In his reply to the Budget Speech this week, when he was expected to give the details of his “economic vision”, the Leader of the Opposition failed to mention any numbers. Perhaps he was cautious following his huge gaffe that ten billion means one thousand million, which left him quite confounded throughout the rest of his speech.
However, when the Parliamentary session was over, faced by direct questions from journalists, Bernard Grech deferred to his spokesperson on the economy, Ivan J. Bartolo. After repeating his leader’s mantra that, under a Nationalist government, there will be no increase in foreign workers, the author of the so-called “vision of excellence” announced that employment would increase by 60,000 within eight years.
According to population projections published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, under a no migration assumption as espoused by the Nationalist Party, between 2027 (the year of the next general election) and 2035 (eight years later) the working age population of Malta would have fallen by 10,000 persons. This means that, for there to be an increase of 60,000 employees, the number of foreign workers would need to rise by 70,000. Over eight years, every single day an average of 24 additional foreign workers would need to settle in Malta. This is essentially tantamount to an extra foreign worker every hour for eight whole years, and an effective doubling of the current foreign workforce.
Economic goal contradicts employment target
To make things worse, according to the Nationalist spokesperson, their vision of economic excellence would see an economic growth of 6% over these eight years. Leaving aside the fact that, during the last eight years, despite a pandemic, economic growth has averaged 7.5%, the Nationalists’ economic goal contrasts sharply with their employment target.
In fact, if employment were to rise by 60,000, this would mean an employment growth of 21%. For such a surge in employment to lead to an economic growth of just 6%, productivity would have to crash. Rather than a vision of excellence, the combined target of having 21% more jobs and an economic growth of just 6% means that the country will have embarked on a cheap labour strategy. By contrast, during the last eight years, employment grew by 6% while GDP rose by 7.5% on average, leading to ever-increasing productivity.
The Nationalist economic strategy really does not do what it says on the tin. It states that there will be no more foreign worker inflows, and then it is based on 70,000 more foreign workers. It states that there will be increased value added per worker, and then it leads to employment growth three and a half times the rate of GDP growth.
Population size: claiming the impossible
However, this is not the end of the story. The Opposition spokesperson on employment, Ivan Castillo, stated on the national TV channel talk show ‘Popolin’ that under a Nationalist government we would go back to the population size of 2013.
There were 422,059 persons residing in Malta in 2013, according to Eurostat. Of these, 398,898 were Maltese citizens. Ten years later the number of Maltese has risen to 413,597. This means an increase of 14,699 because every year more Maltese were born than died, as well as because Maltese living abroad migrated back to our islands.
That said, the latest census indicates that one in three foreigners living in Malta are nationals of European countries, which means that they have every legal right under the EU treaties to settle here. In addition, there are more than 10,500 British citizens who also have an equal of right to stay in Malta because of commitments made before Brexit. That means that four out of ten foreigners in our country have the same residential rights that born and bred Maltese have.
Last year, between natural change, adoptions, and inward migration of Maltese and European citizens, we had an increase of 3,754 people in our population. One must ask how can Ivan Castillo stop this population increase.
If one takes Maltese, European, and British citizens, there are 445,793 people in Malta. This is 23,734 more people than in 2013. That means that, even if every person who can legally be removed from our country is dismissed, what Ivan Castillo claims is the Nationalist Party’s policy is physically not possible.
Two Ivans, two directions
So, on the one hand, we have a PN spokesperson who claims that they will reduce the population (even to levels that are legally impossible) and, on the other, another spokesperson who has an employment target which would nearly double our foreign worker population.
Well and truly, too many Ivans spoil the broth! The PN’s migration policy is a veritable confusing mess – completely contrasting but equally bad. One is a vision of cheap labour, while the other is a vision of expulsion of all non-EU foreigners.
For the benefit of our nation, let us hope neither of these ever comes to pass.