[WATCH] Clint Azzopardi Flores: Mission to resist

Clint Azzopardi Flores worked in the diplomatic service at Malta’s representative office in Brussels, negotiating on behalf of the Maltese government. But now, he wants to be an MEP and is contesting on the Labour Party ticket with a vow to resist the European Commission. Interview by MaltaToday Executive Editor Kurt Sansone.

MEP Labour candidate Clint Azzopardi Flores
MEP Labour candidate Clint Azzopardi Flores

Clint Azzopardi Flores rejects the label Eurosceptic when I suggest it to him at the tail-end of a 45-minute sit down at his Hamrun office. 

He smiles and insists his bone of contention is the European Commission and its attempts to overreach its remit while not being subjected to enough scrutiny. 

“The European Commission wants to put its finger in every pie,” he tells me. Even in taxation matters where decisions are supposed to be taken at Council level by unanimity, the Commission found ways of going around the system, he says. 

Azzopardi Flores argues the Commission also imposed taxes under the guise of environmental rules with reference to the emissions trading scheme. 

But when questioned about the green transition and the cost to get there, he insists it is important for the environment but requires prudence. “It is how we transition that matters… People need breathing space in the midst of all that is going on in the world with conflict, logistical disruptions, inflation,” he says. 

Azzopardi Flores also calls out what he describes as the European Commission’s “hypocrisy” on how it dealt with the Ukraine war and the conflict in Gaza. 

There was no call for sanctions to be applied over what is happening in Gaza, he tells me but when asked whether he is against sanctions on Russia, Azzopardi Flores insists they should have targeted key individuals. 

His underlying belief is that the sanctions against Russia have hurt Europe and with the prospect of a more isolationist US on the horizon if Donald Trump is elected president in November, Azzopardi Flores says the EU will be unable to sustain Ukraine on its own. 

On the domestic front, he believes the reasons for high abstention rates captured by various polls are varied. Many are personal grievances but he adds inflation has hurt people and this has dampened enthusiasm. 

The following is an excerpt from the interview. The full interview can be viewed on maltatoday.com.mt, Facebook and Spotify. 

Something did happen: Russia invaded Ukraine. If the Ukrainians did not resist and were not provided military help, Russia would have gone all the way and occupied Kyiv and the whole of Ukraine. So, something did happen that changed the scenario. 

Let me be clear; I am not in favour of Russia’s invasion. But with the same argument… and this is the hypocrisy; when Azerbaijan swept through Nagorno-Karabakh last year did they impose sanctions on them? No. In the Gaza issue, were there any appeals for sanctions to be imposed [on Israel]… 

Are you saying the EU should not have imposed sanctions on Russia? 

The EU should have applied different sanctions that targeted certain individuals… almost two years after the war started, with all the military assistance [Ukraine was given], with all the people who died, the diplomatic channel that should have been maintained was destroyed because the narrative was divisive. When they realised this was backfiring, the narrative started mellowing after the State of the Union speech in 2022. It is good that Ukraine resists Russia; it is good that Ukraine is provided with humanitarian assistance but we need to unblock this situation because if on the other side of the Atlantic the pendulum shifts [towards Donald Trump], Europe will be on its own and it will be unable to provide Ukraine with all the military and financial assistance going its way today. 

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, what value does Malta’s neutrality have? 

It has a lot of value so much so that we are chairing the OSCE… we promote peace. Neutrality does not mean not taking a position when there are countries in conflict; it means not taking a military stand, which is different. It is a fine line. 

For the EU to have a stronger global voice like you suggest, it requires greater unity and integration. Are you in favour of a federal EU? 

I do not agree with a federal EU. But the European Commission has consistently tried to involve itself in tax matters, something which is a matter for Council to decide by unanimity. They went through the OSCE to impose a minimum corporate tax rate; they used the environmental argument to impose green taxes such as the emissions trading system. All these actions were intended so that the Commission can have a finger in the pie… 

You consider the European Commission as an ‘enemy’; the entity we have to fight against. But isn’t Malta part of the EU? 

The European Commission has no remit imposing certain things it dreams of in the morning and decides to push for. The Commission has to be kept under scrutiny all the time by governments and the European Parliament… the European Commission grew more than it should have and when this happens we have to be vigilant to ensure this does not turn into autocratic rule and a centrally controlling system. Such a system is not the EU and this is what is bothering me. 

European elections have always served as a barometer of how people feel about the country and the issues that concern them. Surveys are indicating more people will abstain, especially Labour voters. Where do you think the government is failing? 

There is no one answer because it is a multi-faceted issue. You get people with personal grievances such as those who feel an injustice was perpetrated in their regard in the past and has not yet been addressed despite the injustices boards that were set up. You get some who feel hurt because they are employed by contractors and earn less than their counterparts in the public service despite being engaged on the same line of work. There are these pockets that concern personal issues but in some areas the high cost of living has hurt people even though the government has gone headlong into tackling this issue. It has led to people losing interest… the problem is that the EU is tightening the noose and we are now feeling the pinch locally on certain regulations that are irking people… 

What do you mean the EU is tightening the noose? 

Emissions is one area where the EU kept tightening the noose... I’m not saying it is wrong but we need longer transition periods… I am not saying we do not transition [to a greener economy] but we need to adjust… it is how we transition that matters… People need breathing space in the midst of all that is going on in the world with conflict, logistical disruptions, inflation… 

Why should people choose you in June; what do you bring different to the table? 

I know how the European institutions work and I know how to negotiate and achieve compromise. If the EU is moving towards strategic autonomy and attract manufacturing to Europe, I want to make sure that part of that manufacturing comes to Malta. 

And I will resist the European Commission. 

Are you a Eurosceptic? 

No, not at all. The problem I see is that the European Commission wants to put its finger in every pie. I also disagree with the Commission when it tells us not to continue subsidising water and electricity because that policy brought about economic stability. I will resist the European Commission as much as possible and ensure greater good governance in those areas where the Commission has competence, including how money earmarked for military aid is spent…