[WATCH] Michael Piccinino: ‘We have sown the seed of hope’

A week after the Nationalist Party’s surprise result in the European Parliament election, Secretary General Michael Piccinino sits down with Online Editor Karl Azzopardi to discuss the party’s objectives for the general election, its finances and his personal political ambitions

PN Secretary General Michael Piccinino (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
PN Secretary General Michael Piccinino (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

The Nationalist Party’s success in the European Parliament election cannot be credited only to Roberta Metsola but to a “talented line up of candidates”, Michael Piccinino believes.  

A week after the PN managed to reel back a vote gap of around 42,000 votes to 8,000, the party secretary general tells me the result was a team effort. 

“Other media were sending us questions on why we were not using Roberta Metsola enough in our campaigning. The result was achieved thanks to the talent in our line-up of candidates. What is for sure, is that the talent we had on our MEP ballot, needs to be replicated, and improved upon for the general election,” he says. 

Piccinino sits down for this interview a week after the PN defied all newspaper poll predictions. 

“We worked to get the PN vote out. The night before the election, would I have predicted that vote gap? I would not have quoted that number, but we had laid out our goals which were to halve the vote gap and to elect the third seat,” he says. “Some people had not believed us and were saying we were overly ambitious, but we worked for it, and everyone was all hands on deck, and we were able to get that result.” 

Piccinino believes the MEP election result gives people the belief that the PN is a realistic alternative to the Labour government.  

“With the result we have sown the seed of hope,” he says. “If people fed up with the government felt they could do nothing about it, now there is hope that change can happen.” 

But the secretary general says the PN cannot take people’s disgruntlement with Labour for granted.  

“Now our job is to continue nurturing that hope, and work towards convincing the thousands that are still out there who believe the country needs change […] Because people do not want Labour, it does not automatically mean they will switch to the PN,” he says.  

With the European Commission recommending Malta phase out energy subsidies and the country facing excessive deficit procedure, Piccinino says government’s weak economic policy is now catching up with it.  

“The debt the Robert Abela administration has accumulated in the past five years, is more than the previous 55 years combined. From Borg Olivier until Joseph Muscat, Malta accumulated €5 billion in debt, while the Abela administration alone accumulated a further €5 billion. We have the problem because of Robert Abela and Clyde Caruana’s economic policy,” he says. 

I ask Piccinino about the party’s financial credentials given it has not submitted its accounts for the past two years. 

“We have an obligation to get our house in order, and when it is not, that is a shortcoming. What is sure is that in the coming weeks and months, the accounts will be submitted, and when they are analysed, one will realise it was an administrative shortcoming, and not a legal one. You must appreciate the PN has its challenges when it comes to resources, and issues with finances,” he tells me. 

With Bernard Grech having said in 2022 that the PN had a debt of €32 million, I ask Piccinino what has come of the situation. The figure has gone down, he says but refuses to disclose by how much. The information will be revealed in the coming weeks and months, he insists. 

With the PN having a history of secretary generals contesting the general election, I ask Piccinino whether he harbours any electoral ambitions. “I would be lying if I said no,” he replies. “When and if that step is taken, depends on the needs of the party.”

The following is an excerpt of the interview.  

The full interview can also be viewed on Facebook and Spotify

Did you expect last Sunday’s result? 

Before the election we always said the survey that counts is the election. We worked towards getting people out to vote, and to convince people to vote for the PN. The night before the election, would I have predicted that vote gap? I would not quote that number, but we had laid out our goals which were to halve the vote gap and to elect the third seat.  

Some people had not believed us and were thinking we were overly ambitious to aim towards halving the vote gap. In reality we worked for it and it was all hands on deck and we were able to get that result.

Do you think we should have a fairer system when it comes to energy subsidies? Why should a rich individual enjoy the same level of subsidies as someone who lives pay cheque to pay cheque? 

The way the unit system works, those who waste more, pay more…

Yes, but shouldn’t the money spent to subsidise well-off individuals, be re-directed towards the people who really need it? 

But why does the conversation always revolve around redistribution of this money, rather than how we should take the money from those who are stealing from us and those who are wasting it? We should not at the first hurdle, start speaking about redistribution. The first thing we should do is take back that wasted money, and then yes, if need be, we should start discussing redistribution to the people who might need it.

How will the PN be able to attract the liberal vote? Do you think liberals fear the PN might retract certain rights which were introduced by Labour in the past decade?  

The PN has already said it will not reverse any new rights which were introduced. But I think the difference between the two parties is clear – with us what you see is what you get. If the PN speaks about abortion, you might not agree with its stand, but that stand does not shift. On the other hand, you have Robert Abela who before he was elected leader said he was against abortion, and then wanted to introduce it, and then when he had internal issues, he went back on his position.

But on the issue of abortion – why does the PN just close its doors to anyone with a different position on it… 

I don’t agree with you. When we issued our position on the abortion Bill, we sat down and discussed the issue with the parliamentary group. The decision was not imposed, and everyone had to stick by it. But I must also say that I am sure people who want abortion legalised in the country, do not want the issue to be used as a fallback when you have a problem facing the party. 

In 2022, Bernard Grech said the PN was €32 million in debt. Has that figure gone down? 

It has.

Can you give me any figures?  

We can give a clearer indication in the coming weeks. While it might seem strange, the PN does not have a debt problem, it has a cashflow problem. It has more assets than debt. Loans have always been paid in the past 12 years, and for sure we are moving in the right direction.