Politics – local, national, European – has, for the first-time candidate, a terrifying routine. It is one that can break the backs of all but the gutsiest. The name of the routine is “making oneself known”, and the task is even tougher in the MEP elections, where it is in the whole country, and not just a town or district, that one has to campaign.
My work and business experience in around Europe, and also here in Malta, has however equipped me with at least that necessary quality called courage. I refuse to think that voters in Malta still cling to the “lad from the village, he’s one of us”, or “he’s a loyal party guy”, old stereotypical reasons for choosing their representatives. Certainly, for putting capable people to represent our nation in the European Parliament, that would be tantamount to committing national hara-kiri.
I also believe that the Maltese electorate is evolving very, very rapidly. The ICT revolution has made sure not only that party ideology and hard electioneering tactics are, and will continue to, prove ever less relevant to thinking citizens, but it also has, and will continue to, push us towards making ever more comparisons with realities abroad. That, whilst simultaneously pushing an ever growing number of people towards appreciating people who walk away from conventional thinking, and bravely do their own.
These concepts are at the basis of what has pushed me to stand for election at the coming MEP election in June 2009. There is a range of issues about which I feel strongly, and these constitute areas of policy and decision-making about which, at the EU level, Malta’s input in the European Parliament has simply not been good enough. The list runs from the methodology and extent of EU funding for projects in Malta to environmental issues, from illegal immigration to striving for change in the property directives of the EU, from much more opportunities for our students in the EU to the actual realities about the rights and status of the Maltese people in the EU.
I hope to be able to discuss these and other issues in future articles, but at a time of worrying finances all over the place the mechanics of our functional financial relationship with the European Union is as good a place to start with as any. We seem to be living in a trance created by the EU’s current budget that – amidst much trumpet blowing – promises to Malta (which is a different word to “ensuring for”) over €800 millions up to 2013.
Experience has taught me that very often cash flow is much more important than promised or agreed amounts on paper. The funding of projects in Malta with EU funds is slow and cumbersome, not only because the EU’s mechanisms for getting the funds into the Maltese government’s coffers are slow laborious, bureaucratic, not only because on our side our structures and expertise for accessing those funds properly and quickly is still very lacking, but also because of another reality which researchers have, over long years of studying EU finances functioning, detected. This is the simple fact that the Brussels finances machine has been toned to perfection to a working mechanism that ensures that funds flow into the EU at a much quicker rate then the one with which they flow out of Brussels and into the member-states’ coffers. And the ineptness of a country like Malta ’s states’ structures for getting those funds here quickly is not the only reason.
There is little hope of Malta’s present representatives in Brussels, both in the European Parliament and in Malta’s own Permanent Representation there, being made to work harder on this issue. In the case of the latter it is common knowledge that the vast majority of them are Nationalist Party hacks whose loyalty to the current status quo is as undoubted as the extent of improbability that they will churn any waters in the direction of change. They are all “happy” to be nicely ensconced in Brussels.
And yet change is badly needed. EU funds need to come to Malta at a much quicker rate, particularly at a time when the country’s cash flow is as strapping as a straitjacket. Both the EU commission and the present government here in Malta need to understand that the period of Malta’s enamoured courting with the EU is now long gone past. The citizens of this country are now finding that unhesitatingly the EU will impose its rules on Malta with the discipline of an unbending headmaster: you will not give any more subsidies to any entity in your country as of now, you will not be given more help to fight illegal migration than we decide to give to Frontex because we don’t think you deserve it, you will not do this, and you will now do that, as and when we tell you to do so.
It will be the task of Malta ’s new MEPs to ensure that the continued process of political and economic peripheralisation which has become ever increasingly evident since accession be stemmed. This can be done by a presence in the European Parliament that is positive towards the EU as a concept, but equally respectful of Malta’s independence and needs. I plan to work hard for this concept.
Robert Henry Bugeja is prospective candidate for the EP elections of 2009 with the Labour Party.