Populism: a dangerous recipe

In being populist about the population issue, Bernard Grech once again misses the wood for the trees.

In his parliamentary speech during the discussing of the estimates of the Office of the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Bernard Grech focused on negative anecdotes in a bid to create a sense of panic and fear vis-à-vis foreign workers.

This speech came after a notorious editorial of the Nationalist Party’s newspaper that, true to the old roots of the party, opted to divide our country’s population into an indigenous one and a foreign one. Grech was quick to also to try to create a distinction between those who speak Maltese and those who do not. He implied that public transport is not being used by the Maltese because buses are full of foreigners, while noting that teachers are complaining that they need to handle too many foreign children.

Beyond anecdotes woven by Bernard Grech to colour his negative speech, one could hardly not notice the great deception he tried to pull. Grech has in fact now taken to claim that, since 2013, the population of our country has doubled. This goes entirely against well-known facts and statistics.

According to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, the population of our country was 422,509 in 2013. This means that, for it to have doubled, by now there should be 845,108 persons living in Malta. The official figure for 2022 according to Eurostat is 520,971. Thus, between the population that Bernard Grech claims to be present in Malta and the real figure there is a difference of 324,047 people, or a discrepancy of 62%. The population of our country has increased by a quarter of what Bernard Grech claimed in Parliament.

 2013 2022
Total422,509520,971
Maltese398,898 413,597
EU citizens12,84644,957
Non-EU nationals10,765 62,417
Source- Eurostat

After the Prime Minister rebutted Bernard Grech’s scaremongering, the Opposition Leader took to Facebook to claim that he would manage to reduce the population. As can be seen from official figures, since 2013 almost half of the population increase was of Maltese or European citizens. Last year, for instance, there was there an increase of more than 3,750 people between Maltese-born or return migrants and European citizens.

In light of this, one wonders what exactly Grech has in mind to do to contain the population. Will he stop the adoption of children from abroad? Will he say that, for every Maltese or European citizen who comes back, he will rescind the residence permit of a citizen from outside Europe? It is worth recalling that a large part of non-European citizens are, in fact, British who have the same residence rights as European citizens. There are almost 11,000 UK citizens in Malta, or almost one in six of all non-European residents. This means that, due to the annual immigration of persons of Maltese heritage and Europeans, Bernard Grech will still not have reduced the population after ten years, even if he expels every non-European person.

When faced with the facts, the Opposition Leader then burst into an attack against official statistics. According to him, the extent of the official population is kept artificially low because they do not include those foreign workers who are periodically caught on the islands without the right permits.

Even here, he has been caught in an inconsistency. He argues that things were perfect under GonziPN but the annual reports of the Employment and Training Corporation (the government agency responsible for employment services, now called Jobsplus) indicate that there was always a significant number of foreign workers who are caught without permission in our country. In fact, during the GonziPN legislature (2008-2013) almost 1,500 foreign workers were caught here without proper papers. This means that, by Grech’s yardstick, his hero, former PM Lawrence Gonzi, was also hiding part of the population.

Post-Budget, we had one Opposition spokesperson stating that, if the PN is returned to power, the population would go back to 2013 levels. Another one said that we would have an extra 60,000 workers, and another one simply said the population would be kept constant. The chaos and amateurish nature with which the Opposition deals with these complex issues are clear indications that being populist – even on the population issue – is a sure recipe for disaster.    

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