11 May 2005

The Web

Good move, wrong logic

The Labour Party’s parliamentary group did well to give its nod to the EU Constitution. The country cannot afford instability caused by a renewed debate on Malta’s future within the European Union. A clear and unequivocal decision by the electorate in 2003, first in the referendum and later in the general election closed the membership debate once and for all.
Political maturity demanded a change in the Labour Party’s policy. Even if with a huff and a puff, the 2003 general conference decided that the party would be working within Malta’s new reality.
Labour leader Alfred Sant will continue to be hounded by his absurd declaration that partnership won the referendum and many will still point at the antipathy towards the EU of some Labour exponents, but these set backs should not discourage the party from seeking to craft a Maltese identity in Europe.
It could have been an easier task had Alfred Sant resigned after the 2003 election making way for a more pro-EU moderate face. Undeniably, Labourites still find it hard to equate Alfred Sant with a Labour Party that is now seeking to work comfortably within the EU.
But questioning Sant’s leadership is a futile and pointless exercise at this stage. He has adopted a pragmatic approach even if he still has to tone down his antipathy towards the EU.
The Labour Party has to transcend the threshold of colonialism. It has to stop viewing Brussels as a neo-colonial power, a provider of goods. Malta is a player in the bloc and while acting its size it has to make its voice heard and offer direction.
Labour has to offer the electorate its vision of how it intends playing Malta’s European game if in government. That is where the Labour Party should be pumping its energy in the months to come.
This does not mean that the internal debate on the EU Constitution was not a healthy one. If anything it served to rekindle important question marks about the validity of Malta’s neutrality in a changed world.
But the debate does seem to have followed a skewed logic. Even though the Parliamentary Group has given its thumbs up, with reservations, to ratification of the Constitution, the party general conference can still overturn the decision.
The question begs. What will happen if the general conference decides against ratification? Will MPs, who have already taken a definite position, be forced to vote against their official line?
It is unlikely the party grass roots will take the cue from Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, Anglu Farrugia and other MPs, who have seriously questioned the EU Constitution. Delegates know that if EU membership or uncertainties about Labour’s EU vocation become issues at the next general election, the party would be sounding its own death knell.
Nonetheless, despite priding themselves in having an open debate on the Constitution, party functionaries have gone to great extremes to try and muzzle Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. It does not bode well.
Ratifying the EU Constitution has to be a logical decision reached after delegates and party members are convinced of the argumentation in favour. The strength of the arguments in favour of the EU Constitution as it stands today does not require muscle power to be forced down people’s throats unless those arguing the case are unsure of their position.
The Maltese political system still has to grasp the fundamentals of open debate on party policy. The Labour Party’s experiment is commendable but it need not have followed a skewed logic.

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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