The changing political landscape

Robert Abela’s efforts to get rid of MPs who are closely linked with Joseph Muscat’s administration are proceeding slowly but surely. Whether this is the right way to show Labour supporters that the Muscat era is over is a moot point.

After the tremor that caused Joseph Muscat’s fall from power, a change in the Maltese political landscape was inevitable. Slowly but surely, this is happening in both the two main parties.

The co-option of Jonathan Attard as the person to take up the seat vacated by Manuel Mallia – who is to become Malta’s High Commissioner to the UK – marked the fourth person to be co-opted into parliament by Labour during this legislature, following Clyde Caruana, Miriam Dalli and Oliver Scicluna.

Consider also the PN’s two co-opted MPs – Adrian Delia and Bernard Grech – and you will be surprised to discover that almost 10% of sitting MPs in Malta’s House of Representatives never contested a general election. How this impinges on our democratic political system is a subject worthy of an in-depth study.

Robert Abela’s efforts to get rid of MPs who are closely linked with Joseph Muscat’s administration are proceeding slowly but surely. Whether this is the right way to show Labour supporters that the Muscat era is over is a moot point. But the signals are undoubtedly there. In all cases, Abela’s Labour Party opted for people with undoubted integrity rather than populists that attract the masses.

An honest assessment of the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Group after the last election leads one to conclude that the electorate opted for a Joseph Muscat administration. But this was short-lived and is being replaced – slowly but surely – into a quite different Robert Abela administration. Abela could not impose the changes needed within Labour suddenly and ruthlessly, but he is well reaching the point where the Muscat administration is dead and buried while Labour has resurrected with a new face as a leader and with a new political philosophy.

No wonder that polls show that Robert Abela is more popular than his own party. On the other hand, the same polls show that the PN is more popular than the PN leader. This is bad news for the PN, of course.

But in the last few days, the PN has taken two bold steps to reinforce its efforts at shaking off its image as an old tired party with nothing new to offer.

One is the appointment of young – and fresh – Michael Piccinino as the PN’s secretary-general to replace Francis Zammit Dimech who was only a stop-gap transitional figure in his role as secretary-general. Having served as the PN’s executive organisational secretary for some time, Piccinino knows well what his new job entails. His young age is also vital in the struggle to wipe off the PN’s image of the party of has-beens, rather than the party with a promising future.

The other development – which surprised many, including myself – was Christian Peregin’s decision to give up his own creation, Lovin Malta, in other hands and join the PN. Peregin explained his reasons for this decision in a long statement which should be read by anyone interested in Maltese political developments.

Peregin explained where he comes from and why he thinks he should switch from running a very successful news website to joining the PN: “My fear is that Labour has become so powerful electorally that even with the best intentions, someone like Abela cannot make the real changes necessary to clean up the mess of his criminal predecessors. This is why he keeps someone in Cabinet when he is suspected of being a bank robber. And this is what makes it impossible for Labour to get Malta off the greylist and to restore our reputation.”

Then he took a swipe at the PN describing it as ‘a shadow of its former self’. He continued explaining: “But that’s where the opportunity lies. The party is ready to be rebuilt. It must be rebuilt. And it has a leader who is eager to welcome people back to help him rebuild it.”

While taking the plunge, Peregin explained that he is “not a fervent Nationalist, but a Maltese citizen who has a natural interest in democracy. When I felt our democracy needed me to vote Labour, I did. Today, it requires something else.”

Peregin’s statement is very forceful albeit not indicating what his role in the PN will be. My guess is that he will be tasked with rebuilding the whole PN media machine: its printed and broadcasting media and its non-existent presence in the social media.

It is a tough task. The old hands in the PN media cannot think of any new way of doing things. They must make way for the rebirth of the PN’s once strong media/information machine – a rebirth that will make it possible for it to start reaching people who have, long ago, given up seeing anything new and positive in the PN.

How much of this can be done before the general election is still to be seen. The PN could well be punished for spending so much time in in-fighting.

The EU goes green

The European Union last Wednesday made public its ambitious climate plan to transform every corner of its economy. It must have also started preparing for years of tough negotiations so as to turn the plan into reality.

According to this plan, every industry will be forced to accelerate its move away from fossil fuels in order to cut pollution by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030. To achieve that, the EU will bring new industries such as shipping into what is already the world’s largest carbon market; ban new combustion-engine cars by 2035; impose new costs on dirty home heating; and force the aviation industry to emit less and pay more.

As the EU seeks to become a global leader on climate – without damaging its own industries – it has set out a blueprint for a levy on imports, such as steel and aluminium, from nations with less rigid environmental rules. That risks provoking trade tensions, with Russia, China and the U.S.

The EU has earmarked €72 billion for a new fund to help compensate those who lose out, with the money coming from the expanded market for carbon emissions.

Frans Timmermans, the Vice-President of the European Commission, who is leading the Commission’s work on the European Green Deal and the first European Climate Law for climate, said that nothing in the plan is going to be easy. He expects measures on transport, cars and home heating to cause the most complaints.

How this will affect Malta’s economy is still to be seen, but there is no doubt that some services such as travel will be costing all EU citizens much more.