Q&A with Thomas Bajada

Thomas Bajada, the latest candidate approved by Partit Laburista for the 8th June European Parliament elections, answers 5 questions from The Journal.

1. What drives your decision to run for the EP in the upcoming elections?

I have been working around politics for most of my life and have always stood away from the spotlight, finding myself continuously listening and reflecting on the current state of Malta and its future. I feel I am old enough to have seen my country transform into a liberal European Member State and benefitting from many of the opportunities that this comes with. I have seen the Labour Party sweeping to victory through a movement fuelled by a sense of new beginnings.

Since then, Malta has undoubtedly made significant strides in advancing civil liberties, growing the economy, and investing heavily in employment and infrastructure. This has effectively protected Malta from many of the most severe impacts of the current global crises. However, I feel that we cannot rest on our laurels and have to accept the fact that our country’s successes have consequences and there are instances where we could have done better. There is a general sense that a portion of people across all political factions feel unrepresented or disconnected from politics.

Furthermore, at a European level, there is a strong degree of cynicism and concern with the resurgence of extremism. Many feel that the EU single market or the freedom of movement have had negative consequences on their livelihoods, leading to a sense of disillusion with the European project. Having reflected on this, I have made the challenging decision to venture into politics; despite the inevitable challenges it entails. My motivation stems from a deep desire to address pressing issues, particularly those silently plaguing families, eroding our well-being.

Rather than succumb to disillusionment, I have chosen to offer myself as an agent of change as I feel there is no point being discontent unless you are ready to do something about it. I want to move us away from disillusion to face the challenges which are making us discontent.

2. What sets you apart from the other candidates?

Our decision at the ballot box on 8th June holds the promise of ushering in a new wave of fresh minds, new perspectives, renewed energy, and a more robust representation of the values of our young nation. The Partit Laburista candidate list embodies a diverse range of individuals who are poised to fulfil this promise. Setting apart should not be the aim, but rather it is crucial to foster a team of candidates whose diverse strengths complement one another.

At the age of 29, I feel that I can bring a blend of youthful energy and valuable experience navigating the societal pressures faced by our youth. Additionally, I have represented my country’s interests in Brussels for the past five years. This experience has provided me with the opportunity to align closely the perspectives of the younger generation. Moreover, I have actively listened and learned from individuals with extensive experience, which has given me a more practical and realistic outlook. The combination of experience, ambition and energy, along with my academic background in the natural sciences, has equipped me to approach political challenges with a critical mindset. I am committed to ensuring a practical application of knowledge to effectively address the needs of our nation. It is crucial to possess a blend of experience and passion to tackle the politically sensitive and economically vital issues that impact the daily lives of Maltese and Gozitan citizens.

Through my experience at Malta’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels, I have gained invaluable insights into the opportunities, as well as the obstacles, posed by EU institutions on our small country. I am committed to serving as a voice for people whose challenges and needs must be reflected in any new policy direction the next Parliament takes. I have seen the institutions fail to do this a few times.

Given the size of Malta and the limited number of representatives, it is essential that those elected possess a strong voice and apt negotiation skills. They must be able to work together effectively – away from incessant bipartisanship – to be able to secure the best outcomes for our citizens. My advocacy within the Council of the European Union, particularly on issues affecting the fisheries, agriculture, and aquaculture sectors, has required a lot of dedication to defend Malta’s interests.

On a more personal note, I am a socialist at heart, I am progressive, and I love my country. Throughout my youth, I have been actively engaged in volunteering efforts aimed at preserving our cultural heritage and addressing the bureaucratic hurdles that impeded our rapidly changing society. I would give my all to offer a unique blend of youthfulness, critical thinking, and a steadfast commitment to serving the interests of our nation. My experiences, values, and dedication make me well-equipped to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of Malta and Gozo.

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

I aim for a better future, not only for Malta, but also for the European Union. My commitment is fuelled by the belief that positive transformation is achievable, and I am determined to contribute to that change. To that end, I intend to better address the failures of EU politics over the past years, in particular over excessive burdensome regulation, inadequate stakeholder consultations, and the relative disconnect between Brussels and the realities being faced by Europeans. The EU cannot afford to keep proposing legislation which is disconnected from reality.

If elected, I will make use of the experience I gained working on the Union’s legislative process and call for proper impact assessments which balance the needs of the economy, but also the needs of the small, the young, and the disadvantaged before these are published. Sometimes I feel that it is better to be proactive rather than reactive and I will push for our needs to be addressed well before the need to react.

Climate change and environmental protection are crucial issues that require attention. However, the EU’s insistence on a one-size-fits-all approach overlooks the unique circumstances of our country, which is detrimental to our citizens. We cannot afford to implement policies driven solely by political ambition, as this may lead to job losses and the closure of sectors. Such outcomes would diminish national production and force us to rely on imports from third countries that may not adhere to the EU’s environmental standards. It is essential to establish a level playing field with third countries. Furthermore, I believe it is imperative for our sectors to thrive to maintain strategic autonomy within the Union, ensuring our safety and security. We cannot allow overly burdensome regulations to stifle our industries.

During my time in Brussels, particularly in my work on fisheries and ocean governance, I have advocated for the EU to engage in negotiations with third countries in international forums before imposing excessive regulations on our citizens. I am committed to continuing these efforts across all areas.

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

Preserving unity within the Union while also upholding the sovereignty and the national identity of each Member State will be a challenge and will require a balanced approach. The European Union will be navigating a very tough time with the potential of the rising influence of nationalistic and far right parties, and will therefore have to confront various challenging discussions such as migration, enlargement (addressed in the next question), defence, and economic disparities.

Another significant issue is the transition towards a green economy. While the EU aspires to ambitious environmental objectives, we cannot overlook the socio-economic realities which were exacerbated by recent global challenges, such as the pandemic and ongoing conflicts in neighbouring regions. Balancing environmental aspirations with economic stability is essential, whereby, as I previously mentioned, a rushed transition risks compromising the EU’s food sovereignty and employment. To mitigate these risks, the EU must actively support local sectors. Recent attention has shifted to the agricultural sector, which is an essential sector. For us specifically, this requires more focus on small-scale farmers and coastal fishing communities. Simultaneously, investing in sustainable agriculture and fisheries, alongside fostering research and innovation in a manner which works for our sector, will be pivotal in shaping policies that benefit all stakeholders.

Furthermore, the European Union is a rich mosaic of diverse cultures and traditions, each contributing to the vibrancy of our shared European identity. However, these cultural heritages are under threat, facing extinction in the fast-paced march of globalisation and economic development. Preserving this diversity is paramount, and the EU must take proactive steps to safeguard local traditions while promoting their integration into the broader European fabric. By celebrating and nurturing our cultural heritage, we not only honour our past but also enrich our collective future.

In essence, these challenges serve as opportunities for the European Union to demonstrate resilience, creativity, and social solidarity. By fostering cooperation, embracing cultural and social diversity, and pursuing sustainable development, with special focus on innovative small and medium agrifood businesses, we can forge a brighter, more sovereign and prosperous future for all within the EU and beyond.

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?

Yes and no. I acknowledge the advantages of deepening integration within the EU. However, it’s crucial to give particular attention to the specific needs of all Member States, especially small island nations like ours. Malta faces unique challenges, including limited resources, space, vulnerability to climate change, and geographical isolation. These factors can hinder our ability to fully benefit from policies tailored to the broader European context. Therefore, while supporting further integration, I will advocate for a flexible approach to policies to respect our country’s constraints and the double-insularity of Gozo. We must ensure that broader integration measures do not disadvantage us and strive for an inclusive, equitable, and mutually beneficial level of integration.

Furthermore, I consider the second part of this question to be entirely distinct from the first. I firmly oppose any widening in Union competence. Based on past experiences, particularly regarding matters of shared or exclusive Union competence, we have witnessed numerous instances where the European Commission has disregarded the specific needs and concerns of small Member States like ours. However, this reality also underscores the necessity for our government, its departments, associated entities, and stakeholders to elevate their efforts and consistently advocate for our interests. This may require significant exertion on our part to ensure robust analyses of texts and strong representation for a small country with limited voting power.

Linked to this, I hold a staunch stance against endeavours to eliminate unanimity in the Council of the EU on certain matters. Such a move would undermine Malta’s influential position on crucial matters where the veto power currently grants us significant leverage.

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