How did Gozitan nurse Mary Gauci turn deputy leader of the far-right Azzjoni Nazzjonali and within a year go on to front the Malta branch of Declan Ganley’s Libertas?
Mary Gauci’s decision to contest the last general elections under the Azzjoni Nazzjonali banner came about at the last minute, and pretty much by coincidence. Merely five weeks before election day, Gauci had attended a meeting organised by AN president Charles Attard to recruit volunteers from her hometown in Gozo.
“I was not interested in the party as such. But because I had heard that AN was interested in setting up a TV station, I attended the meeting to find out more. I wanted to become involved again in the media,” Gauci says.
A nurse by profession, Gauci used to host drug prevention radio shows for Sedqa’s Gozo branch – which she ran for eight years. When the drug national agency decided to shut down in Gozo, she was transferred to the Finance Ministry as principal. “I found the assignment quite strange. But when I asked them why, after all those years working in the social field, they said that if I could work in social work I could work anywhere. Luckily, I was tasked with matters pertaining to the EU – a topic I was always fascinated by.”
But her political background, despite being attracted to the right wing of politics as her recent history shows, is actually grounded in a Labour past, having been approached in the mid-90s by then parliamentary secretary for Gozo Anton Refalo to head the MLP women’s committee in Gozo, a post she gladly accepted. “I was always attracted to politics. I grew up in it. My father was a steward with the General Workers Union.”
Gauci finds it difficult to hide her infatuation with Dom Mintoff, when asked which politician inspires her the most. “Mintoff fascinates me. I grew up in a family of hardcore Labourites, and they suffered a great deal. It was the time when people believed in the principles of socialism. My father, also a nurse, raised a family of six. My mother was also involved in politics. I remember the passionate way my family spoke about Mintoff. I too admired Mintoff – mostly for his way of acting, his powerful approach and his buckle. I admire him till this very day. In context, I think what he had done for Malta was beautiful.”
One wonders what Mintoff would have to say about Gauci’s candid admission to having voted in favour of EU membership in 2003, which is just another ironical twist to the figurehead of the most eurosceptic movement in Europe today.
Before her brief stint as – of all things – deputy leader of AN, Gauci had never had direct electoral experience, saying she had to undergo a sleepless night before accepting Charles Attard’s offer.
“I told him I needed to sleep over it. I had never attended an AN meeting. I had no previous intention of getting involved in the political side of the party. Attard told me there was little time left to think, since the deadline for the submissions of nominations to the electoral office was a couple of days away. It wasn’t easy, but after a whole night pondering, I decided to go for it. I felt I had something to offer to this country. I thought the two big parties were doing a lot of good but could improve in a number of areas. What hurt me most was that people were being taken for a ride. This was the time when the Lisbon treaty had just been signed in Malta and the way this happened without consultation was unacceptable. AN at the time shared my views on the issue.”
But AN did not provide a good enough platform for Gauci.
“I left AN because I found a better platform to deliver my message. I realised Libertas was expressing its concerns over the lack of democracy within the EU, and the way the endorsement of the Lisbon Treaty was handled. They share my same frustrations in this regard. I’m hurt when people are not explained the hard facts. If we use the proper language, everyone will understand. Politicians owe this to the public who elected them to power, and people expect it. A lot of people cannot see why Maltese politicians have become puppets of the EU. People have their own minds and they need to have a say. My goal is to make the EU recognise this.”
Despite its Europe-wide recruitment of self-declared anti-Islamist candidates and others harbouring far-right sentiments, including plucking its Maltese candidate out from the island’s decidedly rightist party, Libertas claims its platform is neither right nor left. Founder and Irish millionaire Declan Ganley says his party will be “very moderate” in its political views.
And true to form, it seems Gauci is herself so moderate she is reticent on even concretising what she believes in when asked to share her views on immigration, for example.
Often resembling the odd lines she learnt at Azzjoni Nazzjonali, she seems to retract immediately, leaving inconclusive, ambiguous and non-committal answers.
“The EU ignored Malta on illegal immigration. There must be zero tolerance, and we need to leave more impact on this issue. We shouldn’t waste time discussing or waiting until some paper is published. There’s a lot of playing with words and in the meantime the problem grows.”
There is no doubt on how big Gauci considers the problem to be. But what is the solution?
“The solution is to have someone to stand up and force the EU to do something about immigration. As Libertas, we are present in all countries. Once the party is represented in the EP, if Malta has a problem Libertas counterparts in other countries will support us. In Brussels there are Libertas experts to guide us. This doesn’t mean they’ll tell us what to do. But we are not alone. Other countries will support us in issues we need to push the most. We cannot adopt the approach of over-politeness, which is what people like Simon Busuttil are doing, and in the meantime all we do is wait, wait, wait. Zero tolerance…”
Zero tolerance to what?
“To the fact that people are coming to Malta and we have nowhere to put them,” she says.
But what is the solution she contemplates to the obvious problem, I ask again – only to be told she has no solution: “I will not be the one to tell Europe what the solution is. But we need to realise that Malta can take no more immigrants. We should not keep waiting. Burden sharing or no burden sharing, we need to see what we are going to do with the influx,” she replied.
Odd as it sounds from an aspiring MEP, it seems Gauci is not yet able to tell the EU what solution Malta needs to the increasing influx of Africa migration. Surely, this must be one her expected abilities for this job…
“The solution is that we should force the EU to see what the problem in Malta is to forbid people coming to our shores,” she said after being pressured to answer. “We cannot keep taking this amount of people. It may not be their fault, but it is not ours either. We cannot keep being burdened in this way.”
But there are international laws protecting those individuals applicable for humanitarian protection or refugee status. There are laws regulating all member states on their duties and obligations to rescue the distressed at sea. What does Gauci suggest?
“Same goes with laws. The EU should decide on laws. The solution is being discussed within the party. Our position is that once we are in the EP, we promise to find what the solution is, together with our experts.”
Libertas seems to have no position on divorce in Malta either.
“As a party, we are not entering these issues as such,” she says. “But personally, every person must be responsible for his own actions without hurting others. The way a person behaves must not affect others.”
To the ambiguous reply, Gauci is asked point blank whether she agrees with the introduction of divorce in Malta. “I will neither say yes nor no,” she says. “There could be implications on divorce since the party promotes freedom; but so far, we are only focusing on democracy and accountability within the EU. National and social issues will be analysed at a later stage.”
On hunting, Gauci has an opinion, albeit not a full and clear one either. “I personally think that it is not fair to take people for a ride. Fenech Adami had signed an agreement with hunters – which as it turns out, was not respected. We are not entering into the implications on the Bird Directive at this stage, but we are listening.”
At this point, short of pursuing questions on political stands to receive non-committal answers – Gauci is asked what she makes of the accusation that Libertas is just a single-issue party.
“Our issues at the moment revolve around protecting Malta from losing its say in an EU that is becoming more centralized. When we voted for Europe they promised us that we would remain sovereign. We are now seeing the trend that, for example, because of the economic crisis, everything needs to be centralised. It is true that when there is centralisation, management in Brussels is made easier – at the cost of our sovereignty. We have worked so hard for Malta to gain its own sovereignty, are we now going to throw it all away? The EU has already ignored us.”
Gauci may not be the foremost proponent of multi-cultural diversity, but she has a thing or two to say on gender issues.
“When I worked with the European Commission, I was involved in working groups were women were underrepresented. There have been occasions when men were sent back in order to balance out genders. What almost reduces me to tears is that in Malta there are departments that are solely made up of women, and others made up of just men. It may be a coincidence, but these things exist. Women have different skill sets and we need diversity,” she said.
As the only candidate contesting for the EP with Libertas in Malta, Gauci confirmed that former Labour candidate Robert Micallef has been appointed Libertas Malta’s general secretary. Micallef – a university lecturer and editor of the Euro-barometer in Malta – had previously said he was appointed secretary of the Libertas Institute, the party’s think-tank. “The party comes out of Libertas Institute,” Gauci explains, “so that automatically makes Robert the secretary of the party too.”
Besides, Libertas Malta is equipped with an advisor on EU funding, who is also in charge of public relations, and a financial officer who has just completed an auditing post at the European Commission in the same office where Gauci was seconded by the Finance Ministry for five months after last year’s general elections.
“We also have a criminology student and a social worker currently reading for a certificate in Gestalt therapy working as interns within the core team at the Malta office,” she says.
Does Gauci think that Libertas votes will eat into the AN pie in the next elections, given her previous identification with the party? Could this further damage the slim chances of either party electing an MEP?
Contrary to what a MaltaToday survey published last week shows, Gauci seems very confident in the support the electorate will show her on June 6.
“I believe I will get elected. People in Malta are begging for the EU to work better, and this is what we are working for,” she declares. “We will not only take votes from AN, but also from PL and PN. There is a lot of injustice and people are hurt. People want democracy, real democracy. People are receptive to our dedication and the third party they want will be a professional one. This is why we will get elected.”
When Ganley had visited Malta to launch the party, he had said that there will no longer be a purpose for Libertas to continue if no candidates are elected, but Gauci begs to differ. “It means that I am more convinced than Ganley that we will get elected. We have committed ourselves to a 10 year project – even if I’m not elected.”