The flipside of pro-nationalist rhetoric

Labour Party CEO Randolph De Battista warns that anti-EU rhetoric might succeed in mobilising voters but could backfire in the long run.

As previously fringe right-wing political parties gain traction with alarming speed across Europe, undermining the fundamental values that underpin the European Union and its entire purpose, comes a stark warning from the Labour Party’s CEO: there is a flipside to mainstream political parties’s adoption of pro-nationalist rhetoric to secure voters’ support in the upcoming European elections. It might in the long run lead people down a path they will eventually regret.

Randolph De Battista referred to Brexit as a clear example of what anti-EU rhetoric could lead to. The campaign for the 2016 referendum was a toxic brew of right-wing populism and demonstrably false claims. It capitalised on economic hardship, political alienation, and cultural anxieties, scapegoating “Brussels” for all the problems. Since the 52% to 48% vote to leave the EU the sentiment among Britons has shifted, with a majority now believing the decision was wrong. But now it is too late.

That’s why politics everywhere should be less partisan, focusing more on finding common ground and considering the best solutions for the country, opined Labour’s CEO, on Kafè Ewropa, One Radio’s weekly European election talk show hosted by The Journal editor Sandro Mangion.

Reflecting on the 2003 Maltese EU membership referendum, he pointed out how there were those who resorted to oversimplified arguments while the Labour Party’s communication regarding the Partnership option lacked clarity, hindering public understanding of its advantages. “If everyone had said things as they were,” he argued, “the public would have been better equipped to make its decision.” At the end, with a majority of 54%, the Maltese people voted in favour of membership, paving the way for Malta’s official accession to the European Union on 1st May 2004.

Labour’s evolving EU policy

Socialist parties and politicians across Europe have been instrumental in driving European integration forward over the years. The first to do so joined forces to promote European unity in the aftermath of World War II. Today, European Socialists are a formidable political force that champions the values of democracy, solidarity, and progress.

Socialists for Europe: Belgium’s Paul-Henri Spaak and France’s Guy Mollet, 1953

After Malta joined the EU, the Maltese Labour Party became a full member of the Party of European Socialists (PES), the pan-European social democratic party that advocates for policies such as social justice, a strong welfare state, and a sustainable economy.

Following accession, the Labour Party – then in Opposition – became more pro-European that the Nationalist Party, that had advocated full membership, Randolph De Battista recalled, adding that the party wasted no time in implementing its pro-European vision once it was elected to power in 2013. “Introducing civil rights is a European value. Taking decisive action to mitigate climate change is a core principle for the EU,” he said.

Randolph De Battista, Labour Party CEO.

We are the EU

Public opinion polls consistently show overwhelming Maltese satisfaction with EU membership. This, however, does not change the fact that Malta remains a small island member state on the bloc’s peripħery, and therefore needs to ensure that its specific realities are take into account in the Union’s decision-making process.

Very often political discourse at the national level focuses more on what Malta can obtain from the EU, particularly funding, while at the same time frequently portrays the bloc as an entity that the country must be wary of. Randolph De Battista believes this approach stems from the fact that Malta’s strategic location in the Mediterranean has exposed it to numerous foreign threats throughout history, contributing to a strong sense of national psyche focused on defending the homeland.

“I would like to see our new MEPs and our Ministers who attend Council meetings to focus not just on how a legislation could adversely affect Malta but increasingly also on the direction we want the EU to take in the future,” said the PL’s CEO. “The moment we stop focusing too much on ‘defending’ and contribute constructively towards the EU’s vision, we will be taken more seriously. After all, we are the European Union and the European Union is us. As members of the Union, we have a unique opportunity for continuous exchange of knowledge and best practices. This benefits all of us.”

De Battista noted that there have been several instances where Prime Minister Robert Abela shared Malta’s vision in the European Council, for instance on the energy subisidy policy adopted by the Maltese government. Even former Deputy Prime Minister and  Minister for Health, Chris Fearne, was a reference point for his EU counterparts, for instance on the Covid vaccine.

“This is the path to Malta’s success,” said the PL’s CEO. “Let us all commit to aiming high.”

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