Migration dominates candidates' debate

Leftist NGOs outline proposals ahead of the European Parliament elections, candidates focus on migration 

Migration dominated the debate organised by left-wing organisations
Migration dominated the debate organised by left-wing organisations

With the European elections just a week away, MEP hopefuls engaged in a European Parliament debate, and although a multitude of issues were discussed, migration topped the agenda.

The debate was organised by leftist organisations Zminijietna, General Workers Union Youths, Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, Moviment Graffiti and the Association of Socialist Federalists.

The debate was attended by Labour candidate Ivan Grixti, Alliance for Change candidate Ivan Grech Mintoff and liberal candidate Jean Pierre Sammut.

Despite being invited for this debate, no candidates from the PN or AD attended.

The focus on migration was perhaps inevitable as, both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party candidates have given prominence to the issue.

Similarly, during their visit to Malta, Martin Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker – who are both gunning for the presidency of the European Commission – focused on migration.

Socialists’ candidate Martin Schulz argued that a new approach is needed to tackle migration, saying Europe currently lacks a clear migration policy.

Similarly, EPP candidate Jean-Claude Juncker – who was hosted in Malta by PN leader Simon Busuttil – pledged that Malta would no longer be given “empty promises” and that all European countries should shoulder the migratory influx.

However, while the majority may have welcomed  Schulz’s and Juncker’s respective pledges, Ivan Grech Mintoff contesting on the euro-sceptic Alliance for Change ticket, insisted that the problem of migration is all down to the European Union and claimed that Malta’s “precarious position” is because of the “federalist state that is the European Union.”

The eurosceptic – who is the nephew of the late Dom Mintoff – claimed that Europe now resembles a federalist state whereby member states are ordered around and not allowed to contest decisions taken by Brussels. He claimed that Malta’s size and its participation at the European plenary renders its opposition mute.

“The European Union claims that all countries should shoulder the responsibility of migrants, but in reality this cannot be further from the truth. It is ironic that the US took in more migrants from Malta than any other European country,” he said.

Challenging migration laws, Grech Mintoff, argued that Malta should only take migrants if the asylum-seekers themselves wish to come to Malta.

“Migrants should be left to choose their country of arrival. The Maltese army should simply aid migrants and leave them on their way. Notwithstanding this, the pushback of migrants is out of the question as these will inevitably risk their lives in trying again,” he continued.

Labour hopeful Ivan Grixti insisted that migration, together with the issue of jobs, should top the discussion in the European Parliament. Echoing his party’s message, Grixti insisted that migration is an international problem that has to be shouldered by all countries.

While explaining that the influx of migrants arriving in Malta is unsustainable, Grixti put hope in Martin Schulz – claiming that if anything were to solve the problem, it was Schulz’s proposed new migration policy.

A change in the Dublin Regulations is seen as pivotal to address Malta’s immigration policy. Currently, refugees may apply for asylum only in the country where they first entered the EU.

However, both Schulz as well as Juncker failed to outline a change of the Dublin Regulations in their respective manifesto.

Addressing the debate Michael Briguglio, chief spokesman for Zminijietna, argued that due to the increase in euroscrepticism, xenophobia and inequality, a new European Union based on social and ecological models should be established.

The leftist NGOs also called for greater allocation of funds to offset unemployment rates. Moreover, they said that all workers, irrespective of their nationalities, should have equal access to social programmes and be subject to the same conditions.

Briguglio argued that due to debt-ridden countries imposing heavy austerity measures, euroscepticism was on the rise. While insisting that austerity measures should not have been imposed on the welfare state, Briguglio insisted that the European Union should increase public spending to cater for rising unemployment, poverty and inequality.

“During the past years, European governments cut national expenditure to provide financial support for debt-ridden countries. Austerity was wrongly imposed on the welfare state and this led to increases in poverty, unemployment and inequality. It is therefore inevitable that xenophobia and euroscepticism have increased,” he said.

Outlining the proposal put forward by the left NGOs argued that consequently, austerity measures should not be imposed.

This was echoed by Allenza Liberali candidate Jean Pierre Sammut, who argued that a larger strategic objective is needed to determine how the money is spent.

“An extensive reform of the budget process is needed. Budget decisions should be growth-oriented, and should focus on innovation and to create greater employment opportunities,” he said.

On climate change, Briguglio said the European Union should push for greater targets, claiming that climate change has been “abandoned” by the EU, but nevertheless explained that each country should set its own targets.

“Malta has been lagging behind in the renewable energy sector for the past ten years, so it would not be fair for Malta and Sweden to have the same targets in climate change,” he said.

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