Energy support to stay, Robert Abela pledges notwithstanding Brussels pressure

Prime Minister Robert Abela says government will retain energy support and engage in talks with European Commission to explain Malta’s unique challenges • Defends support for Metsola nomination

Prime Minister Robert Abela was interviewed on One Radio (Photo: PL)
Prime Minister Robert Abela was interviewed on One Radio (Photo: PL)

Government will not phase out subsidies on energy and fuel as recommended by the European Commission, Robert Abela said on Sunday.

Government will engage with the European Commission to explain the country’s “unique challenges” in the energy sector, the Prime Minister said in an interview on One Radio.

“There will be no change in policy to incentivise people and businesses [through energy support]… but our plan, agreed with the Commission to reduce the deficit by 0.5% every year is on track,” Abela said, adding people needed to “appreciate” the level of support.

He was reacting to the recommendation made last week by the European Commission for Malta and six other EU member states to be placed on an excessive deficit procedure. The Commission recommended the phasing out of the energy subsidy by next winter, suggesting that any support should be targeted towards vulnerable families and businesses.

The Prime Minister said government’s energy plan is also on track. He did not elaborate but the Finance Minister and the Energy Minister have repeated on several occasions that investment in large-scale offshore wind farms and renewables, and the construction of a second electricity cable connecting Malta to Sicily, were necessary to eventually have locally produced cheap electricity that would enable the subsidies to be phased out.

Abela insisted that despite Malta’s deficit being above the EU target of 3%, the country had a “big advantage” because its public debt was well below the benchmark of 60% of GDP.

“Despite the subsidies our debt is still in check; we can reduce the deficit annually by 0.5% without causing shocks,” he added, reiterating the pledge that October’s budget will contain “strong, positive” incentives for the middle class.

Defends support for Metsola

In the interview, Abela defended his support for Roberta Metsola’s nomination as EP President, which caused disquiet among the PL’s rank and file after strong criticism against her during the election campaign.

“Our support for Roberta Metsola’s candidature does not mean we agree with every position she has taken but this is what distinguishes us from the Opposition; whenever Maltese persons were slated to take up positions in the EU they always found our support,” Abela said.

He insisted that in talks between EU leaders he was representing the country and had to “elevate himself”, presumably from domestic partisan politics.

And in a jibe towards the Nationalist Party, he added: “Rest assured that the Nationalist Party will attack Maltese candidates for other European posts if they feel they do not fit their criteria; they are selective in who to support.”

Malta has to nominate a European Commissioner in the coming weeks. Also, the government also has to nominate a judge for the General Court of the European Union for which Edward Zammit Lewis has been earmarked.