If Vella’s charm offensive fails, Juncker will get the blame

In his new role as EU Commissioner, Vella would do well to put his charm to good use

You’ve got to hand it to him. Commissioner designate Karmenu Vella, affectionately known as ‘il-guy’, is charming and affable. Thank God for that, it made up for his apparent lack of in-depth knowledge on environmental issues.

On Monday, in Brussels, Vella charmed, and seriously outsmarted the absolute majority of the MEPs. The former Labour Party minister worked the room successfully, and convincingly. He was quite able to handle himself in what was a very tough grilling – and managed to exude that charm and affability which is typically associated with the Zurrieq-born politician. In his new role as EU Commissioner, Vella would do well to put his charm to good use – it’s always a welcoming breath of fresh air in what is, mostly, a grim environment.

A shrewd and seasoned politician

“I cannot pretend to know everything, I cannot pretend to give commitment unless I can deliver,” Commissioner designate Vella told the MEPs. Vella’s I-don’t-know-it-all attitude was the typical reply you would expect from a shrewd and seasoned politician – which helped him a great deal because  it was taken to be a  genuine admission that he still needs to learn the ropes. This says a lot about most of the MEPs, and their scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours attitude.

Second division

Greenpeace and Birdlife, aided and abetted by Green MEPs, slammed commissioner-designate Vella and said that he was vague, evasive and inaccurate. Instead of lashing out at Vella, they should have targeted their criticism at Jean-Claude Juncker for his wrong decision to merge environment and fisheries into one portfolio – and it has nothing to do with Karmenu Vella; it could have been any other commissioner-designate for that matter.

As a result of Juncker’s decision, the environment is now relegated to second division. If Vella’s charm offensive fails, it’s Juncker who will get the blame. He is still in time to reverse his decision – unless it is a done deal and has always been so, the result of the usual horse-trading which Brussels is renowned for.

According to informed sources in Brussels, Juncker may address the issue by passing on the sustainable development portfolio to one of the vice-presidents of the Commission. That’s not good enough. The environment should have its own commissioner, unfortunately Juncker thinks otherwise. 

When no is the right thing to say

What has the Nationalist Party said about Juncker’s decision to relegate the environment to second division? Absolutely nothing. The Nationalist Party is full of respect and awe for the EU, its institutions and political leaders – which is not always the right approach. The PN should be saying no – including to Juncker, when no is the right thing to say. Strikingly, leading local environmental NGOs too have remained as quiet as a mouse on Juncker’s wrong decision.

With friends like them…

I remember Karmenu Vella arguing, vociferously, against EU membership, and warning us that it would have a disastrous effect on Malta’s tourism industry. Now he tells us that back then he did not walk the walk. On the eve of his grilling, the former Labour Minister told MEPs that he voted in favour of membership.

Perhaps Vella thought that his opposition to EU membership a decade ago could jeopardise his prospects of being appointed EU Commissioner. I’m not impressed. If Vella voted against membership, which my gut feeling tells me that he did, he should have been honest about it – and if anything admitted that a decade later he thinks otherwise.

But then, it’s time to let bygones be bygones. Malta’s EU membership saga is dead and buried and it is useless arguing over what happened a decade ago – when Vella’s Labour Party opposed Malta’s EU membership. I pity Alfred Sant, however. Vella is not the first prominent Labour Party politician to ‘admit’ that he voted for EU membership. With friends like them…

The politics of appeasement

Despite government spin, Muscat’s ban on autumn hunting was a knee-jerk reaction on the eve of the Vella grilling. However, Muscat’s ban goes beyond hunting. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Prime Minister is unable to find a judicious balance between what people want and the rules that are meant to avoid injustices and illegalities.

This boils down to Muscat’s politics of appeasement, which characterized his years in opposition. Most of his policy making is unmistakably driven by fear of losing votes. Sooner rather than later the situation gets out of hand. It’s a matter of time, really.

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