Muscat: ‘Fight against poverty, not wealth’

In a revealing interview with Italian newspaper Il Foglio, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says left parties can only be successful if they 'embrace the market'

Young, leader of a left party and demolition man. That’s how Italian newspaper Il Foglio described Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in an interview published on Wednesday.

Comparing Muscat to the likewise young and tough-talking Italian premier Matteo Renzi, the conservative newspaper’s director Claudio Cerasa says Muscat has managed to break many leftist taboos by “stealing” ideas from the right and stimulating the economy by cutting government spending and taxes.

Muscat says that the path to success is lower taxes and championing “pro-market policies.”

Pointing out that he “did not invent the wheel” Muscat takes credit for cutting income tax rates, albeit his government only executed cuts planned by the previous PN administration.

While underlining the importance of privatising energy generation, which he says, allowed his government to reduce energy tariffs, Muscat claimed that more importantly his government reduced taxes.

The interview was published on Wednesday
The interview was published on Wednesday

“We need to fight against poverty not wealth. But we need to do so without rhetoric. That’s why when I decided to cut taxes for the rich I also exempted the poorer people from paying tax,” he says in reference to the 2016 Budget measure that exempts minimum wage workers from paying income tax.

He adds that critics were proven wrong because government raked in more money despite the tax cuts.

The interview makes no mention of the political turbulence created by the involvement of Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and de facto energy minister Konrad Mizzi in the Panama Papers leaks.

But Muscat says “we showed that the best way to fight tax avoidance is to make paying tax more convenient and make not paying riskier.”
Muscat also has a few words of advise for leftist leaders in Europe, with many traditional parties struggling to cope with economic and social woes.

“I limit myself to observing the world and the left wing model used by many parties in Europe did not work and if we want to create a new left wing model we must zero down everything, put prejudices aside, think outside ideological boxes and use common sense. And common sense dictates that it does not make any sense to speak about equality and the redistribution of wealth because if there’s no wealth to redistribute. The equality rhetoric is a futile, volatile and empty concept.”

In the interview, he also urges left parties across Europe to “embrace the market and try to regulate it socially. “Believing that countries can change through antagonism is a utopia that fosters illusions.”

Turning to migration and the issue of security, Muscat also warned left parties in Europe that things will not improve “if they continue scaring voters away by saying that walls cannot be erected and that we should be ready to welcome foreigners. In principle it’s right. But when you say you are against erecting walls you must also show that you understand the problem, that you well know that migration is an inevitable phenomenon, but not to accepted at all costs.

"We need to set limits. We need more controls. We should not put down walls by cancelling borders. We should be pragmatic and realise that what is destroying the identity of the European left is not globalisation’s flying carpet but the progressive hypocrisy of political correctness.”

Comparing globalisation to a “flying carpet,” the Labour leader says that one must “go very fast” and “open yourself up to the market.”

“To do so you need to have free legs and ensure they aren’t heavy. The best way to free up energies is to remove obstacles created by heavy bureaucracy.  This does not necessarily require laws, we need a different approach. We need to award not only who follows the rules but also who takes decisions,” he added.