[WATCH] Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia spar in calm debate

The 10 things we learnt from the first debate between Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia on Thursday night on TVM’s Xtra, hosted by Saviour Balzan

Adrian Delia and Joseph Muscat shaking hands before the start of their first-ever debate
Adrian Delia and Joseph Muscat shaking hands before the start of their first-ever debate

The first debate between Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia turned out to be a very civil exchange on a number of contentious issues.

The exchange was bereft of the bitter animosity that existed between Muscat and Delia’s predecessor, Simon Busuttil, but not void of contrast.

These are the 10 things we learnt from Thursday's debate.

1. Adrian Delia will not leave after the European election

Adrian Delia will not leave the Nationalist Party leadership, irrespective of the European election result. He promised that he “will not stop half way”.

The PN leader said members had elected him to lead the party to the next general election and he will not be abandoning the project half way.

“This election is not a test… I was entrusted by party members to lead the PN to the general election and I will not stop half way,” Delia said, insisting the elections were not a race between two leaders but a contest of ideas.

2. Caruana Galizia murder investigation ‘progressing fast’

The Prime Minister was asked about the Caruana Galizia family’s call for an independent inquiry into the journalist’s murder, with Muscat saying it was a question of timing.

“I asked for an inquiry in my regard, why should I be bothered by an inquiry into the Caruana Galizia murder but the advice for the time being is that we cannot have a public inquiry that threatens the ongoing criminal inquiry and investigation that are progressing fast in an attempt to bring to justice the person who commissioned the crime,” Muscat said.

3. Delia flip flops on Gozo tunnel 

The proposed tunnel route
The proposed tunnel route

On the Gozo tunnel, Delia appeared to take a step back on the PN’s support for the project, insisting he wanted to wait for all the studies.

While insisting he was not having second doubts on the tunnel project, Delia said: “I have big environmental concerns and will decide after the studies are concluded.”

Muscat picked on the reply, insisting that the recently approved parliamentary motion – proposed by the government and supported by the Opposition – spoke of agreement with the tunnel project and carrying out the studies to ensure it is done in the best way possible.

“The tunnel will be done. Government is committed but the Opposition appears to be unsure,” Muscat pointed out.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that there will be problems along the way, including the impact at Manikata, where the tunnel portal on the Malta side will be. “The studies will help us do the tunnel in the best way possible,” he added.

4. For the PM, election is a test between Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia

Election is a choice between Adrian Delia and Joseph Muscat
Election is a choice between Adrian Delia and Joseph Muscat

While the PN leader insisted the European and local elections were about electing the best people to represent voters in Europe and their local councils, Muscat described the test as a moment of judgement.

“These elections are a choice between my politics and that of Adrian Delia; the candidates I have put my name to and those Adrian Delia is supporting; my actions and those of Adrian Delia. I have no problem with people judging me on all this,” Muscat said, accusing the PN leader of trying to lower expectations.

5. Delia had signed letter critical of Muscat’s pushback policy in 2013

Muscat accused Delia of inconsistency on foreigner scaremongering
Muscat accused Delia of inconsistency on foreigner scaremongering

Muscat accused his counterpart of “inconsistency” on the issue of foreigners, pointing out that Delia had been one of the lawyers who signed a letter back in 2013, critical of government’s decision to send back asylum seekers.

“When I had taken the decision to pushback migrants at a time when the EU was ignoring Malta’s plea, Adrian Delia had been one of the signatories in a letter sent by a group of lawyers critical of the decision. Today, he is speaking differently about the subject,” Muscat said, calling out the PN leader’s inconsistency.

The matter goes back to the summer of 2013 when the Labour government was toying with the idea of sending back a group of 102 rescued migrants back to Libya. The action was called off after an emergency order was issued by the human rights court in Strasbourg. 

Delia did not ward off the criticism, reiterating that the PN wanted protection to be given to those who needed it, be tough with those who do not deserve protection and harsh with people traffickers.

6. Muscat prefers foreigners labouring for Maltese

A meme circulated by the PN, critical of the foreign worker influx
A meme circulated by the PN, critical of the foreign worker influx

When asked about the downward pressure on wages as a result of cheaper foreign labour, Muscat insisted it all boiled down to controlling abuse.

He said the median wage had increased and government has also taken steps to increase the minimum wage. “It is not enough but we have done more than anyone else has done,” he said.

But Muscat rebutted the PN’s idea that Malta should attract high skilled foreign workers, insisting that foreigners should be employed where they are needed. "Given the choice I want the Maltese to take up the higher skilled jobs... I do not want to see Maltese young people being servile to foreigners earning good wages.”

His statement earned him rebuke from Delia. “The Prime Minister has just declared that he wants a classist society with Maltese doing certain jobs and foreigners doing others.”

Delia stuck to his stand that Malta could not shoulder the rapid increase in population prompted by an influx of foreign workers.

He insisted the economy was being fuelled by unsustainable population growth. “Where does the government want to take this? We need a plan. Malta’s size is what it is,” Delia insisted.

Muscat rebutted that the Opposition leader's question should have been posed 15 years ago when Malta joined the EU because at that point any EU citizen could come to work in Malta.

7. No great plan behind PN’s strategy to call PL a socialist party

Labour forms part of the Socialists and Democrats after all
Labour forms part of the Socialists and Democrats after all

Delia downplayed the PN’s insistence to refer to the Labour Party as the “socialist party” – a strategy adopted during this election campaign – insisting it was because the PL formed part of the socialist family in the European Parliament. "But the Prime Minister may be irked by the title to distance himself from the manifesto of the European socialists."

The explanation was laughed off by Muscat. “I choose to call the Nationalist Party its name not that of its European political family – the Popular Party – because if it were popular it would have at least found six candidates to contest the Qormi council election, which is a bellwether locality,” he said.

8. PN will never ask for Malta’s voting rights in EU to be suspended

PN MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola have courted others in the European Parliament who have called for Malta's voting rights to be suspended
PN MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola have courted others in the European Parliament who have called for Malta's voting rights to be suspended

Asked about the PN MEPs’ track record of criticising the Maltese government in the European Parliament by joining forces with other MEPs who have asked for Malta’s voting rights to be suspended, Delia insisted the PN “will never ask for Article 7 to kick in”.

The PN leader accused the Prime Minister of tainting Malta’s reputation by keeping by his side Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri despite the serious allegations made in their regard.

“On good governance, it is not the PN that has difficulty but those who persist in wrongdoing and do nothing to redress the situation,” Delia said, accusing the government of usurping power by controlling the Attorney General, the Malta Financial Services Authority and other institutions.

9. Muscat says Delia has credibility problem on good governance

Muscat defended Attorney General Peter Grech, insisting it was an insult to accuse him of taking orders from the government
Muscat defended Attorney General Peter Grech, insisting it was an insult to accuse him of taking orders from the government

Muscat pointed out that Attorney General Peter Grech had been appointed by a Nationalist government and it was an insult to accuse him of taking orders from government.

“Adrian Delia’s problem is his credibility. What he asks me to do with the people around me, he should do to himself because of the serious allegations made in his regard. But I will not even go there and allow all investigations to continue and take decisions when they are concluded,” Muscat said.

Delia insisted he was not the subject of an investigation. “No police, FIAU or magistrate has ever asked me testify. I do not know of any inquiry in my regard.”

10. PN’s plan to stop choking traffic is a mass transit system, PM pledges free public transport

Delia wants an underground system to solve the traffic problem, Muscat says it is unfeasible unless population grows further
Delia wants an underground system to solve the traffic problem, Muscat says it is unfeasible unless population grows further

With the PN’s latest billboards lamenting traffic congestion, Delia refuted suggestions that the party’s solution would be to place higher taxes on private cars, charge for on-street parking and increase the driving age. The PN leader insisted that the solution is a mass transit system that could be financed by the money the country can save from corruption.

Muscat insisted feasibility studies will soon be published on a mass transit system and they will show that to be feasible the country’s population has to grow further or else taxes would have to increase to sustain the massive subsidies needed to sustain it.

The Prime Minister reiterated government’s aim to have free public transport for everyone.

More in Xtra