[WATCH] Robert Abela rules out reshuffle but fails to quash rumours Fearne will move to Brussels

Xtra on TVM | Prime Minister Robert Abela discusses abortion, domestic violence and Chris Fearne

Prime Minister Robert Abela being interviewed by Saviour Balzan for Xtra (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Prime Minister Robert Abela being interviewed by Saviour Balzan for Xtra (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Robert Abela categorically ruled out a Cabinet reshuffle but failed to quash rumours Chris Fearne could be Malta’s next European Commissioner in two years’ time.

The Prime Minister was asked point blank on TVM’s Xtra on Monday night about rumours that his deputy would be government’s nomination for European commissioner in 2024.

“In Chris Fearne I find a strong shoulder to lean on every day… he is an important cog in the health sector and has piloted big reforms. If that moment arrives, which is something I do not wish for, that he contemplates other things, one will take decisions at that time,” Abela replied dryly.

However, his answer seems to suggest there could be some truth in the rumours. The next European Commission will have to be nominated in 2024 after the European parliament elections that will be held in May that year.

The rumours have been swirling for quite some time with MaltaToday on Sunday reporting that some ministers were already jockeying to be in place when the Labour Party deputy leadership opens up for contention.

Satisfied with Cabinet

Abela was also asked about the performance of his ministers and whether he was contemplating a reshuffle of sorts.

“I exclude a reshuffle completely. No reshuffle is being contemplated,” the Prime Minister replied emphatically.

He also showered praise on his Cabinet, insisting the positive results were being recognised by foreign rating agencies.

“I am satisfied with their work and where I feel their performance needs to improve we have a cordial head to head discussion but everyone is pulling the same rope,” Abela told his interviewer, Saviour Balzan.


Abela said that since expressing his categorical personal view against abortion almost three years ago, he met countless women who underwent an abortion.

“Three years ago, I had pronounced my personal opinion but after being exposed to the realities of women who underwent an abortion, today I also see the situation through the eyes of the circa 400 Maltese women every year who have an abortion and remain stigmatised,” the Prime Minister said.

Robert Abela: 'Today I also see the issue through the eyes of the circa 400 Maltese women every year who have an abortion' (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Robert Abela: 'Today I also see the issue through the eyes of the circa 400 Maltese women every year who have an abortion' (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

He added that the discussion on abortion should continue. “It has to be a meaningful discussion in which we ask ourselves whether as a society as the State we should keep the laws as they are but close our eyes and ignore reality.”

But the Prime Minister insisted the amendment government has proposed to the Criminal Code, making it possible for women to undergo an abortion if their health or life is at risk, was not the introduction of abortion.

He said the amendment would ensure that a mother suffering from medical complications during pregnancy that put her life in danger and health at grave risk would be offered the best care possible without fear of criminal action.

Abela then referred to the Andrea Prudente case last summer, which sparked the process leading to the amendment. Prudente started miscarrying while on holiday in Malta and despite doctors telling her the pregnancy was no longer viable would not carry out an abortion because the foetus still had a heartbeat.

Prudente has sued the Maltese state, claiming her human rights were breached when she was put through unnecessary risk of contracting sepsis, a blood infection.

“Ms Prudente was not in danger [of dying] but she was suffering from serious medical complications. The law should protect women and doctors if they intervene to safeguard health and life but I appeal to doctors to exercise medical discretion prudently,” Abela said.

Parliament started discussing the proposed amendment at Second Reading stage on Monday afternoon.

Domestic violence

Abela said that Bernice Cassar’s murder showed that the system “failed at some point” despite the legal and operational changes that have happened over the past few years.

“The inquiry appointed by the minister has to point out what went wrong; what the failings were… and we then have to implement the report’s conclusions,” the Prime Minister said.

Retired judge Geoffrey Valenzia was appointed to carry out an independent inquiry into the murder and the findings should be presented by mid-December.

Abela said a holistic reform was required, especially in the context of having 1,000 criminal cases every year related to domestic violence.

The Bernard Grech ‘agreement’

On the lack of consensus between government and the Opposition over the appointment of former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi as standards commissioner, Abela said the problem was Bernard Grech.

“The disagreement that exists is between Bernard Grech and the PN, because between Bernard Grech and Robert Abela there was agreement, once, and even twice,” the Prime Minister said.

He criticised Grech for not motivating the Opposition’s decision to oppose Azzopardi’s nomination.

“Bernard Grech had told me that he preferred retired judge Joseph Zammit McKeon, who has been nominated for ombudsman, and Azzopardi to invert roles but he could live with it. Then he went back to consult with his group and came back with a ‘no’,” Abela said.

The roles of ombudsman and standards commissioner require a two-thirds majority in parliament to be approved. Given the impasse ove Azzopardi’s name, the government has moved ahead to introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism.

Abela defended government’s actions in this regard. “The choice was to leave the standards commissioner post vacant and this was not something we wanted, or introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism to break the stalemate. However, consensus remains the better option.”