Socialist MEPs talk environment, youth and the digital transition during Malta conference

The citizens event saw several youth stakehodlers voice their opinions and proposals on the future of Europe

Members of the Socialists and Democrats group in European Parliament came together for a citizens event in Valletta to discuss the future of Europe in terms of environment, youth inclusion, and the digital transition.

The conference, entitled “It’s your Europe, have your say!”, kicked off at Upper Barrakka Gardens with a welcome statement from Mininister Julia Farrugia Portelli, who stressed the importance of a resilient Europe, especially one that reacts quickly and in real time.

S&D President Iratxe Garcia Perez followed with a brief statement. She said that a conference on the future of Europe is needed now more than ever, and stressed the importance of listening to stakeholders.

“We are accustomed to speaking at length on the European project, now we’re turning to you,” she said while addressing stakeholders.

Question time began with a message from Alicia Homs Ginel, MEP and President of the Young European Socialists. She pointed out that her generation suffered the effects of both the 2008 financial crisis and the current pandemic, and everything in between.

“This generation often feels forgotten, left behind. It’s time for youth to claim what is ours,” she stated.

Maltese MEP Alfred Sant followed with several questions on the future of Europe. He questioned how Europe can remain cohesive given the wealth of backgrounds people come from, and whether Europe can create a cohesive sense of purpose, values and interests.

He further questioned what role Europe will take on in the future, and what its fundamental values will be.  

A short video from Mark Belka, S&D Vice-President for International Trade and engagement with citizens and institutions, was played to the audience. He encouraged participants to immerse themselves in in-depth exchanges with youth, who could help guide policymakers in building their future.

“Are we doing enough to save the planet?”

Maltese MEP Cyrus Engerer kicked off a brief discussion on the environment. He emphasised that the environment goes beyond trees and plants, but includes the health of all biodiversity across the world.

On the climate crisis, he said that Malta, Europe, and the world, could have done better to prevent certain impacts.

“But looking back isn’t enough. The future affects all of us,” he stated.

Engerer mentioned that the sea could serve as an important resource in the climate fight, especially in the form of carbon sinks.

Mohammed Chahim, S&D Vice-President for a Green New Deal, stated strongly that Europe cannot have climate justic without social justice. He said that the burden of climate change should not fall on people with lower incomes or on those who have hard jobs and struggle to make ends meet.

“The burdens and profits of climate change need to be shared fairly,” he said. “Social justice needs to go hand in hand with climate justice.”

When the floor opened for interventions, a member of the local NGO Għawdix pointed out that while Malta excels in its recovery and resilience plan, which was dubbed to be among the greenest approved by the European Commission, she said that a radical overhaul in planning policy is needed, as opposed to mere greenwashing.

Steve Ellul, a finance professional and advisor to Minister Miriam Dalli, emphasised that S&D should think not only about ideas but also about their implementation.

“One way of doing this is by putting our money where our mouth is,” he said.

He referred to the 2015 sovereign debt crisis,when EU institutions were able to identify a plan of action in mere months.

“My feeling is that there is a lack of boldness, materiality, and understanding that green issues need to be tackled with the same boldness and conviction that we tackled the financial crisis.”

Lucas Micallef, President of FKNK, said that his organisation is committed to safeguarding the environment, but criticised the “extreme position” taken by many against hunters and bird trappers.

“United we can regenerate and safeguard our habitats,” he said.

“How to engage young people in the Conference on the Future of Europe”

Maltese MEP Josianne Cutajar set the scene for a second discussion on youths and their role in EU policymaking.

“Youths are not only the future but the present,” he said.

She warned that there tends to be an element of tokenism when including young people in political debates.

“Youths shouldn’t be included at the last minute. They’re not there to take selfies with to pretend that they’ve been included. They must beincluded from the beginning,” she said.

Minister Carmelo Abela, speaking after Cutajar, referred to an exercise carried out during Skolasajf, where children were asked to present what they want for the future of the EU.

He mentioned that one of the themes that came out during the exercise was the environment.

A first intervention was made by Jacob Callus, Advocacy Officer for the National Youth Council. Callus emphasised that youths, but also youths with disabilities, should be given the opportunity to reach their aspirations.

He mentioned that he suffers from a more invisible disability, and that others have bigger obstacles ahead of them. “Those people ought to have the opportunity to be with us.”

JeanFred Agius, Public Relations Officer at Betapsi Malta, added that mental health ought to be a significant topic of conversation when discussing the future of Europe.

Reb Xiberras, a Coordinator at LGBTI+ Gozo, added that queer people are often used as ‘tokens’ in public debate.

“LGBT rights are built on sand. At any point, they can be taken down by just one person in government with a different mentality,” they said, referring to recent anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Hungary and Poland.

“One suggestion is to make this a safe space for everyone with different gender identities, allowing space for people to mentioned their preferred names and pronouns,” they continued.

“Is the digital transition fair? Does it reach out to everyone?”

Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba said that for the EU to remain relevant, it must continue listening to people. With regards to the digital transition, this involves putting workers first.

“If workers didn’t have the digital tools [to work from home], they would have lost their livelihoods,” he said, while referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He mentioned the right to disconnect legislation being introduced at EU-level, which would guarantee workers a right to avoid work-related telecommunication during leisure hours.

“How can we have quality mental health when workers are treated like robots, working like a machine,” he said. “That’s how we end up with vulnerable workers.”

Ismail Ertug, S&D Vice-President for Transformation, Innovation and a Strong Digital Europe, also referred to increased use of technology during the pandemic.

He mentioned that while many were forced to use their computers or other digital technologies, the pandemic taught policymakers that travels and carbon dioxide emissions could be decreased through the digital transition.

He also added that he saw too many cars with combustion engines while in Malta, and suggested that they be replaced with electric mobility features.

Ertug mentioned three pieces of European legislation that are looking to facilitate and regulate the digital transition. These include the Digital Markets Act, Digital Services Act, and Artificial Intelligence Act.

Participants in this discussion largely mentioned that the European Union must safeguard its workers, who are an important economic source.

One speaker mentioned that the skills of Maltese workers must adapt to the demands of the labour market throughout the transition.

Another speaker who works with the General Workers’ Union mentioned the need for specific regulations on employee monitoring. He said that workers must know whether monitoring is happening, and if so under what scope and what data is being collected.

He further emphasised the importance of worker unions in helping better overall quality of life.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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