youth guarantee discussions, Abela Baldacchino said, adding that Europe needs to listen to the people's needs.

Another issue Abela Baldacchino holds close to heart is the environment, mentioning the tons of clothes being disposed of in the world, when they could be re-used and re-purposed through the 'thrifting' trend. She said that this concept could be re-enforced.

To be part of Labour means to support the social conscience, with Abela Baldacchino commending the great efforts the PL has made with regards to IVF.

"Others have done nothing, not even laws. The PL in government has provided around 600 babies for Maltese families in 10 years through IVF," she said, adding that this is what it means to be a Labourite with a social conscience.

Abela Baldacchino said that she comes from a working-class family, which shapes her as a person, and gives her the energy to work on policies which address such families.

She mentioned domestic violence, where there is more to be done in addition to legislations passed in Parliament. "I believe we need more awareness around this issue. Physically or verbally abusing someone does not make you a man or a woman," Abela Baldacchino said.

She spoke about the elderly and pensions, and said that up until some time ago, the elderly "did not have anything to give to their children." Nowadays, through the several increases in their pensions, they can afford to give more to their grandchildren, Abela Baldacchino said.

Abela Baldacchino continued that what government is doing at a local level sets a precedent and serves as an example for other EU countries. "Europe must look at us and do the same as us, for the public to live in more serenity," she said.

"What PM Abela is doing is what I believe in. Economic growth needs to reach everyone," Abela Baldacchino said.

"Star" MEP candidates, such as PL MEP and previous Prime Minister Alfred Sant, will not contest for this year's EP elections.

Asked if she believes she has a better chance of being elected into the European Parliament because of this, Abela Baldacchino humbly said that 14 years ago, she was one of 10 candidates in a "very strong lineup." This year, she is one of nine candidates, and believes that what matters the most is the crucial personal contact with the people.

She said that this year's lineup is comprised of a "strong" team of PL candidates, and whenever the Labour Party was united, it has always won for the public's best interests.

"The Labour Party is the party for the people, has remained with the people, and will remain for the people," Abela Baldacchino, adding that she is convinced that all Labour MEP and Local Council candidates are there to defend Malta, and the interests of the Maltese and Gozitan people.

Speculation on whether the former PM Joseph Muscat is running for this year's MEP elections ran rife in the past months, and Abela Baldacchino was asked if the scenario would change for her, if Muscat did indeed decide to contest this June.

"I would be pleased if Muscat is on the Labour's MEP list, just the same as if it was anyone else," Abela Baldacchino replied, adding that the country's successes in the past 10 years must be mentioned, and if Muscat is approved by the party's structures, she would be comfortable with him being on the team.

She was asked to explain the reasons why the Maltese tend to have no problems voting for female candidates in the MEP elections - as compared to the national elections, where women can be elected through the gender mechanism in Parliament.

Abela Baldacchino said that while the situation is indeed different, there is no particular explanation for it. She commended the notable women in politics in Malta, saying that she had the honour of serving as President of Nisa Laburisti after Agatha Barbara, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca and Miriam Spiteri Debono.

"The issue is not because people do not vote for women. I was there in 2009, and several women were elected via by-elections. There, we made a huge breakthrough and paved the way for other women who contested after us," Abela Baldacchino said.

On Parliament's gender mechanism, Abela Baldacchino said that she was one of many who said that this should have been implemented way before it eventually did, acknowledging, however, that the necessary tools to do this were not there yet.

The gender mechanism was eventually implemented, and "we have seen it bear fruit," she said. Abela Baldacchino added that one must evaluate and analyse how this mechanism is working, and hoped that more women would be elected in the Local Council elections.

"I also believe that we need everyone, everybody's ideas, you cannot have only men, or only women. You need a mix, so that you can discuss and pinpoint the best ideas," Abela Baldacchino said.

One can say that the Labour Party has been "bruised" after several events in the country, such as the public inquiry into Jean Paul Sofia's death, the three hospitals' scandal, as well as the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Some polls have also indicated that the Labour Party has lost some of its support. Abela Baldacchino was asked what the party can do to recover its credibility.

She commemorated the memory of Jean Paul Sofia, as well as the 81 persons who lost their lives at the workplace, but said that for 25 years, the Nationalist Party did not launch a single inquiry.

"The issue is not a partisan one, and people should be able to live in serenity. The most important thing for the country is that justice is being done, and I feel in my heart that justice is being done," Abela Baldacchino said, mentioning the resignations of several officials following the report of the public inquiry into Sofia's death.

"Whoever had to shoulder responsibility, has shouldered it," she said. On the polls, Abela Baldacchino said that the real electoral test is when one starts from point zero, with the results showing for themselves.

She was asked if government was wrong in voting against the launching of a public inquiry into Sofia's death, after the party voted against a PN motion calling for a public inquiry last year.

Abela Baldacchino skirted the question, saying that Prime Minister Abela was clear on this, and justice has been done, reiterating that whoever needed to resign has done so.

The media has been on recent news with regards to the new European anti-SLAPP laws, where the European Parliament approved a law that protects journalists from legal proceedings designed to stifle freedom of speech.

Laws passed in the European Parliament have to be transposed into national law. Abela Baldacchino was asked if this should be done as soon as possible, given that the government has not shown the will, in recent years, to do things which make life easier for journalists.

Abela Baldacchino said that she believed everything must be done at its own pace, and has no doubt that certain directives which need to be transposed, as has been done in the past, will be indeed transposed into Maltese law.

"I was a journalist for several years, I miss the work. My heart is still tied to the sector, and obviously, I share the same sentiment (on the anti-SLAPP laws). I have no doubt that what needs to be done in the country will be done," Abela Baldacchino said.

On concerns from the ground, Abela Baldacchino said that much has been done to improve the quality of Maltese people's lives, mentioning the several available services and support in the country.

Social and environmental issues are being discussed, she said, adding that on the other hand, she feels satisfied that PM Abela has taken up initiatives such as providing more green public spaces for the people, which shows "a very bright future" for the country.

 

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