[WATCH] Cyrus Engerer: ‘Labour straying from its core socialist values’

Former Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer did not contest the last European election. A critical voice within the PL, he tells MATTHEW FARRUGIA why he is feeling orphaned in politics, what led him to tender his resignation from the party last year and why he believes Labour is straying from its core values 

(Photo: James Bianchi)
(Photo: James Bianchi)

Cyrus Engerer warns the Labour Party has moved away from its core values as he tells the story of his exclusion after criticising government’s actions. 

The former Labour MEP, who did not seek re-election to the European Parliament in June, has been a critical voice within the PL. Engerer has not shied from publicly disagreeing with some of his party’s stances. 

As we sit down for this interview, a pertinent issue that keeps cropping up is government’s protracted refusal to initiate a public inquiry into the death of young construction worker Jean Paul Sofia. 

Engerer says this episode undermined the PL’s credibility as the party for workers. He adds that not only did his criticism fall on deaf ears, but he was also excluded from an important parliamentary group meeting on the subject. This prompted his resignation that was however, refused. MEPs are normally invited to attend PL parliamentary group meetings. 

He also takes issue with the current blanket energy subsidies, which he argues are not at all socialist by nature. The blanket subsidies, he explains, award those who afford to consumer more energy. 

The former MEP also expresses his shock with how Prime Minister Robert Abela and other government officials reacted to the Vitals inquiry findings. “I was one of many people who were irked by Robert Abela’s attack on the judiciary and journalists,” he says. 

At his Birkirkara home, Engerer takes issue with what he describes as the PL’s hardcore-centred MEP election campaign, noting that it was no wonder the party lost the trust of thousands of voters. 

The following are excerpts of the interview. 

The full interview can also be viewed on Facebook and Spotify 

Let’s start from the beginning. Why didn’t you contest the last MEP election? 

The easiest thing for me to do would be to contest the election. It would’ve been something I would’ve loved to do. I studied the EU, and my theses were on how the European Parliament could function better. I loved my work and I believe it was bearing fruit, so it would have been easy to keep going and contest the election. 

At the same time, I was critical of several issues which go against the party’s and my own principles. If I contest an election, I’ll say what I believe. If you had asked me questions during the campaign, I wouldn’t respond by repeating some line pushed by the party unless I agree with it. I have my own values that are the same as the PL’s statute and I’ll always stick to them. 

I realised that if I had done this throughout the campaign, I’d be more of a hindrance to the party because my views are very different from those of the PL as it has become during the last two years… 

Are you still a member of the PL? 

Technically, I am. My membership is paid. Despite that, last year, when the PL would not accept to launch a public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia, I spoke strongly about my beliefs in the parliamentary group. Because of my beliefs I was excluded from the most important parliamentary group meeting at the time. 

I was working abroad, and we’d normally have the option to join online. Most of the time I was the only MEP to join, and my point was going to be very strong and clear. When that didn’t happen, I resigned from the PL not because the opinions of those defending the worker weren’t heard, but because I couldn’t share my opinion in the parliamentary group. 

My resignation wasn’t accepted. From then on, I was invited to every parliamentary group meeting though I admit that I didn’t attend another one.  

When you announced, you weren’t going to contest the election you spoke of people who “feel orphaned by the country’s political system.” Are you an orphan in this political system? 

Yes, very much nowadays. There was always one of the big parties with a vision that I could align myself with… A lot of people in the PL speak within the same eco-chamber; they meet the same cohort of people in każini and housing estates... people who are normally hardcore Labourites of a certain age. 

I used to bring two young people every week to spend a week with me in Brussels or Strasbourg so they can experience the work of an MEP and how they can bring about change. When I used to speak with these people, they told me the same things that I was feeling, but it was the opposite of the narrative pushed by the PL’s strategists. 

When you meet different people, you realise that many of them feel orphaned in politics because none of the big parties reflects their thoughts and aspirations. This is also reflected in the electoral results… 

If you could describe the PL’s problem in a few words or some episodes that we’ve seen, how would you describe it? 

There were several decisions taken that are certainly not in line with the PL’s socialist values and statute. I mentioned the Jean Paul Sofia incident. The PL was born to be the voice of the workers, but you had a worker who died under rubble and the worker’s voice was not heard. There are thousands of other workers that still work in construction and if no changes are made, they risk meeting the same fate as Jean Paul Sofia. 

The environment... We’re not just talking about construction or aesthetics; we’re talking about people’s health… 

There are issues related to equality. Government boasts that we’re a country of equality. I’m sorry but it’s not true. We’ve worked, and I was at the forefront to enact laws that bring about equality for LGBTIQ people. But just because there’s equality for LGBTIQ people, doesn’t mean that it’s a country of equality. We don’t have equality for women who don’t have access to universal health that women have around the world. 

There’s no equality when people who are born elsewhere come to our country and end up losing much of their rights. Is it equality when you see how foreign workers are being exploited?  

Do you think that the way the PL acted with regards to Joseph Muscat didn’t help to win over those who aren’t hardcore Labourites or even Labourites who care about good governance? 

I was very much irked when the Prime Minister, and then other people, attacked our courts. I don’t agree with every judgment that comes out of court, but I believe that a politician or anyone with a constitutional role should never attack a pillar of democracy. A lot of people were irked. 

Then you had another reality where in the same press conference two journalists were attacked [as being part of the establishment]; another pillar of democracy that I believe one cannot attack. You may disagree with a journalist, their work or opinions, but a politician should never attack journalists. Especially in a country where we lived through the worst thing that could happen to a journalist; being killed for what she was writing.  

I believe that one should be very sensitive in their words when addressing journalists at a time when the EU and Malta are pushing forward several reforms to protect journalists...