Q&A with Marija Sara Vella Gafà

From local politics to the EU stage? The Journal puts forward 5 questions to Gudja mayor Marija Sara Vella Gafà, who is contesting the European Parliament elections on the Partit Laburista’s ticket.

1. What drives your decision to run for the European Parliament in the upcoming election?

I come from a family background that has involved me in Labour politics since my young age. I first entered the political fray at the age of 16 through my participation in the Labour Youth Forum. I always followed with great interest the workings of Dr Miriam Dalli – in fact she was my mentor in Labour’s LEAD Programme and while taking this programme I started observing closely Dr Dalli’s interventions in the European Parliament and her position on various European policy topics. It was in 2019 that Dr Dalli launched my campaign for the Gudja Local Council election, where I was successful in being elected Mayor on the first count. This was a change in mayorship for the first time in 22 years.

I always considered my participation at Local Council Level as a stepping stone to my future political career.  After receiving encouragement from various Labour exponents, I decided that I could serve the Maltese people well by taking the plunge and enter European politics by contesting the European Parliament election.

2. What sets you apart from the other candidates?

First of all I’m disappointed to state that, as yet, I am the only officially approved female candidate on the Labour ticket; I hope this changes in the next few weeks. I really hate distinguishing between women and men in politics. In effect, I had compiled my dissertation for my Masters in Law arguing against positive discrimination in favour of women in politics. I also hope that, following the introduction of the corrective mechanism that favoured women candidates for the national parliament, there will be no need to keep this mechanism till the end of the sunset clause stipulated in the law. My tag line for this electoral campaign is ‘Leħnek fl-Ewropa’ (Your Voice in Europe), and this is what I want to be – the voice of the Maltese people in Europe. I want to air in the European Parliament all the major concerns where the Maltese people feel that Europe is failing them.

3. What would be your top goals if you were elected?

I would work in the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) on all subjects that I have dealt with in recent years. I want to drive the message to the European institutions that they cannot continue to ignore the realities of the diversity amongst European Union Member States, from very large countries to very small states like ours. Too many times EU regulations tend to pit a group of States against the others as these regulations favour large economies and hinder the smaller ones or those on the periphery of the European continent. The case of the European directive on emissions from ships is a case in point where Malta is being adversely affected. My ultimate goal is to defend Malta and the Maltese by all means in European Institutions, particularly when unjust and undemocratic manoeuvres are made by our opponents of the European People’s Party to try and tarnish to the maximum Malta’s exceptional reputation overseas.

Then I want to work towards achieving a basic acceptable standard of living across the Union and eradicate poverty as much as possible. I will work to bring over to Malta the more advanced mental well-being support services that already exist in the most advanced European Union states, particularly in the Scandinavian countries.

Finally, I want to see a European Union that offers equal opportunities to all youths across all its countries.

4. What, in your view, are the most pressing issues the European Union will be facing in the next five years?

First of all, Europe is again facing a war on one of its frontiers. The war in Ukraine shows how vulnerable Europe is in the face of Russian agression and that Russia poses a continuous danger to the whole of the European Union. The effects of this war have not only brought devastation to Ukraine but also to the economies of various EU states, with the consequence of creating widespread poverty resulting from high rates of inflation coupled with high fiscal deficits all over Europe. So, reshaping Europe’s economies in these realities is a major challenge.

Immigration into Europe is another major challenge as this is creating high level of discontent amongst Europeans, resulting in a shift towards extreme right wing politics. Various right wing, sometimes even xenophobic, parties have gathered enough strength to enter mainstream politics and even participate in Government coalitions. This is considered by many as a threat to the democratic fabric of Europe.

Enlargement is also a major challenge to the European Project. With the projected expansion to the Western Balkans, many are asking how much this European Union will further expand. Are the European Union institutions ready for this type of expansion? Then there is the issue of how much closer the European Members states want to work together. There are those that advocate for a more federal Europe and those who stand against, with threats of withdrawals similar to Brexit.

5. As a general principle, do you support further integration of the European project? Should the EU’s Member States confer on the Union competence over more areas that are currently of exclusive national competence in a bid to improve efficiency, consistency, and harmonisation, and to further protect citizens’ rights?

If further integration within the European Union means that we shall have more “one size fits all” directives and regulations, than I am not in favour of further integration. As I explained earlier, the circumstances of our small Island nation and others have to be taken into account and exemptions applied wherever they are needed. If, on the other side, integration means more cooperation between European Union Members States so that much more is achieved to the benefit of European nations, than I agree. We have wonderful experiences of how this close cooperation have benefitted our people, such as with Erasmus, which is already a great achievement of Europan integration. Like Erasmus there are tens of other European Union initiatives that proved integration as a great success.

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