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Harry Vassallo | Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Alan Deidun for MEP

For very many years it was a source of irritation to me that so many people involved in environmental NGOs stayed clear of politics in general and Green Politics in particular.
In all the years when the PN and the MLP mocked everything ecological and were tucked tight in bed with the worst environmental offenders there did not seem be much of an option for those who had convictions and had pretensions to courage.
Accepting the politically neutralised stance of Maltese NGOs required a special mental effort. Their task was to create public awareness and they believed that they would lose out if they became politically labelled. Their membership was assumed to be of all colours and committing to one party even on a particular issue was seen to be detrimental to their support base, their income and their influence.
I always believed that their function was best served by earning their independence by being loose cannons in our political war. The political parties should not be allowed to be secure but always exposed to a possible broadside from an authoritative NGO. Close cooperation with any political party would give the NGO even more leverage because the risks of losing it, of suffering a broadside from a close collaborator would be even more devastating.

Fair weather sailing
All the smoke and fire from NGOs between elections is devalued once they disappear at election time. High-speed developments and heightened risks of exploitation and manipulation in the no-holds-barred atmosphere of a Maltese election have kept the NGO safely out of sight at such crucial moments. They never sail out into a storm and we all know it.
In the years when the PN and the MLP would rather die than say anything eco-friendly, the neutrality of NGOs was a contradiction. The Greens were clearly alone in championing the issues which the NGOs held sacred. It must have been quite an effort for them to keep at arm’s length especially when so many people could never distinguish between Greenpeace and Green Party.
Since Malta joined the EU in 2003, taking on the complex of environmental laws, regulations and commitments for the future, both the PN and the MLP have taken an interest in the subject. Since the 2008 election in which both fell below the 50% mark with Alternattiva Demokratika straddling the crucial centre, they have both woken up to the need to seem competent on Green issues.
The Prime Minister is the Minister of Environment and the MLP has assigned one of its big guns, Leo Brincat, to the task. From my point of view it is a welcome development. It is a million miles away from the era in which prominent politicians went out of their way to pour scorn on the proposals made by Greens. These days they claim to have been the first on the scene on the very same issues.

Choosing a party
Does the change make it a matter of indifference which party an environmentalist commits to? The talk of Alan Deidun being asked to contest the EP elections in the interests of the PN raises the issue. Does it make sense?
Alan must be having quite a time pondering the pros and cons. At this time he is the gainer: being offered the nomination raises his status irreversibly. The PN will find it that much harder to pooh pooh anything he may have to say after having singled him out. On the other hand any refusal he may make could be experienced as a bitter loss of face for the PN which will not be forgiven too quickly.
For those in the know casting one’s lot in with the PN is a disaster for credibility among Greens. The experts see through the greenwash, the new fangled eco-jargon and wince at the glaring contradictions. It is the only the innocent, newly approaching the subject, who will never notice. They are the crop which Deidun is expected to harvest for the PN.
Even at this distance from June, few will wager that the PN will elect more than two of its candidates to the European parliament. Three will be a fluke. The question is what chance if any does Deidun have of being one of those two near certainties?
My assessment of his chances is nil and he should be shrewd enough to know it. His candidacy is a service to the PN by providing some green on their electoral palette. On that basis he stands to lose more than he gains. Going back to NGO life or to life as an eco-journalist will never be the same again. He will be blue forever and every time the PN is caught out in bed with the eco-unfriendly some of the stink will also attach to him, and to a far greater extent than it can ever attach to anyone who never claimed to be green.
So is it impossible to be sincere on environmental issues and belong to the PN? Of course not. But sincerity may also be a measure of naivety. Certainly it is evidence of the black-green stance that more may be achieved by cooperating with the beast than by opposing it; better a compromise than a futile, if heroic stand on principle. The danger is that one may become a joke, a token greenie, a screen for all the other intolerable compromises, the justification of the unjustifiables.



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