[WATCH] Alex Agius Saliba: ‘Vitals inquiry, a political vendetta’

Labour’s leading MEP candidate Alex Agius Saliba talks to Matthew Farrugia about the electoral campaign and how some of the EU’s security headaches are self-inflicted, and whether he has faith in the court proceedings tied to the Vitals scandal

Labour MEP candidate Alex Agius Saliba (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Labour MEP candidate Alex Agius Saliba (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Labour’s star MEP candidate, Alex Agius Saliba says criminal proceedings in relation to the Vitals scandal are political persecution against Joseph Muscat, Chris Fearne, and Edward Scicluna. 

In an interview with MaltaToday, Agius Saliba praises Muscat and the work achieved during his administrations but stops short of extending his defence to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. 

And he reiterates his strong belief that “the PN establishment” will continue to do whatever it can to “eliminate” Muscat since he was the one who brought the party to its knees. 

Asked about the fraudulent concession itself, Agius Saliba boils it down to the simplified statement: “Things could have been done in a better way.” 

During our interview, Labour’s only incumbent MEP candidate also fields questions on the electoral campaign itself, admitting his disappointment that EU themes were placed on the backburner throughout most of the campaign. 

Agius Saliba discusses EU defence in the context of the unprecedented time the bloc is going through. He tells me that he does not agree with the S&D’s pledge to develop a European defence industry in the face of Russia’s aggression. 

He also questions the logic behind Ukraine’s fast-tracked candidacy as a potential EU state, adding that the bloc is responsible for much of the security-related issues it currently faces.

The following is an excerpt from the interview.  

Follow the full interview also on Facebook and Spotify.

One can say we slightly deviated from EU themes during this campaign. What are your thoughts on this? 

I think it’s a big disappointment and this campaign wasn’t the exception. If you look at the previous campaign, it wasn’t as intense as this one. Unfortunately, European issues are always sidelined, and national issues take over. It’s a pity because in a few weeks, we’ll have the first plenary session in the European Parliament where whoever gets elected as a Maltese MEP will be taking decisions which aren’t based on local events. They will be decisions on a variety of things that affect the environment, transport, civil liberties… I truly wished that we could have the opportunity to talk about what we achieved, our priorities and where we want the EU to go in the next five years… 

I’m going to refer to the S&D’s manifesto for this year’s election. It makes reference to the fact that the EU is at a turning point. It voices agreement with the development of a European defence industry through ‘targeted and smarter spending, and greater joint procurements.’ Do you agree with these pledges? 

I completely disagree. There are parts of the manifesto that I’ve spoken about and voted against. In the last S&D manifesto five years ago, one of the main points was that the socialist group would be frontrunners in the introduction of abortion as a right. I consistently voted against having abortion imposed on Malta and other member states. [But] The S&D’s manifesto is a general line and is surely toned down when compared to the EPP’s proposals… 

Ukraine is now an EU candidate state. Even if we ignore this process, there are fears that in the case of certain political developments in the US, no one will be there to defend the EU. Don’t you think that the EU needs arms to combat this threat? 

You mentioned something important in the first part of your question. At the end of the day, I think a lot of the trouble the EU faces regarding security is ultimately brought about by the same EU. I find nothing wrong with Ukraine undergoing the rigorous membership process that we went through before 2004… It’s a very rigorous process that takes years. But I think it’s utter madness that the President of the EP and elements within the EPP want a country at war to have a fast-tracked membership procedure. This means that we ignore a lot of the regulations originating from the Treaty of Maastricht so that Ukraine becomes a full member of the EU while it’s being invaded. That’s the kind of politics that is putting the EU in a very dangerous position…  

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Malta is going through a historic moment as well. An ex-prime minister and ex-politicians have been accused of several crimes. We’ve seen foreign news outlets reporting on this as well. Aren’t you uncomfortable when you’re abroad and your country and party are in the news in this way? 

I feel more uncomfortable when I see Maltese people like me - I don’t know how many similar cases there are in different member states - but I’ve never seen a French MEP attack his country with resolutions. I’ve never seen an Italian MEP from the opposition attacking his country in similar cases. I don’t think that this is the only case that’s being investigated regarding government representatives and entities in a member state where there were doubts on certain processes. I’ve never seen Europeans behaving like David Casa and Roberta Metsola in the last five years, who’ve masterminded 14 resolutions against their country… I have serious doubts about the entire court proceedings and it’s a shame that most of the Maltese people have serious doubts about the way that this process is being carried out… No one can convince me that certain things happened coincidentally, and that the timing of the inquiry was a coincidence.  

A lot of people have mentioned the timing aspect of the inquiry. But the case itself was even flagged by the NAO so one cannot assume that there was no wrongdoing. Yet you were still comfortable inviting Joseph Muscat in your activity to make a speech. Don’t you think that you’re giving the wrong message? 

Joseph Muscat is not yet guilty of anything, and I always appreciated his work throughout the years, and I fully believe that the PN establishment will stop at nothing to eliminate Joseph Muscat. The fact that Joseph Muscat managed to pass all those reforms and put the PN in opposition from which there seems to be no escape, I think that’s something that they have never forgiven him for.  

The way that things were handled in relation to this inquiry created doubts that this won’t be a just process but has been turned into a political vendetta. When it comes to the transfer of the hospitals, things could have been done better…