Running with the liberals...

Sorry, but you can't exactly run with the liberals and hunt with the conservatives, you know

Marlene Farrugia
Marlene Farrugia

You can tell the world’s going completely potty, when even respectable international political groupings like the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) start adopting Malta’s outrageously schizophrenic attitudes towards anything that can remotely be described as ‘liberal’.

Naturally, it’s not just the ALDE. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Malta’s Great European Adventure since 2004 is how the new international perspective somehow only managed to deepen our local, petty political divide... and, even more bizarrely, how we even succeeded in exporting our own inherent biases onto the European public forum. At a time when most Maltese seem to be outgrowing their ‘Nationalist’ and ‘Labourite’ phase, we now have European institutions adopting the exact same, prepubescent line of reasoning themselves. As a result, more Maltese political infighting now takes place in the European Parliament, than in Malta itself. Strange, but true... and very, very sad.

But I specified the ALDE for two reasons in particular.  One: if it weren’t for the confusion that arises from point two (see below), this is the political family I would most consider supporting in both local and international politics. So even if I’ve never actually had the opportunity to vote for a liberal party before, I still feel vaguely ‘represented’ by the political brand.

Two: the ALDE’s newest member is Malta’s own ‘Partit Demokratiku’, accepted on 1 December 2017. This means that the PD is finally offering me that opportunity I’ve always wanted... but at the same time, it has just come out guns blazing against the Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill, currently being debated in parliament.

If adopted, this law would automatically ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Prevention and Combating Violence Against Women. And guess what? That is PRECISELY the reason given by PD for wanting to stop this Bill in its tracks.

In so many words, the ‘Partit Demokratiku’ has admitted that its ultimate intention is to derail Malta’s ratification of that convention... which in itself should raise eyebrows, seeing as the ALDE fully supports the adoption and implementation of the same convention across the board.

But what should interest the ALDE more are the specific objections raised by its newest member to this Bill. I need hardly add that PD is not objecting because it believes that ‘violence against women’ is something that should be tolerated – even though, somewhat naively, it also opened itself up to that line of criticism, for the benefit of anyone unscrupulous enough to take the bait.

No, it all boils down to this country’s permanent political obsession with abortion: an inherent problem that had already affected the Greens in the past, and now has evidently extended its tentacles also to the Liberals. In the words of a PD statement dated 2 January 2018 – a month to the day after it was accepted by the ALDE – the ratification of this convention “could decriminalise abortions in Malta if there is the prior and informed consent of the woman involved.”

This because Article 39 of that convention states that: “Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the following intentional conducts are criminalised:

(a) performing an abortion on a woman without her prior and informed consent;

(b) performing surgery which has the purpose or effect of terminating a woman’s capacity to naturally reproduce without her prior and informed consent or understanding of the procedure.”

Exactly how that section could possibly ‘decriminalise abortion’ in Malta is, however, a little harder to explain: so I’ll just reproduce the PD’s entire argument in full.

“... in terms of Malta's criminal code, performing an abortion on a woman is an offence both if it is without ‘her prior and informed consent’ and even if it is done with her consent.

“The article in the new Bill, however, leads to the understanding that legislative measures to ensure that abortion was criminalised would only be taken if the abortion was performed without the prior and informed consent of the woman.

“This is unacceptable and abortion should continue to be a crime even if the woman consented...”

Hmm. Ok, I’ll admit there is simply too much wrong there to possibly cope with in one article. So I’ll limit the obvious observation to the barest of minimums. Ready? Here goes:

What a load of legalistic claptrap! Abortion, with or without the woman’s consent, is already a crime in Malta – and with the new law in place, it will remain a crime (if anything, even more so, as there would be a whole new law for the prosecution to invoke in cases where there was no consent). So what the heck will this new law change? Why oppose an entire convention, on the basis of one tiny, microscopic little detail that, in practice, will not have any impact on local legislation at all?

Honestly, if were in charge of the ALDE I wouldn’t admit them on the basis of the sheer nonsensicality of the reasoning alone. ‘Sorry, folks, but you failed your Logic 1.1. That’s an automatic disqualification, right there...’

But viewed from the perspective of a European liberal, that would be the least of my worries. I mean... is this the sort of mindset the ALDE wants to represent these days? You will find the exact same arguments on the religious right side of the European Parliament... with liberal MEPs arguing (and voting) against.

So... what if PD elects an MEP from Malta next June? Would he or she have to change seats every time a topic came up that might remotely touch on the issue of abortion? Will they be ’liberal’ one day, and ‘conservative’ the next? How is this uneasy relationship going to pan out in practice?

And I suppose it works both ways, too. I can’t see any reason why the ALDE would accept a party which such extremely contrasting views to its own, on such a fundamentally liberal issue – let me repeat, in the remote event that an ALDE member ever chances upon this article: ’abortion under all circumstances is unacceptable, should continue to be a crime even if the woman consented – signed, an ALDE member’.

But by the same token, I can’t understand why an obviously pro-life party would want to join an obviously pro-choice alliance.

Because that’s what the ‘Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe’ is: an umbrella organisation for parties which believe (inter alia) in a woman’s right to free and safe access to abortion across the entire world. And yes, that includes Malta, too. And it argues consistently in favour of female reproductive rights – including, but not limited, to abortion – in all international fora: voting accordingly whenever such issues are raised at European parliamentary level.

Now: many people here disagree (including, naturally, the ALDE’s local representative. No contradiction there, right?)... but nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has ever put a gun against the heads of pro-life people in this country, and forced them to vote for a quintessentially ‘pro-choice’ political organisation against their will.

And it’s not as though they’re unrepresented, either. Actually, they’re spoilt for choice. All Malta’s political formations are firmly and unequivocally pro-life, even when their extended European cousins disagree. Traditionally, that category has always included both Labour and the Greens... although the latter seems to be in the process of revising its policy, having recently called for a ‘national discussion’ on the topic.

I guess it says something about the climate for such a discussion in Malta right now, that even this modest proposal was met with the usual, instant chorus of pro-life indignation... as did an analogous suggestion by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights last month. But let’s leave that for another time.

(Note: As it happens, the only local party that emerges entirely consistent on this issue - both with its own, and also Europe’s political platform - is the PN, as a Christian conservative party. I thought I’d go out of my way to point this out, because – let’s face it - I don’t get a chance to highlight the PN’s consistency every day...)

But the underlying issue here is that: sorry, but you can’t exactly run with the liberals and hunt with the conservatives, you know. No political organisation – pro-choice, pro-choice, pro-this, pro-that, whatever - has any business to be contesting elections on the same ticket as other parties representing a whole different world-view from their own.

Just as I wouldn’t consider voting for a Christian conservative party myself – in part, but not only, because of their views of female reproductive rights – I don’t expect to see the same view represented on a supposedly ‘liberal’ ticket, either.

And like I said before: for the life of me, I can’t understand why the ALDE would even want me to. What are they trying to do, anyway? Confuse me, or something?

I would have thought Maltese politics is confusing enough on its own, without extending its contradictions to engulf European politics too. But then again... unlike the ALDE, I’ve been watching local politics long enough to actually recognise those contradictions when I see them.

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