‘Parties must go back to social roots to fight far-right surge in EP elections’

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba says candidates lambasting foreign workers in Malta are using far-right discourse to win votes

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba (left) was interviewed by Claire Agius Ordway
Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba (left) was interviewed by Claire Agius Ordway

Labour MEP and vice-president of the S&D group Alex Agius Saliba has said socialist parties must rediscover their social roots in a bid to reach out to disaffected voters that will vote for the far-right in the coming European elections.

Agius Saliba was addressing an event hosted by the European Parliament office in Malta, showcasing the five-year records of all Maltese MEPs ahead of the coming European elections.

In a comment to MaltaToday, Agius Saliba said the effects of the costly adaptation measures necessary to mitigate the worsening climate crisis, had left voters dealing with a higher cost of living.

“The trends are what they are, and we have seen the far-right surge in Italy and the Netherlands, while centrist parties will be losing out the most this year,” he said of recent polling on the coming elections.

“I think the reason is uniquely the fact that Europe’s priorities, as well as the Parliament’s, have not always reflected the people’s priorities. The Green Deal, necessary though it is given the reality of climate change, has thrown a disproportionate burden on the people who least afford it under pressure from inflation.

Agius Saliba said that in a bid to reach out to disaffected voters, parties had to go back to their roots. “It’s what I tell the S&D: our priority must be the social. Extreme left and right parties are taking on the traditional ground of socialists, and that’s where our electorate is seeking out these alternatives.”

The MEP also called out political candidates who were hitching a ride on populist bandwagons by speaking out on foreign workers. “It irks me that candidates are using cheap statements for quick votes that have no real, long-term solutions. These statements create divisions in the country.

“In a growing economy, population increases do create pressures on property prices and infrastructure, for example. But using a far-right discourse to become an MEP is very demeaning, especially for mainstream candidates. It’s not the right way to do politics, especially in the current climate.”

Consumer rights

The event focused mainly on the issue of consumer rights, where Agius Saliba spoke on a variety of issues concerning safety of goods acquired, digital rights, the risks of AI and consumers scams, and the overarching power of large social media platforms.

Agius Saliba’s political record included his work on the right to disconnect, an initiative approved by the European Parliament but which has yet to be issued as a law by the European Commission.

As vice-president of the petitions committee, he recently championed a call for the European Commission to carry out a probe into Maltese importers’ food prices. “This is a committee that is dear to me, because it gives citizens the right to present their petitions to MEPs, and even request an investigation on the issues they request, while being given a chance to speak about it within the same committee.”

Agius Saliba said that following a meeting held with a Maltese importer on products affixed with holograms that differentiate from other cheaper goods imported by smaller, parallel traders, these stickers would no longer be used. “I think this is the reason why the European Parliament is useful, because it allows us to place these issues on an important agenda.”

Speaking on consumer rights, Agius Saliba also illustrated the work carried out on false business claims and indiscriminate social media advertising through the use of cookies from search functions. “It was a jungle,” Agius Saliba said, referring to the reforms addressed in the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act. “The single European market produces goods that have the highest safety standards, yet they are in competition with cheaper, inferior products from outside the EU. We managed, with this legislation, to ensure a level playing-field in this commercial landscape.”

Agius Saliba said MEPs had also managed to enact European legislation that can take action, with clear procedures, to regulate and remove prohibited digital content, false information, illegal data collection, and the sale of usage data for advertising purposes.

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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 action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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