National interest a priority: “Let’s listen to our people”

Maltese S&D MEP Alex Agius Saliba attributes the rise of far-right parties across Europe to a perceived gap left by left-wing parties. He stresses that, no matter how well-intentioned, European policies must not impose undue hardships on citizens.

The far-right is once again raising its head in Europe.

Following its historic electoral win on Wednesday in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom now joins our neighbour’s Brothers of Italy, Hungary’s Fidesz, Poland’s United Right, Finland’s Finns Party, the Swedish Democrats, and United Serbia. Moreover, in the lead-up to the June 2024 European elections, the radical right is on track for significant gains. Right-wing extremist parties are strongly conservative, ultra-nationalist, and tend to be authoritarian, concentrating power in the hands of the very few.

One politician who claims he saw this coming when the coalition between the Green Left and the Dutch Labour Party was announced is the Maltese Member of the European Parliament, Alex Agius Saliba, from the Socialists and Democrats Group (S&D).

Speaking to The Journal, Agius Saliba emphasised his reluctance to label right-wing parties as “populist”, a message he said he consistently conveys within the S&D Group in the European Parliament. He believes that it’s a common mistake to categorise these parties as populist, reminding us that they often attract a demographic that traditionally supported left-wing ideologies. He attributes the rise of right-wing parties to a perceived gap left by left-wing parties, which, in his view, are sometimes shifting focus from addressing the people’s – particularly workers’ – concerns.

In the Netherlands, a robust left-wing alliance “took a turn that conflicted workers’ interests with the principles of environmental sustainability,” as the Maltese MEP puts it.  The left-wing coalition between the Green Left and the Dutch Labour Party was led by none other than Frans Timmermanns, who had served as the Executive Vice President of the European Commission for the European Green Deal.

Agius Saliba criticised an approach that “burdens people by imposing new taxes tied to environmental targets”. He argued that such policies alienate individuals who get labelled as populists, who want to prioritise issues like immigration and the economic burdens on society.

Looking at upcoming elections in Portugal, Agius Saliba expressed concerns about the potential loss of a left-wing government there as well. He also commented on the situation in Spain, where a left-wing government has barely made it to power.

Maltese S&D MEP Alex Agius Saliba

When environmental protection and social equity clash

Speaking of the political landscape in Malta, Agius Saliba emphasises that, by contrast, the Labour Party is continuously prioritising social needs. In his view, balance is being found in Malta between achieving progress and addressing the workers’ needs. However, he spoke of the importance of internal criticism. He also cautioned against what he believes is a European trend that is shifting the burdens of environmental sustainability on the population.

As an example to highlight the need for balance in navigating political narratives, Agius Saliba made reference to a recent vote on pesticide regulation. “While I am favour of regulating pesticides that cause cancer, I seriously question the wisdom in restricting pesticides that are crucial for crop control in countries like ours,” said Agius Saliba, whilst cautioning against going overboard with legislation. MEPs rejected the bill to slash the use of pesticides in farming in a vote that surprised many environmentalists and gave one aspect of the European Green Deal a good blow.

Citing another example, Agius Saliba mentioned the way in which local concumers will be impacted by the ‘Fit for 55’, a set of proposals introduced by the European Commission in July 2021 to make EU policy fit for the EU’s goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. These proposals include a series of laws affecting various transport sectors, all contributing to environmental ambitions aimed at enhancing the EU’s sustainability.

In recent weeks, said Agius Saliba, MEPs representing the Maltese Nationalist Party have criticised the Maltese government for what they perceive as a lack of action regarding the impending financial challenges associated with the ‘Fit for 55’. “One key legislation was negotiated by MEP David Casa, who has proudly highlighted his achievement in securing significant funds for Malta through the Social Climate Fund, that plays a crucial part of the ‘Fit for 55’,” he explained. “The intention was to ensure a balanced approach, addressing the ambitious environmental goals without unduly burdening Maltese consumers and entities such as the Malta Freeport. However, the result appears to be an additional cost of €25 for every container entering the Malta Freeport, contrary to alleviating such financial burdens through the Social Climate Fund. Not only have the people in charge of negotiations failed, but the Maltese government is now being criticised for failing to protect Maltese interests. To add insult to injury, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, has lauded the same environmental targets that will impact people in her home country negatively.”

The MEP stressed that, no matter how well-intentioned, policies must not impose undue hardships on citizens. “The crux of the matter lies in striking a harmonious chord between achieving ambitious sustainability targets and protecting national interests. This demands that our policymakers and EU representatives champion the national interest and heed the voices of their constituencies,” he affirmed.

Main photo credit: Pressmaster

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