European elections: migration, security and the future of work key issues

Which are the issues that will be motivating voters in the 2019 European elections in May?


The European parliament
The European parliament

Miriam Dalli, Labour MEP

Miriam Dalli, Labour MEP
Miriam Dalli, Labour MEP

Miriam Dalli was in the heart of Strasbourg in December the night of an attack at a Christmas fair that served as a stark reminder that security and terrorism will remain a recurring issue of importance in European politics until a common response is found.

“The EU needs to maximise proper exchange of information and to clampdown on the financing of terrorist organisations, as well as the radicalisation that takes place both online and in the real world,” she said, recalling a recent Eurobarometer survey in which 49% said security will be a key issue in the upcoming elections.

A topic which is regularly linked to security is migration. “It’s about making sure that people who do not have the right to stay in the EU are returned to their own country, and ensuring relocation to help countries on the borders,” she said.

Addressing the root causes with the aim of improving life standards in developing countries from which migration originates, should also be part of the agenda. The next EU budget has increased funds for the management of migratory flows from €3 billion to €10.4 billion.

Dalli’s term in Brussels has seen her earn plaudits for her legislative work on car emissions, and the MEP looks to uphold her commitment.

“Without a healthy environment where to live and work, we cannot enjoy the benefits of an economic boom. There is an active interest that shows that citizens want us as policymakers, to give greater attention to the environment and climate change,” she said.

Dalli said that the environment keeps climbing up the ranks in topics that concern citizens, not only because of the impact it holds on their health, but also due to the increase in awareness about the need to safeguard the planet.

Aaron Farrugia, parliamentary secretary for EU funds

Aaron Farrugia, parliamentary secretary for EU funds
Aaron Farrugia, parliamentary secretary for EU funds

Financing remains one of the biggest challenges for the EU, says junior minister Aaron Farrugia, as large economies flatline without no will to increase contributions to the EU budget.

“So the EU is faced with the challenge of how to do more with less,” Farrugia said. “The silver lining to this problem could be improvement in financial efficiency… It will be interesting to see how political parties across Europe propose to adapt to the new fiscal realities,” he said.

Farrugia also expressed concern about the pressing need for a more social Europe. “Huge social inequalities and the widening of the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing at an alarming rate on a European level,” he said, linking sluggish economic growth in

Europe to social inequality. “Although the Maltese economy is doing exceptionally well, and this reality is felt on the ground, the same cannot be said for some of our neighbouring countries,” he said.

Echoing Dalli, Farrugia says migration and security remain the key drivers to the rise of right-wing populism in Europe. “The issue of security is never far from voters’ minds in this increasingly unpredictable globalised world.”

Farrugia said that European parties are faced with the dilemma of responding to genuine concerns on rising migration levels without compromising European ideals and values. “Mainstream parties could ignore citizens’ concerns, leading populist parties’ popularity to skyrocket,” he warned.

Farrugia also said Brexit will see the UK’s crashing out of the EU leaving deeply damaging consequences on the EU. “After all the crises that the EU went through, including the economic and financial crisis, the migration crisis, and an identity crisis also fuelled by Brexit, what will a future EU27 look like?”

He said Europe’s ability to evolve will raise questions as to whether it will be left behind as other economic superpowers forge ahead. “Automation, future of work, artificial intelligence and disruptive technology – will the EU trail behind Silicon Valley and China? Because we cannot afford to let this happen, and the EU has no option but to catch up,” he said, complaining that the EU was not spending enough on modernisation and innovation.

Robert Metsola, Nationalist MEP

Robert Metsola, Nationalist MEP
Robert Metsola, Nationalist MEP

Although migration is also a top concern for Roberta Metsola, she concedes that considerable progress has been made over the past European legislature.

“At the top of people’s list of concerns is immigration. It is a topic that I have worked on over the last legislature and an issue where considerable progress has been made. In all my negotiations I have also tried to find a balanced approach between ensuring protection for those who are in need, securing Europe’s external borders and returning those who are not eligible for protection – while keeping populists’ ‘iPhone abuse’ on this topic in check.”

She said that it is a “hugely emotive subject” that requires thinking “outside the box” to find an immediate, medium, and long-term approaches.
Metsola also raised cost of living as a critical issue for Malta. “Spiralling rent and property prices that have exploded to such a degree that young couples are finding it impossible to get onto the property ladder, students can no longer afford to rent digs, people now live in garages and pensioners are finding it impossible to make it to the end of the month.”

She said Malta needs an alternative economic plan that ensures prosperity but that simultaneously leaves no one behind.

Even corruption is an issue on the public’s mind, Metsola said. “Corruption is the antithesis of good governance and good business practice. Having people like disgraced Minister Konrad Mizzi remain at the heart of Government continues to damage Malta’s reputation as a bona fide business and tourism destination.”

Metsola says she has supported measures for single-use plastics that ruin beaches and pollute the sea to be banned from 2021. “It’s not just the war on plastic; Malta still lacks a coherent plan to manage construction effectively… there’s too much dust, too little enforcement and too many people doing whatever they like.”

Peter Agius, Nationalist candidate for MEP and spokesperson of EP president Antonio Tajani

Peter Agius, Nationalist candidate
Peter Agius, Nationalist candidate

Peter Agius, a former head of the European Parliament’s office in Malta, said the time had come for Europe to take charge of those sectors in which EU policy has not helped individuals or where Malta has been either lazy or not strategic enough to use EU measures to people’s advantage.

An example of this was the recent EU legislation for animal welfare used in Germany to encourage pig breeders to implement animal-friendly measures through local subsides – Malta imposed the same legislation without discussion and subsidies. “In Germany, it is carrot and stick. In Malta, it is just the stick.”

Agius believes Gozo will be a hot-button topic in the European elections. “Gozo saw virtually none of the expansion of the services industry in Malta and around 85% of its young graduates delocalised to Malta for qualified jobs.

“Do we want Gozo to be an old people’s home or do we want to see it for the opportunity it represents as an alternative and unique investment destination beefing up product Malta? EU funds and measures can help, but these need to be decided according to Gozitan priorities by the Gozitans themselves not imposed top-down from Castille as is the case at present,” he said.

Agius also said rapid changes will see the skills of many workers in their 40s today become out-dated in 10 years with the onset of the Internet of Things, robotics and AI. “Robotics on its own is predicted to lead to the loss of 55 million jobs in the next decade in the continent. Malta will not be immune to this.”

He said Malta has to harness this era not only by attracting foreign investment, as the country is doing through Blockchain, but by also attracting innovators and researchers. “We need to focus on knowledge transfer to our young graduates for us to come stronger from the digital revolution. The next EU budget will be fundamental for this, with a €9.2 billion fund only for digital. Government is not showing any actual preparation to tap into this as yet.”

Agius also warned that EU efforts for tax harmonisation will dominate the next legislature. “The wave for tax fairness will not stop. We need to explore more organic ways of dialogue with countries like France and Germany in this regard… We need to work together as Maltese and with all other countries with the will to defend fiscal competence as a matter of national sovereignty, to propose alternatives to the narrative of the promoters of fiscal harmonisation.”

Even on migration, Agius said the entire EU project could be in jeopardy.

“Our minds cannot be put at rest if we know that 24 million Africans are ready to leave their countries to migrate north.” He said that EU needs to go beyond the blockage of the Eastern countries and test a half-way solidarity mechanism coupling voluntary with legally binding measures to ensure frontier countries are assisted in case of irregular migration flows.

George Vital Zammit, University of Malta lecturer in public policy

Dr George Vital Zammit
Dr George Vital Zammit

Dr George Vital Zammit lists economic development and trade as one of the most critical issues in the upcoming European elections.
“Economies in the Union have grown disparately. The forecast for 2019 is a reduction in growth, with more looming uncertainty. Europe is home to the world’s largest single market and second most used currency, yet, it represents a falling share of the world population and a shrinking of its share of global GDP.”

With the rising influence of emerging economies putting more pressure on the EU to harness new industries and remain competitive, the EU will have to welcome changes in energy supplies as well as face the economic implications of Brexit. “In the words of Carlos Slim, the fourth industrial revolution will eradicate more jobs than it will create. The ability of countries to adapt, retrain and innovate their workforces will determine their resilience to change. Job mobility within the Union will remain a key characteristic in addressing the demand for labour.”

Zammit Vital said migration remains the elephant in the room. “Such is the sensitivity of the phenomenon, that upon signing of the Global Compact for Migration, the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel had to resign after losing a vote of no confidence. Three Member States voted against it. While to a lesser extent than 2004, migration will also be an issue in Malta, especially if arrivals will surge in the weeks preceding the election.”

He said that at the borders of the European Union are failed states and states with “social turmoil” with Europe continuing to remain an attractive opportunity for people from the African and Asian continent. “The subject has repetitively shown and proven that a one-size-fits-all is very hard to apply. Similarly, the implementation of ad-hoc solutions has weakened the European Union in being able to address the settlement of migrants effectively.”

Zammit Vital said that EU member states would need to foster social models that bridge divides, promote opportunities, link social partners, and strive for more equitable social outcomes.  

“Whereas Europe has the highest levels of social protection, the future seems uncertain, especially for future generations… the benefits of economic and social progress need to be further widened, to mitigate disparities, lack of access and exclusion.”