Between the EPP’s quasi-compromise with Viktor Orbàn, and Theresa May’s pseudo-success in getting an Brexit extension, leaders from around Europe found their way to Brussels last week to discuss the Union’s future and the European parties political agendas. Adrian Delia, the leader of Malta’s Nationalist Party (PN) took time out to sit down with New Europe’s Editor, Alexandros Koronakis, to discuss Malta and Europe ahead of the elections in May.

AK: Adrian, this is your first interview in Brussels, let’s talk a bit about yourself, you don’t have a classical background of a politician, you have a free-market personality- who is Adrian Delia, and what is the making, of your views as a politician?

AD: Prior to being elected as leader of the Nationalist Party two years ago, for 25 years I was a lawyer, specialising in commercial law.  Despite not being on the front line of politics, throughout my life, I followed the politic scene in Malta arduously.

For 25 years Malta had nationalist (centre-right) administrations heralding in a period of great change. Malta was transformed from an inward-looking country to an open economy, a country that eventually applied and joined the European Union. This coincided with the time I was operating as a lawyer.

Six years ago, in 2013, the Labour Party was elected having promised a fresh way of doing politics. Unfortunately, their pre-election promises of accountability, meritocracy and transparency were not put into practice. I was seeing how the country was being taken back in time, how the country’s democratic foundations were being eroded. I saw our reputation, particularly as a financial centre of excellence take one hit after another.

I was faced with a choice: either do nothing, or, try  and do something to help the country return to normality. It wasn’t an easy choice but I decided to enter into the political fray.

The Nationalist Party is the largest party in Malta, a political party with a hundred and forty years of history. It was not easy for someone coming from outside the Party structures to enter at the top end of the Party but after a keenly contested leadership contest, I was selected by the Party grassroots to lead the Nationalist Party.

AK: So it’s been two years now since 2017. You’ve been the leader in Malta for PN but what was special about that moment that pushed you to enter politics, and what is your vision for the party now that you are there?

AD: There came a point in my life where I knew that I could no longer be a spectator, watching our country going down the wrong path. It certainly was a life-changing moment for myself and my family. I couldn’t allow myself to sit back whilst the government was undermining every single structure and institution which provided the comforts, the guarantees of a normal democratic society. The Commissioner of Police, the Attorney General’s Office, the whole structure of free media was just crumbling in front of our eyes. The Socialist government was managing to get away with everything thanks to an economy that was booming. Government’s reply to criticism was that the economy is doing well. Even when criticised that the most vulnerable members of society were finding it difficult to make ends meet, government pointed to a budget surplus, which coming from a socialist party is pretty rich.

AK: You spoke of rule of law, at the same time, you spoke of family and you spoke of ethics- there’s an ongoing debate in Europe about European values and these values, whether it’s necessary to stick to that. What are the fundamental European values for you, in both the European and also the Maltese context?

AD: Let’s start with what I consider the most important value of all: life. I believe very strongly that life starts from the moment of conception and should be protected through its natural end. In the hierarchy of rights, the right to life is the highest right, a right that belongs to the unborn child and to each and every one of us, including immigrants. I mentioned unborn children and immigrants because unfortunately we live an era where the lives of these humans are considered to be less worthy. For many, border security is more important than human lives. These are the political battles that are being played out all the time in the European landscape and in Malta. We are the southernmost border of Europe, literally at the crossroads of the migratory patterns from North Africa towards Europe. And every single time that there is a ship at sea with human lives, fathers, mothers, children, floating on pieces of wood, we face this conflict of what to protect: do we protect the people risking the lives or do we protect the borders?

This state of affairs in Malta has been further complicated by the policy of the socialist government to grow the economy by growing the population. Keep in mind that we are the smallest, most densely populated country in the European Union with 1,500 people per square kilometres. We have the fastest growing population in the European Union yet we have the lowest fertility rate. Our population is growing through inward migration. Within a few years, half of the employees in the private sector in Malta will be foreigners. This reckless policy is bringing about serious and severe consequences. The influx of workers is keeping wages from increasing whilst at the same time pushing up inflation. Malta was the only country in the EU where wages decreased during 2018. This while the price of buying or renting property and the price of essential commodities shot up pushed by higher demand.

I am not against importing labour if this happens at reasonable level, giving time for the population and the country and our infrastructure to adjust. This is not how things are happening. We should not be attracting cheap labour to maintain our competitiveness in certain sectors which is what is happening now in Malta. 

AK: The value of life discussion I think is one that is very difficult to have in the space of one interview like this. The immigration one also, but it is one, the immigration one, where Europe has tried to do several things- what are your comments towards the European approach to the migrations?

AD: Europe was the colonial master of Africa for centuries. There is a historic link between the two continents that cannot be ignored. Politically, Europe and Africa took different paths as some if not many countries in Africa are yet to introduce a democratic system of governance. Case in point is North Africa where despite the spring revolution, democracy did not take route. The situation on the ground today in Libya is chaotic and is making it easier for irregular migration to happen. But the problem is not just Libya. Many countries are plagued with problems of failing democracy, hunger, war, economic hardship, droughts – and these are the roots of irregular migration.

The solution in my mind and I think that this is reflected even in the latest European philosophy is to structure the investments in education, in agriculture, in creating robust structures, which can create over a period of time democratic structures in Africa.  We need to assist countries to change, to be able to fend for themselves, to create opportunities for their peoples in their land. 

We need to understand also that whatever problems exist today will be augmented unfortunately with the weather patterns and a global climate change. There will be areas of the African continent which will become even less habitable and therefore the migratory patterns will continue increasing. I think we need to seriously sit down across the table and for a moment look at demographics, look at weather patterns, look at region and disputes and conflicts, and think of comprehensive solutions rather than just political solutions.

AK: And the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has talked about climate refugees being the next wave. I’d like to shift to focus a little bit, because having studied you a bit as a politician, I know you’ve spoken about the rule of law extensively. Can you tell us and give us some more insight on this, specifically regarding Malta?

AD: Sadly I must say in the last five years a socialist government in Malta has undermined our state institutions. Upon being elected, the socialist government replaced the existing Commissioner of Police, a person with reputation of correctness and discipline. Since then we had four police commissioners in six years. Those who were appointed were removed or resigned because of the pressures for reasons of incompetence or political interference. The Attorney General, in our legal structure has a two-fold function. He is the chief prosecutor but also advisor to government.  The way this office is being run now show political bias towards the government of the day, something which is harming our democracy. As  leader of the opposition, I filed the first constitutional case against the Attorney General accusing the Attorney General that he breached the Constitution by creating an imbalance of power. The story does not end there. One of most eminent jurist in Malta and Europe, Judge Giovanni Bonello recently wrote that out of the last seventeen judicial appointments by government, sixteen have a close link to the socialist party. He estimated that it will take two generations to fix this sorry state of affairs. Even the army was taken over by government with promotions decided b We had the Ombudsman report which has a couple of weeks ago declared that in the promotion to the highest ranks in the army decided not on the basis of merit, not by army personnel but the political arm of government. This was stated by the Ombudsman who described this as a serious threat to democracy. 

Every single state institution is literally hijacked. The Venice Commission proved the opposition right in what we had been saying, what I had been saying. Malta’s institutions need to undergo a process of reform, of serious change to regain their independence. The government, whilst agreeing to the recommendations of the Venice report has done very little by way of implementation.

AK: These are some very strong allegations. I’d like to move to the European elections. These are the first elections [where] you’re being really tested as a leader on the European level. What are your hopes and what are your expectations for the party?

AD: Following the last European Parliament elections, the two main parties in Malta obtained three seats each. However, at the last elections, the general elections the nationalist party suffered massive losses. Our aim is to actually start reducing on that gap and bring down the numbers by bringing up our votes and closing the gap. In Malta there still is some apathy, let’s call it that, insofar as the MEP elections are concerned. So we need to convince people that yes, European elections matter and they matter to you and that is a constant challenge that we’re facing.

AK: And so how are you going to do that? What is the battlefield going to be for the next European elections in Malta?

AD: We need to show that the Labour Party in Malta is still a socialist party: a Party that does not respect the value of life, that does not respect rule of law, that does not seek the best interest of the country; that talks about economic growth while ignoring people’s hardship. Our message in coming across. People are understanding that the way of life is being threatened, that democracy is being eroded. They are understanding that corruption has a price. It was recently estimated that corruption is costing the Maltese taxpayer €750 million a year. Government says we can’t have social housing, government says that we can’t do anything with the prices of electricity and water, government says that we cannot have affordable rents. Government says that we could build enough schools. And our children, some of them are actually taking classes in mobile containers. Our reply is let’s do away with corruption, let’s eliminate corruption and use the €750 million to invest in our country, to invest in our people, to make their lives better.

AK: Adrian, finally I’d like to hear from you about your vision for Malta in the future.

AD: I want a Malta that rediscovers itself. A country that has a circular economy, with the environment and the economy working hand in hand not against each other. I want to restore our reputation as country of excellence. I want a Malta that invests heavily in its only resource: our people. We need to instil a sense of belief in our younger generations, that the size of our island, of our country does not limit the size of their dreams. We need to make them understand and believe that they can conquer anything as long as they believe. They are the change that our country needs. We politicians are only the facilitators. When you have a global village which is what the world has become today, the size of your village, town, city, doesn’t make any difference at all, it’s the size of your imagination and the want to believe, the trust in yourself to succeed, that can make a difference. I want to live in a country which cares for its most vulnerable members of society. Prosperity is not about GDP growth, it’s not about numbers. We should measure our progress by our ability to care.