[WATCH] Ewropej fil-Pjazza: Gozo takes centre-stage in candidates’ debate

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola challengeds assertions by Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech that votes for third parties and independents were ‘gains’ for the ruling Labour Party.

Ewropej fil-Pjazza in Victoria, Gozo. Photo: Lindsey Bahia
Ewropej fil-Pjazza in Victoria, Gozo. Photo: Lindsey Bahia

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola yesterday challenged assertions by Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech that votes for third parties and independents were ‘gains’ for the ruling Labour Party.

Cassola was debating at the Ewropej Fil-Pjazza event held in Victoria’s Independence Square, the fourth such debate hosted by MaltaToday and Lovin Malta, on a panel that included Thomas Bajada (PL), Norma Camilleri (PN), Ralph Cassar (ADPD), and Matthias Portelli (Volt).

“I’ll do Bernard one better… for the past 30 years I have consistently remained a stalwart defender of the environment, challenging every assault upon it, irrespective of the perpetrator’s political affiliation… My pristine track record on this is a matter of public record. Can the bigger parties say the same?” Cassola said when asked about Grech’s warning to PN voters not to toy with their ballot choices.

“May I remind Dr Grech, that my career as a European politician began long before Malta’s accession into the EU. Between 1999-2006 I served for over six years as General Secretary of the Greens, the fourth biggest party in the entire bloc.”

Ewropej fil-Pjazza

Yesterday’s debate saw Labour candidate Thomas Bajada pitch his home island as a specific concern for any Maltese MEP, saying he wanted to preserve Gozo’s identity as well as ensure young people have a future in the face of the island’s brain drain.

The PN’s Norma Camilleri, also Gozitan, said the island faced challenges from the cost of raw materials, transport and connectivity between the islands, as well as the pressure from planning policies that were changing the Gozitan topography.

ADPD’s Ralph Cassar said a small island like Gozo should also understand the limitations of space might not permit an economic growth without its associated consequences. “Definitely we must be realistic about the scale of opportunities that can be realised in such a small island as Gozo; even Malta has the same challenges associated with small scale. In this sense, more remote working opportunities for Gozitans must be explored.

On the matter of connectivity between the islands, Volt’s Matthias Portelli said Gozo should be included in any prospect for a metro system, while Cassola warned against extensive roadwork projects or the shelved Gozo bridge proposal.

“Certainly enough, a Gozo tunnel would be a crazy option for us to consider – if Gozo is going to become a place full of flyovers as there is in Kappara and other places, it will be turned into half the diamond it is.

“It is national governments that decide what to do with EU funds: Malta is one of the countries that took the least of Common Agriculture Policy money: instead it used up €700 million for road-building.”

While Bajada agreed that Gozo needed a fourth Gozo Channel boat and better port infrastructure, he said Gozitan youths needed better digital connectivity. “The minute we say that ‘we are too small’, we would be shutting the door in the face of our aspirations – we need Gozitan youths to be able to open their start-ups to the European market.”

Camilleri insisted that Gozo was not being served with the Nikolaus boat, which cost a daily €14,000 in operational service, yet lacked accessibility and could not always sail with full capacity. “This was a situation that could have been forecasted well before, because the rise in tourism and crossings started quite a long time ago.”

Planning, and hunting

Arnold Cassola issued a salvo against construction industry greed in Gozo, accusing developers of sourcing foreign cash to finance mega-projects in Gozo, in what he denounced as money laundering. “We need to start thinking about whether these projects are indeed suited for an island like Gozo. And what about the effects of this over-development on mental health? We need to get EU funds to open more green spaces... and for real ecological opportunities.”

Cassar agreed, calling for a full reversal of the rationalisation scheme that extended building boundaries.

And while both major party candidates supported Maltese efforts in the European Court of Justice to retain a derogation on bird trapping, the other three candidates wanted Malta to fall in line with EU laws on bird hunting and trapping.

“Labour will always defend a traditional pastime like hunting and trapping... This is our identity – some people depend on this identity for their quality of life,” Bajada said.

Cassola had a contrasting reply. “We should not go against nature – I think this is clear as to why we need a third-party vote. Labour is in favour of hunting in spring and trapping; the PN is staying on the fence, waiting for the decision; my position is clear – I am against hunting and trapping in spring.

“You must be certainly ‘strange’ – for wont of a better word – to kill birds that are migrating to Europe to propagate. This is a natural cycle. And we certainly need ministers who need a European mentality: Clint Camilleri is certainly keeping Malta out of Europe with his mentality as minister for hunting, who does his utmost to support the hunting lobby.”

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 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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