The Malta Independent 15 April 2024, Monday
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MEP candidates differ in opinions on environmental priorities and migration in University debate

Kyle Patrick Camilleri Friday, 22 March 2024, 16:46 Last update: about 23 days ago

MEP candidates had differing opinions when it came to environmental priorities and migration in a debate on the University of Malta’s campus on Friday afternoon.

In a debate held at the University of Malta’s Sir Temi Zammit Hall, eight candidates from this June’s European elections convened to discuss some pertinent issues facing the country and the continent.

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Present in this debate, organized by the student organisation JEF Malta, were Alex Agius Saliba and Steve Ellul from the Labour Party, Norma Camilleri and Peter Agius from the Nationalist Party, Sandra Gauci from ADPD, ABBA’s Ivan Grech Mintoff, Volt Malta’s Matthias Iannis Portelli, and independent candidate Arnold Cassola.

When asked whether the European Union should prioritise its environmental objectives, even at the potential expense of job losses, affected production, and economic disruption, all candidates spoke in favour of combatting climate change.

The incumbent MEP Alex Agius Saliba said that for this type of legislation, impact assessments should be carried out before any legislation is proposed, rather than afterwards. He said this is important to see how different sectors in different Member States will cope with the proposed changes and that “the most vulnerable citizens should not bear the weight” of the detrimental nature that can arise from these objectives.

Alex Agius Saliba, Ivan Grech Mintoff, Arnold Cassola, and Matthias Iannis Portelli all said that the EU’s one-size-fits-all approach to policymaking is not optimal for Malta. The incumbent PL MEP said that one of the greatest challenges for the next legislature is to find a balance between working towards EU goals and protecting society’s most vulnerable people and families from “the weight of our ambitions.”

PN’s Peter Agius and Norma Camilleri respectively called for these policies to be closer to the people and that a balance needs to be struck between achieving short-term and long-term goals.

ADPD’s Gauci labelled the Green Deal as “the biggest achievement for not only the EU, but the world” for setting a standard in combatting climate change and called for the environment to be placed at the forefront of policy priorities. Gauci said that economic disruption is not linked with trying to achieve green objectives – an opinion that some other candidates, at most, only said is the case in the short-term.

She stated that the locals who are on the verge of poverty are not in their financial situations because of the green transition, but “because of a handful of people who want to remove our right to clean air, sunshine, to walk to clean places.” Gauci said that these same aforementioned people are the ones negatively affecting people in the middle-to-lower class.

PL’s Ellul, spoke more in favour of the green transition, saying that “I refuse to believe the notion that economic development cannot be achieved or should be hindered because of this transition.” He said that with Malta’s limited size, the country has an opportunity to achieve environmental goals quicker than other Member States. He also advocated that all six elected MEPs work together on this subject over the next term, “instead of making this a political ballgame.”

ABBA’s Grech Mintoff said that the EU should not impose its one-size-fits-all approach since “one size doesn’t fit all”. Hence, he said that an investment of money from the Maltese people should solely go into the Maltese environment.

Volt’s Portelli stated that an ambitious approach is the way to go, though stressed the importance of respecting the “symbiotic relationship” between the environment and society.

Regarding migration, Agius Saliba said that the New Pact on Migration and Asylum that was put forward in December is a “step in the right direction”, but not ambitious enough. He also said it was beneficial for southern states like Malta, on paper.

His contemporary, Ellul, said that in terms of migration, “we are failing every single time a human being loses their life at sea.” He also spoke against the populism that fails to address this and mentioned the detachment that exists between southern European states and those found in the north.

Volt’s Portelli spoke critically of the New Pact, saying it lacks in protecting asylum-seekers. He criticised the EU’s dependency on third countries on this issue and called for a more human approach, in favour of human rights.

PN candidate Norma Camilleri agreed with the incumbent MEP and said that “whatever field you work in, the person needs to be at the centre of policies.” She spoke positively on migration externalization as it helps process migration flows quicker, though mentioned that the Union must address why refugees are fleeing their countries en masse.

ABBA’s Grech Mintoff said that Malta should adopt a derogation taken up by the Isle of Man by which only those persons who have obtained a working visa can migrate to Malta. He said this measure would safeguard local jobs and the environment.

Peter Agius and Arnold Cassola both said that regular migration poses bigger issues to Malta than irregular migration. They argued that while only around 400 irregular persons came to Malta last year by boat, over 90,000 foreigners came to the country legally. Agius said that this larger legal influx is already posing issues for unskilled Maltese, and that skilled Maltese workers will be next should these influxes keep coming into the islands.

In this regard, Sandra Gauci said that students are not finding jobs “not because of migrants, but because of rampant cronyism in the country.”

Cassola advocated for a policy approach guided by empowering fundamental human rights and lambasted local authorities for deporting migrants such as Kusi Dismark who never had trouble with the law. He said he agrees with repatriation if foreigners are “causing trouble.”

Appearing as a guest speaker, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola addressed those in attendance via video message to go out to vote this coming June. The EP President stated that “your vote will decide the direction Europe will take” and concluded her message by speaking about the importance in using one’s vote to combat the rising levels of populism across the continent.

Metsola also gave mention to the “war on our continent”, cyber warfare, inflation, and the ongoing climate emergency as issues that need addressing, before highlighting the importance of these debates in allowing students to have direct conversations with electoral candidates.

“Do not let someone choose for you, use your voice,” she said.

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