[WATCH] Carm Mifsud Bonnici: ‘We seem to have resigned ourselves to the logic of war’

Coming from a generation that remembers the Cold War, Nationalist MP Carm Mifsud Bonnici is uncomfortable with the prevailing winds in the EU that advocate for more defence spending. He sits down with James Debono to talk about war, peace and the PN’s internal troubles. 

PN MP Carm Mifsud Bonnici (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
PN MP Carm Mifsud Bonnici (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici does not shy away from expressing reservations on the hawkish and militaristic drift prevailing in the European People’s Party. 

A former home affairs minister in the Lawrence Gonzi administration and a proud Christian Democrat, he insists negotiations with Russia are necessary. 

“Though difficult and complicated, negotiations with Russia are the only way to avoid an escalation which could push the continent to the brink of a nuclear war,” he tells me as we sit down for this interview inside parliament. 

Mifsud Bonnici argues it would be a mistake if the EU and Malta do not use their voice for peace. “If we do not use our voice for peace... we would be saying that there is no alternative to total conflict on a European scale which will also involve us.” 

He says the EPP’s European election manifesto is rooted in the present reality and premised on the idea that the EU should arm itself to be able to defend itself. But he adds people like him come from a generation that experienced the Cold War and the dangers it brought about because of the arms race. 

On the domestic political front, Mifsud Bonnici says a change of government is now a “national necessity”. But he fears the PN is still losing pieces from its mosaic, with the wounds of the ‘internal civil war’ which led to the dethronement of Adrian Delia, still not completely healed.

The following is an excerpt from the interview.

Following the full interview also on Facebook and Spotify.

In parliament you said you agreed with Pope Francis’ controversial declaration that Ukraine should raise the white flag and that negotiations with Russia are the only way to end the two-year conflict. But would not such negotiations risk appeasing and wetting the appetite of Vladimir Putin, a dictator who had no qualms violating international law by invading a neighbouring country and may well pose a risk to other countries including EU member states? 

This is not a question of Ukraine surrendering but that of leaving the door ajar for the possibility of an agreement… If we continue going down the path of escalation, the conflict will only grow… This raises the prospect of the conflict engulfing the whole of Europe… We risk playing into Putin’s game. Russia is producing three times as much weapons as Europe. Is the alternative that of Europe producing more weapons than Russia? And if so many weapons are produced, is it not inevitable that these weapons are eventually used?

But would negotiations entail Ukraine sacrificing its territorial integrity, thus rewarding Putin for his aggression? 

Ukraine now has the prospect of joining the European Union and can thus rebuild itself… Obviously I cannot go into the details on how negotiations can be carried out… Surely any negotiations will be messy and complicated. Putin himself is a difficult person… But if we do not use our voice for peace, we would be committing a mistake as we would be saying that there is no alternative to total conflict on a European scale which will also involve us. 

In its manifesto the PN’s European political family, the EPP, is advocating stronger defence and military cooperation and a dedicated EU defence pot of money within the bloc’s long-term budget. The text also floats the idea of a European nuclear deterrent. Does this not contrast with your calls for peace? 

The EPP has taken the realistic position that we should arm ourselves to defend ourselves… This is an electoral stance rooted in the present scenario. But I hail from a generation which grew up in the Cold War… we remember the deployment by the US of Pershing missiles in the 1980s. Fortunately, these weapons were never used. But I recall studies showing the scale of destruction five minutes after a Soviet attack and a western counterattack… Are we really willing to consider a scenario where we lob nuclear weapons towards each other? What will be left of Europe if we embark on this road?  ...Just imagine if the war spreads across Europe and Putin decides to launch a nuclear attack on a city like Rome. 

So, do you disagree with the EPP’s militaristic drift? 

The EPP manifesto reflects the growing preoccupation at an EU level that if war is inevitable, we need to be armed.  In this sense the socialist manifesto, which is less hawkish, can be criticised for being ineffectual. But the prospect of a war engulfing the entire continent is even more terrifying. Unfortunately, we seem to have resigned ourselves to the logic of war.

Sweden and Finland, a model for other neutral countries in Europe have joined NATO… What is the relevance of Malta’s neutrality in this new scenario? 

It will be a great political mistake for us to join NATO or any other military alliance. Our country would become more exposed to attack… We have no interest in being belligerents… Our voice is respected because it is not perceived as one serving the interests of others… It gives us the chance to speak common sense in a world where common sense is not always heeded. We should not try to impress by taking a front-line role… Our interests are best served by peace. 

Among the plans floated in EPP manifesto is a controversial outsourcing of asylum claims to third countries.In this way, asylum applications can be processed in “safe third countries” where, if their applications are  successful, they would remain, with the EU admitting an annual quota to its territory. Do you agree? 

This is quite concerning… The EPP manifesto also states that these people should be treated according to the highest standards but who will be enforcing these standards? Will the European Union and its agencies be responsible for zones within the countries offering to host these migrants? Or will they fall under the jurisdiction of the countries which enter into agreements with the EU to host them. We must be very careful that such agreements do not erode the fundamental rights of asylum seekers…

Surveys show that the PL is losing some of its voters, but these people prefer to abstain rather than vote PN. Why is this the case? 

This is because the electorate wants a change in government, but it is still assessing us… Unfortunately, there was too much internal bloodletting in the change of leadership from Adrian Delia to Bernard Grech.

Why were you uncomfortable with the removal of Adrian Delia? 

Once you choose a leader, unless he resigns of his own free will, he should serve until facing a general election. Changing a leader mid-way was a mistake. This led to a civil war pitting Nationalist against Nationalist. Although steps have been taken to heal the wound, the electorate is still not convinced of this. It is unheard of that an army decimates itself from within before facing the adversary in battle. My fear is that we burnt out too many valid people and voters got turned off by our silly antics.

But is there hope for the PN? 

Calling for a change in the country’s government is no longer a matter of Nationalist pride but a matter of national necessity… This is because the Labour government is drained of ideas and is no longer driven by a vision for the future and it’s only surviving by focusing on day-to-day management… But the Nationalist Party needs to ensure that the pieces from the mosaic which have been falling off are carefully put back in place… We should do what Joseph Muscat did before 2013. He already had wind in his sails, but he still made sure to assemble all the pieces composing Labour’s mosaic without discarding anyone…