All about Eve... | Eve Borg Bonello

At just 18 years of age, newly elected MP EVE BORG BONELLO is by far the youngest Parliamentarian in Maltese political history. She has also been entrusted with one of the most problematic shadow portfolios on offer: Climate Change. So will ‘being Eve’ – as she herself puts it – be enough, for her to rise to the challenge?

Eve Borg Bonello (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Eve Borg Bonello (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

To quote my colleague James Debono: “By placing [Climate Change] in the hands of a political newbie, [Bernard] Grech is either showing great trust in the power of youth, or is underestimating the importance of such a complicated issue”. Let’s start with ‘the power of youth’ part. In this election, younger candidates certainly performed better, on the whole, than their older counterparts. How do you interpret that, yourself? Are people simply tired of old faces? Or is it because younger candidates really do have more to offer?

First of all: I don’t think that young people get elected, simply because ‘they are young’. When it came to this election, in particular: there were many young candidates who got elected, yes… and some of it may be because people associate youth with ‘innovative ideas’.

But from my own experience, I can tell you that it’s also because… they worked really hard! Which is not to say that older candidates didn’t… or that the veterans of politics, no longer have anything to offer.  But I don’t think it’s simply a case that people voted for young candidates, just because of their age. After all, if you want people to vote for you, you have to work hard for their trust. You have to reach out to them… meet them… speak to them, and so on.

That is, in fact, what my own campaign represented. I very much believe in ‘street politics’ - ‘il-politika tat-triq’, for lack of a better expression – and that is why I set up an open-air office, on the Sliema Front… when I realised that I didn’t have the resources for an actual office!

But what I think we should all be after, is ultimately a balance. Because at the end of the day, we are a representative democracy. We have to represent everyone, from every age-group. So if 16-years-olds could vote in this election… I want to represent them, as well.

Could there be slightly more to it than that, though? At the risk of quoting your harshest critic: Mark Camilleri argues that there is also a tendency, here, to ‘trivialise’ politics… as evidenced by comments like: ‘Kemm hu/hi orrajt!’; ‘Tuh/a cans, miskin/a’, etc. Doesn’t he have a point, that your own appointment – an 18-year-old, entrusted with such an important portfolio – seems to arise from the same trivialisation of politics?

If there is one thing I learnt from the election, it’s that people want politicians who listen. On any issue. They don’t want politicians who get on their high horse; or who remain stuck in a gilded office; or who make shady backroom deals, and so on. They want politicians to be on the ground, and to speak to them.

So ultimately, people elect those who they feel can represent them. So if I have been entrusted with responsibility for Climate Change, I feel that my responsibility is to listen to the stakeholders, and the experts in the field… and to represent their ideas, and turn them into policies.

Now: if I do a bad job of that, I have no doubt that I wouldn’t get entrusted with the same faith, at the next election. That is, after all, how it works…

But on the subject of criticism: yes, fair enough. I do realise that I am open to scrutiny. I am, at the end of the day, a Member of Parliament. But when it comes to certain comments… let me put it this way: I have been receiving death threats since I was 16 – there was even a ‘coffin’, with my face on it, during the Labour carcades - and I got quite a few nasty comments even before that, as an activist.

So, fortunately or unfortunately, I’m used to criticism by now. I’m also lucky enough to have a strong support system. And if the criticism is fair, or legitimate, I will certainly listen to it. But I’m not at all sure about grown men, writing fantasies or speculations about my private sex-life…

Well, now that you’ve brought it up yourself: I can’t help but note that – for an 18-year-old political newbie – some of the criticism has indeed been somewhat… ‘disproportionate’. How much of this do you think is simply because you are not just young, but also female?

I have no doubt that there still is a lot of misogyny, in our very Mediterranean society. And it might be one of the reasons why people feel so entitled to tear every piece of me apart.

But like I said earlier, I’d understand a lot more if the criticism was directed at anything I actually did, or said, myself. The reality, however, is that I haven’t done anything yet – either as an MP, or as spokesperson for Climate Change – even for the simple reason that Parliament hasn’t even re-opened after the recess.

So it’s clear, to me, that what I’m really being targeted for is not ‘what I do’, but ‘who I am’. And I can’t really answer that sort of criticism…

Granted; but that’s only true of the more outrageous comments. Let’s face it: you were certainly very outspoken as an activist (and even now, as an MP). In fact, you were most recently compared – somewhat ironically, perhaps – to Jason Azzopardi. How to respond to that, first of all?

In terms of ‘being compared to Jason Azzopardi’, all I have to say is: I have every respect for Jason Azzopardi, because he is one of the ones who stood up to be counted. At the same time, however…

…I am not a ‘new Jason’. I’m not a ‘new Simon’. I’m not a ‘new Metsola’. I’m not a ‘new anybody’, in fact. I’m Eve. I’m perfectly comfortable being Eve. And I hope to show people out there, what ‘being Eve’ means. And I hope that they like it.

In a nutshell, I am very much the type of person who ‘calls a spade a spade’. This is, in fact, what all my activism was about, to begin with….

It’s also why you got so much criticism for it, too. Leaving aside the ‘sex-life’ angle – and the death-threats, for that matter – isn’t some of what remains actually quite legitimate? On one hand, you complain about ‘unfair’ criticism directed at yourself. But let’s face it: you sometimes hit out pretty hard, too…

If, by ‘hitting out hard’, you mean like when I called out Cyrus Engerer [over the Labour MEP’s former ‘revenge-porn’ conviction]… bear in mind that the question I was answering, in that interview, was to give an example of the difference between the Nationalist, and Labour parties.

So I made a very simple distinction between two MEPs: one is the President of the European Parliament… and the other is a convicted sex criminal. These are, after all, facts…

Yes, but your interpretation suggests that the entire Labour Party should be tarred with the same brush, as any single one of its exponents. And that’s a dangerous path for any Nationalist Party MP to take. It’s not as though the PN doesn’t have skeletons in its own closet…

Whatever flaws the Nationalist Party has had, in the past… you can’t realistically compare it to Labour…

Can’t you? Another thing you said on that programme was that the PN has ‘never had blood on its hands’. Are you so sure about that?

Was there ever any proof that it did?

What if I told you that, in 2002 – the year before you were born – the Nationalist government ordered the deportation of over 200 Eritrean asylum seekers: despite warnings by the UNHCR that they risked torture and death? (And a number of them were, in fact, tortured and killed?)

Obviously, as you yourself said… I was born in 2003. I can’t realistically answer about anything that happened before then…

But your own comment was about the entire history of the Nationalist Party. Not to be unkind, or anything: but how much do you actually know about that history, to make such sweeping statements about it?

Look, I’m not trying to use my age as an excuse, or anything; but I what I meant was that… although I can’t take responsibility for what happened before I was born: I do recognise it. But what I’m focused on now, is what’s happening in my lifetime; how it could be made better; and how we are going to look to the future, instead of the past.

Fair enough, that brings us neatly to the second part of that quote I started with: i.e., that Bernard Grech is ‘underestimating the importance of Climate Change’, by entrusting it to someone so young and (no offence) inexperienced as yourself.  Certainly, a lot of people out there – including many Nationalists – share that sentiment. How would you justify your own appointment to those people?

I certainly can’t claim to be a Climate Change expert, naturally. But I was an activist before entering politics… and while most of it was environmentalist activism - and usually over local environmental issues, such as ODZ development, and so on - a lot of it did, in fact, focus on climate change. And it did instil a lot of passion in me, for the subject.

At the risk of generalising: I’d say that, if young people do tend to feel slightly more ‘passionate’ about these things, it’s also because we don’t look forward only to the next five years… or until the next election… but to the next 40 years, and beyond.  Because obviously, we will be the ones who inherit the consequences of our inaction, today.

Now: when it comes to the question of whether I am technically ‘qualified’ or not, for such an important role… my response is: we’re a democracy, not a technocracy. And I don’t think that any MP, or minister, should be a ‘walking encyclopaedia’ about everything, everywhere.

My duty, as an MP responsible for Climate Change is to represent the people; and to speak with all the stakeholders… NGOs; academics; basically, everyone who has a deep understanding of the field, especially in the local context. I’m not here to be an expert, myself. I’m here to listen to the experts; learn from them, and to deliver on what needs to be done. And that’s what I’m ready to do.

It is, however, a very specific challenge. There are international Climate Change targets to be met; and some of the most crucial sectors involved in reaching those targets – namely, Energy and Transport – do not even fall under your own shadow portfolio. How, then, do you envisage your role in ‘delivering on what needs to be done’?

A subject like climate change is obviously too multifaceted, to be viewed as a single ‘bubble’, all on its own. It affects everything: from energy, to transport, all the way down to the way we consume….   

And for that reason: yes, of course, I am going to be collaborating with my fellow shadow ministers; and with all MPs overseeing the various related portfolios… because, like the reality of the problem itself, it has to be tackled from different angles.

But my first step still has to be meeting with all the relevant stakeholders – the NGOS, academics, activists experts in the field…

… you left out ‘industrialists’; and ‘corporate lobby-groups with massive vested interests’ (especially in the energy and automotive sectors), etc. etc. And besides: one other problem with Climate Change, is that – while it is very easy for Maltese politicians to talk about it – there is very little we can actually do, as a country, to address the global causes. Wouldn’t you say, then, that it will take more than just ‘being Eve’, to make an impact?

I see your point, but I don’t necessarily agree that there is ‘very little we can do’. We could, at least, do what is within our capabilities to do. Take the Climate Change targets, for instance: ours are actually the lowest, in all of Europe’s. Why is it so impossible for us to ever reach them?

I, for one, don’t think it is all that mpossible. I think that, with the right policies in place – which is the whole point of meeting, and talking to the stakeholders – there is a lot we can do, and which we are still in time to do.

And there are certainly things we could be doing, about environmental problems which – while related to Climate Change – need to be urgently addressed anyway. One of the most depressing statistics I ever read – and I wrote an article about this, when I was 14 – was that 500 people a year die in this country, due to air pollution alone. In other words, due to negligence…

This is not something we are powerless to do anything about. It is something that we can, after all, regulate through better policies. And that, ultimately, is what I intend to do…