Letters: 6th April 2014

The principal of popular majority

The inauguration of the presidency of Dr Coleiro Preca on Friday 4 April 2014, a few days after celebrating the 35th anniversary of Freedom Day, has given occasion for a reshuffle of Joseph Muscat’s Cabinet of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, the first such Cabinet of this young Prime Minister who assumed office after a historic Labour Party victory in March 2013.

This Cabinet reshuffle, apart from Dr Coleiro Preca, includes the resignations of the Minister for Health Dr Godfrey Farrugia and of the Parliamentary Secretary Dr Franco Mercieca, who were both newly appointed last year and of the Labour veteran Karmenu Vella, Minister for Tourism, who will now be nominated for the position of Commissioner in the College of Commissioners of the EU. 

The departure of Mr Vella from Cabinet is of especial symbolic significance, since he is the last of the close collaborators of Dom Mintoff to leave the front-line of Maltese politics and signals the closure of the post-independence epoch, which in effect came to a close 10 years ago when Malta joined the EU in May 2004.

Taking into consideration the scholarship available today, I am of the opinion that the post-colonialist era – the 40 years after independence, between 1964 and 2004 – may best be described as “populist” in political jargon. In this period, Maltese governments, although enjoying full sovereign rights as from September 1964, had to find their way and re-order the institutional infrastructure left behind by the colonising power. The Maltese parliaments of this period had to create the Republic and to dismantle the foreign military base, among other necessary reforms, for the country to have viable political institutions. 

These historic changes however required a justifying cause, as the overriding principle of national unity could no longer be found in military force or Church influence, options available under foreign rule. This justifying overriding principle was found to be the popular majority rule and was inserted in our Constitution in 1987. This was employed in 2003 to enable the country to decide, by means of a referendum and general election, on its relations with the European Union, allowing Malta to partake of a global vision.

Mario Mifsud, Hamrun


An unfair assessment of Brussels sprouts

Some deem Brussels sprouts too sour and stinky. They are often ticked off the menu just because of that. Yet, they are extremely healthy and contain glucosinolate sinigrin, a cancer-preventing substance.

In life, as in politics, it is way too easy to rely on perceptions. In most cases we get by. You don’t have to be a professional nutritionist to pick the ingredients to cook after a day’s work. Some of our choices, however, might have a different kind of impact. Not necessarily immediate or direct, but still very strong. Elections are a case in point.

Last week, the editor of this newspaper asked whether we need a European Parliament at all. “It does allow six Maltese MEPs to get handsomely remunerated… but apart from that, it achieves next to nothing”, he said. The question was put in the context of a series of comments on that ‘handsome’ remuneration of MEPs riding on the infamous ‘gravy train’, doing nothing of substance. This picture of the European Parliament is unfair and incorrect. 

The European Parliament is the democratic powerhouse of Europe. It has gradually increased its leverage on EU decision-making to achieve full legislative power in the EU on a  par with the Council of Ministers. 

It has adopted innumerable citizen-centric legislation in different areas: your MCAST or University certificate is today recognised abroad; you can undergo an operation anywhere in the EU when there are reasonable conditions to do so; common tendering rules and better access to public procurement for businesses; simpler accounting rules for smaller companies; free-to-air broadcasting of major events; protection when shopping online. From the micro to the macro, we are all affected to some extent.

We just do not relate certain benefits to their real source. In all these cases and in hundreds more, the decisions of the MEPs over the last legislature have ensured that the Union acts where it can add value in areas where its member countries cannot achieve certain objectives on their own. Hence more coordinated laws to ensure not only healthy markets, but also practical and concrete standards like safer toys for children, cleaner air, clearer labelling to provide better information ot the consumer, and myriad other facets of quality of life that we take for granted. 

Saying that the European Parliament achieves next to nothing neglects countless privileges that we enjoy as European citizens. True, most of these privileges may be invisible to most of us, just as glucosinolate sinigrin goes unnoticed in Brussels sprouts.

The very term ‘gravy train’ was coined as a cheap populist battlecry of sceptics that are themselves deriving benefit from the Brussels machinery. MEPs are indeed the sole direct representatives of the people in the European project. They are part of the structure together with national governments, with whom they share legislative power in the EU.

Another over-used adage is that ‘Brussels’ (which in reality comprises also our own government and politicians) is detached from the citizen. You just need to look at ‘national’ news headlines to see that most of what we debate here has an EU dimension that is applied locally. Cleaner energy, solar panels, public finances, a more efficient justice system, working conditions, you name it. 

Europe has never been closer than this to the Maltese citizen. There are of course areas where solutions are still far off and where the EU has underperformed or even been absent. Choosing our representatives should also be about giving a direction to this ongoing process. In this sense the European Parliament should be seen as a means, not an end in itself.

To those who dismiss Brussels as a dull place, going once more by the cliché, I would suggest taking a stroll around Parc George Henri and, once you are there, stop for ice cream at the Capoue. Those who fed you the stereotype have probably never left the corridors of the institutions and are not to be trusted for eye-witness advice. 

And by the way, Brussels sprouts are delicious when roasted and will stink your kitchen only if overcooked.

Peter Agius, Head of the European Parliamet Office in Malta


The renegade Pope

The local media recently published several write-ups on Pope Francis to mark the first anniversary of his pontificate. None of them mentioned his most controversial statements, most of which sent shock waves among the Catholic faithful. 

In an interview with Civilta Cattolica, Pope Francis said that the Church had locked itself up in “small things, in small-minded rules”, and that the Church should not be “obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”  

Such words, coming from the Pope, are indeed unprecedented. If a non-Catholic had used these words, he would have been accused of being disrespectful towards the Catholic Church.

In an interview with La Repubblica, Francis observed that too many Popes in the Church’s long history had been “narcissists” who let themselves by flattered by “courtier” aides in the Curia.

During a meeting with superiors of religious orders, the Pope said that men studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood should be properly trained or the Church could risk “creating little monsters” more concerned with their careers than with serving people.

Catholics were not flattered when the Francis told them: “Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do is undermining the Church’s credibility.”

Nor were they pleased to hear the Pope acknowledging “the existence of a gay lobby and a stream of corruption in the Vatican”.

John Guillaumier, St Julian’s