[WATCH] Sant still regrets not convincing nation on ‘Partnership’ instead of EU membership

Former Labour PM Alfred Sant, running for a second term as MEP, says his failure in 2003 to convince Malta not to join the EU is still a disappointment

Sant: My main disappointment is that I hadn't managed to convince the people that the way we were proposing [a partnership rather than full EU membership] was the best for Malta at the time
Sant: My main disappointment is that I hadn't managed to convince the people that the way we were proposing [a partnership rather than full EU membership] was the best for Malta at the time

The Labour Party’s failure back in 2003 to convince the nation that full EU membership was not its best available option remains Labour MEP, and former Prime Minister, Alfred Sant’s biggest political disappointments.

Sant was a guest on current affairs programme Xtra, where he was asked what he considered to be his biggest regret in politics.

"I believe that the relationship between Malta and Europe is crucial for our country," Sant started off by saying. "My main disappointment is that I hadn't managed to convince the people that the way we were proposing [a partnership rather than full EU membership] was the best for Malta at the time. But now that Malta has decided in favour of accession, we have to make the most of it for the success of our country."

Sant said he was still very sceptical about Europe becoming a federalist state. He expressed disappointment at the fact that Malta would lose its relationship with British MEPs following Brexit, people who he said had the healthiest relationship with Malta.

Turning to the Maltese political landscape, Sant said he had full faith in Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. “He could have made mistakes during his tenure... but I have no doubt about his integrity.”

When asked about the Egrant allegations, Sant admitted that he never spoke to Muscat on the matter. "Why? Because I have full faith in him. I have no doubt he's an upstanding individual. I assumed that certain sections of the media would be more transparent or more careful in the way the Egrant story was framed," he said, implying that the secret Panama company being linked to the Prime Minister was hasty and possibly deliberate.

One of the most vociferous opponents of Muscat on a European level, Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes, was also severely criticised by Sant who admitted to having confronted the MEP multiple times. "Even with her own national delegation, Gomes engendered certain antagonisms. She has every right to do what she does but she treats every allegation as fact. She announces every minute detail fed to her from Malta as if it were a fact," he said.

Sant also roped in the Nationalist MEPs with this denunciation, arguing that PN MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa had criticised Malta (and not the government) for something it didn't do. "What they did, roping in the entire country lends credibility to their mudslinging. This doesn't happen with other countries...

"Malta didn't commission the atrocious killing of the late Daphne Caruana Galizia. I have full faith in the way the government and the authorities moved towards solving the case," he said.

Sant contended that the majority of criticisms aimed at Malta in recent years were part of a European strategy to castigate member states' tax autonomy.

Even the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, Sant insisted, took some continuous attempts at convincing for him to accept this fact, that tax systems in many countries are permitting companies, politicians and athletes among others to hide their cash for the express purposes of avoiding tax.

"I believe that the government was too timid, or at least it underestimated the attacks that came from each direction following the Panama leaks and the the murder of Caruana Galizia. It should have been more assertive and charismatic, especially since there was a strong movement to label Malta as a tax haven," Sant said.

He reminisced about his time in the European Parliament before Malta's 2017 general election, saying that there was pressure for the Egrant case to be discussed at a European Parliament plenary just two weeks before the general election. "My work was surreptitious here in that I played it down. I arranged for the item to be discussed after the election and when Muscat could be present for the discussion," he said.

Sant himself has at times criticised the government for some of its decisions, such as when he proclaimed that a second ferry and a fast ferry service would be a much better option than a tunnel between Malta and Gozo. He argued however that just because he believed that what he said was right doesn't mean that he would campaign against government decisions.

The disagreements between Sant and the labour administration are miniscule and voicing these disagreements is healthy in a pluralist society, Sant said. "I don't think that the criticism that the labour party has lost its social soul is convincing. There is a culture right now where even values are being commercialised, such as the case with the environment. Certain things that had been pending take time," he said.

He also reiterated that Muscat should not retire as party leader. "He still has his agenda to work on and to accomplish: education, the environment, structure and governance and he is still developing," he said, adding that despite him possibly choosing to step down the Nationalist Party was still at risk.

"The Nationalist Party welcomed consumerism and privatisation and this corrupted it from the inside, almost ripped it in two, into the old elitist part and the liberal part. The PN will either break in two or the party's profile will be permanently damaged," Sant said.

He criticised the former PN leader Simon Busuttil's electoral campaign against the current Prime Minister, saying that the cry of corruption, while good and necessary, could not stand on its own and required ideas to be convincing.