Let’s have a good laugh at George Vella, shall we?

Published: June 21, 2012 at 11:19pm

Except that the laugh’s on us, if he gets to be foreign minister, when he probably can’t even tell a suppository from a tampon. And here, encapsulated in this interview, are the real reasons for his desire for vengeance on Richard Cachia Caruana, who was chief negotiator for Malta with the EU at the time.

Mhux ghal xi haga, imma l-vera qabda Sqallin.

And look at this one of his list of amazing arguments against joining the European Union:

Let`s be realistic. If we want to be honest, do you imagine a hotel operator choosing a Maltese girl over a Swedish girl who can speak four or five languages?

Ghadu bl-iSwedish girls, God bless, bhal tas-SevANties. My, my, my. I just don’t know what to say.

The Times, Monday, May 27, 2002
by Jesmond Bonello


The Labour Party`s deputy leader and main spokesman on foreign affairs, George Vella, argues that the new MLP `Partnership` slogan does not exclude the `Switzerland of the Mediterranean` concept.

In a candid interview with Jesmond Bonello, Dr Vella says that the two slogans mean the same thing.

In the interview Dr Vella says he will not be campaigning against EU membership if in the next general election the people take the conscious decision in favour of EU membership.

What is your assessment of what the government has managed to obtain so far in its EU accession negotiations?

First of all, I don`t think they are proper negotiations. They are simply an attempt to delay the eventual implementation of the EU rules and regulations. They are not negotiations which can give you any serious derogations. It is an issue of getting transitional periods in certain areas.

However, and I want to stress this point, the major issues are still pending and will have to be decided over the coming months. I am eager to see what will be concluded in sensitive issues such as that of state aid for the shipyards, agriculture, environment and taxation.

So you believe there are no negotiations going on…

No. That would be too simplistic. I know that negotiations round a table are being held. But in real terms, it is impossible for the government to get a derogation on the EU rules and regulations. That is reality.

But the government is saying it has managed to obtain permanent arrangements with the EU.

Such as what?

For instance, the special arrangement on the acquisition of a secondary residence by foreigners.

I look at it this way: I am in possession of something, I am giving it away and then I am trying to get something back of what I previously owned.

I believe that the derogation on the issue of property has eroded the rights of the Maltese.


Previously, a Maltese person did not have restrictions that applied to foreigners. Now they will be treated on the same level. In order not to discriminate against EU citizens, the government has agreed to treat the Maltese and the EU citizens in the same way.

In what sense?

Take the case of an emigrant`s son who does not live in Malta. As the situation is today, this person can come over and instantly buy property in Malta. With the arrangement reached, this person would have to qualify for the criteria which apply to EU nationals.

You mentioned the agreement over property. That is the only permanent arrangement reached and it will be permanent only if it will be included in the accession treaty. The others are simply transitional periods.

Take the issue of the free movement of workers – the government managed only to get a transitional period in such a sensitive area. In the first seven years, if the problem becomes acute and serious, the government can decide to stop foreign workers but it will have to obtain the eventual tacit agreement from the EU to do that.

But not in the first seven years. The agreement specifies that the government does not need to consult the EU to apply measures to control the flow of foreign workers in any particular area if it feels there is a threat to the local market.

Even in the first seven years, because if an EU national contests the government decision to stop workers coming into Malta and take the issue to the European court, the government will have no option but to abide by the final court decision.

You are saying that this could take place in the first seven years?

Of course, you cannot just tell the EU that you are going to stop foreign workers from coming over. You have to convince them that you have an urgent problem and exceptional circumstances. You do not joke with the EU.

But the government is saying that during the first seven years it has the right to stop the flow of foreign workers in any particular area if it feels there is a threat without consulting the EU.

It is not a question of consulting but an issue of justification. The government will still have to justify its actions. The government will have to prove there is a threat to the local market.

It will not be in a position to wake up one morning and decide to take such action. The moment the government will take such action, someone feeling that their rights have been infringed would be able to challenge the government at the European Court.

Then there is the sensitive issue concerning the self employed, on which there has been particular emphasis recently. The Labour Party is now highlighting the position of the self employed.

It is very clear that self employed persons from the EU will be able to come over and start a business here.

Do you believe there will be a substantial number of self employed seeking to open shop here?

The issue is not whether they would come or not. Frankly, I do not have a crystal ball to indicate what is going to happen. But, and I want to stress this point – in other countries, especially in border regions, there were people opening up a business in another member state.

Don`t forget Malta has particular attributes as far as tourism is concerned: Sometimes – and I should not be taken verbatim – I feel that Malta is more like the Caribbean of the Mediterranean than Switzerland of the Mediterranean, especially for Northern Europe.

Sometimes, we tend to underestimate the fact that 35 per cent of our income is derived from tourism. I wouldn`t doubt that a Swedish girl or guy will consider coming to Malta for a year as a courier or a front desk office clerk or a receptionist. They would come here for the experience, warmer weather and the good life.

This is the type of employment which would worry me. I am not particularly concerned about long-term employment but short-term jobs would raise my eyebrows.

Let`s be realistic. If we want to be honest, do you imagine a hotel operator choosing a Maltese girl over a Swedish girl who can speak four or five languages?

Not to mention what happened in Palma de Majorca, which literally has become a German colony.

I genuinely believe there will be an appreciable influx of foreign workers seeking short term jobs but by saying that I do not mean that we would be inundated. The fact remains that our doors will be open.

What is your reaction to the news that Maltese has been made an official language. Were you expecting such a decision?

I would not be telling the truth if I don`t say that I had my doubts. I never said it was an impossible task but I had certain doubts from a technical point of view. From an EU point of view such a decision was at first expected to involve more staff, financial considerations and more work.

It is interesting how something which looked quite complex logistically turned out to be quite simple.

Does it change anything for the Labour Party`s position on Europe?

No. It does not impinge on the political aspect of it at all.

The government is saying it has managed to obtain very good deals on the issues of free movement of workers and on the issue of acquisition of secondary residence by foreigners. The EU, including its negotiators, acknowledge that Malta has managed to obtain good concessions. What is your opinion?

I do not agree. If you take acquisition of property by foreigners, I am convinced that if Malta joins the EU, property prices will go up.

Don`t forget that if an EU citizen will take up residence in Malta, he would be entitled to buy whatever he wants, including a one bedroom flat. There are a lot of question marks which remain to be answered and I hope that there will not be further surprises. The people in Brussels are wise and they will do anything possible to ensure that any agreement will remain in line with the EU`s rules and regulations.

The Labour Party, including its leading exponents, keep repeating that during a meeting with representatives of the farming community, (Foreign Minister) Joe Borg said he was prepared to join the EU even if it meant he had to go on his knees. He has repeatedly and categorically denied this. Why do you keep repeating it?

I was not present when Dr Borg allegedly made such a statement. However, I have been assured that in that meeting, there were more than 30 people who are willing to declare that they heard Dr Borg make such a statement, even though there are no tapes available.

To be very honest, I do not think this makes a difference one way or another. Obviously, there is the political capital involved. I don` t think he did the right thing if he did make such a statement, because he would continue to lose the little bargaining power he has.

But he is saying he did not make such a statement. Do you believe him or not?

I will not go into that. I was not there. Dr Borg is saying he did not make such a statement. To be frank, I am not in a position to say who is telling the truth. Unfortunately, this is part of politics in Malta.

Simon Busuttil says that you made a serious false accusation against MIC when you accused it of engaging in money laundering. Do you stand by your accusation? Can you substantiate your claim?

I didn`t mean money laundering in the literal legal sense. There were the Oscars being screened during the night on Net TV and it was noticed that even though it was not peak time, there were a lot of adverts by the MIC.

I was participating in a programme of Manwel Cuschieri and I commented on the fact that the government had voted almost Lm1 million of taxpayers` money to the MIC. The MIC, in some way or another, plough back some of the money to the government.

I had said that this is like recycling money or money laundering. But I did not mean money laundering in the legal sense or that they are importing drugs.

In the following programme, I had clarified the matter but they keep on repeating the same thing. I stand by the claim that what is happening amounts to recycling of money.

If someone would argue that even the former Labour government did the same thing as it gave adverts to the MLP media, my reply would be that is possible.

But I did not mean anything more than that and I had explained what I meant. I did not mean to make any form of criminal accusations against MIC.

I think they are wasting time on trivial issues and blowing things out of proportion.

In an interview with me, Foreign Minister Joe Borg clearly implied that the pace of negotiations have slowed down because the government is negotiating hard. He said that the perception in Brussels about Malta`s negotiating process is that Malta is driving a very hard bargain. Do you agree with this assessment?

Definitely not. It is not the case. The pace of negotiations has slowed down because there are serious problems. The government is now facing the difficult and most sensitive issues and it knows that it has to make certain decisions on a number of crucial issues. This is why the process has slowed down. The government now has to take certain decisions on the issue of VAT, agriculture, state aid and environment. There is also the issue of the 25 mile fishing conservation zone, which is still a pending issue.

What do you think are the major pending issues in the negotiations?

Most of the remaining issues are very problematic. Can you imagine what will happen if the government does not manage to keep the right to have zero VAT rating on food and medicine?

Do you think the government will be able to negotiate a deal which would enable Malta to get a substantial net amount?

No. If Malta were to join, it would spend a few years as a net beneficiary but then we will not remain with that status.

But do you think Malta will be able to get substantial amounts during its first years of accession?

No. In net terms, I don`t think Malta will get more than Lm6 to Lm10 million each year. I also argue that within five years of accession, Malta will not remain a net beneficiary.

Turning to the Labour Party`s policies. Why `partnership` and not `Switzerland of the Mediterranean`?

Partnership qualifies what Switzerland of the Mediterranean is all about. It is a way of explaining better to the people what our policy is all about. We are saying Malta will have a partnership on the same lines that Switzerland has managed to negotiate with the EU.

So `partnership` does not exclude `Switzerland of the Mediterranean`.

Of course not. They mean the same thing. We are speaking of partnership but not membership. In Maltese it is difficult to find a word for `partnership`. Unfortunately if you translate partnership and membership into Maltese, you get the word `shubija` for both.

Don`t you think you are confusing people?

That is why we are using the word `partnership` in English and not translating it into Maltese. That is why we refer to EU membership as full membership.

We are seeking partnership with the EU, which is short of membership, based on the model of Switzerland.

Many foreign exponents say it would be impossible for Malta to negotiate a special deal with the EU short of membership and that it will only be able to get what countries like Tunisia and Morocco got.

I will reply with another question. What did we sign with the EU in 1998? This is what we had signed with the EU. It was a crystal clear agreement.

We signed the basis of a free trade area covering industrial products, a special protocol for agro-industry and agriculture and a number of cooperation agreements on different sectors. We had also signed a special agreement on justice and home affairs and political cooperation.

It is similar to what is known as the European Economic Area.

So this is what you want?

Yes. Definitely. As soon as we get elected we will follow up what already had been signed in 1998. I do not care if this arrangement is allegedly similar to what Tunisia or Morocco have attained, which it is not. If it suits us, it`s fine. I am not a racist and such comparison does not bother me in the least.

They argue that if Malta decides not to join the EU, it will start ignoring Malta. How is it possible for the EU to ignore Malta?

If the government is elected democratically, they would be prepared to talk. This is what happened in 1996 when the Labour Party was elected to government. When I went to Brussels to hold talks, I never found any doors closed. Nobody told me that if I am against membership, I should go back where I came from.

But will your policy ever lead to membership?

I do not see it in the foreseeable future. But I do not know what will happen in 20 years` time. Who knows? This is the best thing about our policy. We are not closing doors. We never say never.

Do I have a misconception if I tell you that I see the Labour Party trying to avoid using the `Switzerland of the Mediterranean` slogan?

Yes. Having said that, it seems that people are understanding more what we mean by the word `partnership` than by `Switzerland of the Mediterranean`. For some people, `Switzerland of the Mediterranean` could be rather nebulous, because not everyone is following what Switzerland is managing to negotiate with the EU.

The word partnership qualifies more what we mean by Switzerland of the Mediterranean. But I can assure you that there is no directive within the party to use the word `partnership` instead of `Switzerland of the Mediterranean`.

Following a meeting with Commissioner Verheugen, Dr Borg said that Mr Verheugen expressed the concern of some member states that Malta in the future might be the first member to consider pulling out of the EU. Obviously he passed that comment because of the internal division on the issue. What do you think ?

That is why I maintain that this is a very serious issue and that it is not a decision which should be taken lightly. That is why there should not be any misinformation and that there should not be imbalance in the financing of information. People should be allowed to take the decision objectively and then we will be bound by the decision.

The people will decide in the general election but they should be allowed to go for it objectively. However, I have to stress I am not satisfied at all with the way things are going. The people are not getting the opportunity to grasp the two sides of the coin. There is imbalance of information. I was shocked that Dr Borg himself recently admitted that the MIC was there to push forward the government programme in favour of membership.

Therefore you are saying that once we join, the situation would be irreversible ?

I am speaking on behalf of George Vella now. This is a personal opinion. I will accept the result of the coming general election.

So you are saying that if the people in the general election decide in favour of membership, you will accept that decision?

George Vella will not contemplate campaigning against EU membership if in the coming general election the people will take the conscious decision in favour of EU membership. What the party will do is a different matter. I am not the party. I cannot say that the party will not take this approach. I cannot speak for what the party will be doing in the future.

That is why I lament the imbalance of information and the lack of funding for the two sides to put forward their argument. I do not want the people to take an uninformed decision. I say that if objectively, in the coming election people will decide in favour of membership, I would say good luck to them.

I do not intend to engage in a campaign to pull Malta out of the EU if the people would have decided – in the general election – in favour of membership. If the MLP would have people at its helm who would advocate such an approach, then it would be up to them.

Once the people decide, you cannot play around with these things. However, we have to ensure that the decision-making process is clean and that nobody will tamper with the process and that it would be impossible for anyone to manipulate the process. I am now speaking in general but that is why the MLP is insisting that the pending electoral issues should be resolved without unnecessary delays.

But in a nutshell, you will not consider pulling Malta out of the EU?

Speaking on a personal basis, if the general election would give a clear indication, that would be it. In the same manner, if the people would elect a Labour government, it would mean that the people have said `No` to membership.

Jimmy Magro last month said that boycotting the EU referendum is one of the options being considered by the Labour Party? What is your opinion?

Theoretically, it is one of the options. You had the option to come here to hold this interview; or to call me at the eleventh hour to cancel the interview, or to come here, say `hello` and leave. These were all options.

But there seem to be senior people within the party advocating such an approach?

Up to now, no decision has been taken as to how we will be dealing with the referendum. For example, I have a specific question in mind. Will the referendum be won by a simple majority or by two-thirds majority as this is also a Constitutional issue.

Imagine a scenario where, in the referendum, a large majority of the people decide in favour of membership. Do you exclude that the Labour Party will change its position before the general election.

No way. Then we will wait for the outcome of the general election. If that were to take place, it will indicate that the Nationalists are likely to win.

But the Labour Party will still maintain it will not be bound by the outcome of the referendum?

Referendum is a consultation exercise. It is not legally binding. A general election will be binding.

So you are basically saying that there is no need for a referendum.

No. The government has every right to hold an opinion poll and to sound public opinion. But the decision will be taken in the election.

We will not ignore it, because that is the spin version of what we say. We cannot ignore public opinion and you have to be crazy to do that. But it will not be binding.

Let`s imagine a scenario where a Labour future government would either freeze or withdraw the membership bid. What would happen to what has been agreed upon in the negotiations which would have been concluded by that time. What would happen to the time frames for the removal of levies which has to take place in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007? What will happen to the legislation which has already been changed ?

Levies are not an end in themselves. They are there to protect those who are in need of shelter. If by the time we are in government we will find a situation where certain levies would have been removed and unfortunately certain agricultural sectors would have already been destroyed, it would be useless to reintroduce levies in these areas.

But those areas which would require protection, we would re-introduce methods and ways of protecting them. Whether the protection would be in the form or levies or not is not important.

The argument is the need of retaining certain protection for the sectors which are in need of protection.

What about the legislation?

We will not scrap everything. If there are regulations related to occupational health and safety which are good, we will retain them. The same applies to some other sectors. We have to be mature and responsible. We did in 1996 and we will do it again.

8 Comments Comment

  1. La Redoute says:

    Swedish? He probably meant to say Swiss, but got his European countries all mixed up. You know what they say about bloody foreigners – they’re all the same.

  2. Roy says:

    Laugh? This brings a tear to my eye.

    Lest we forget.

  3. Tim Ripard says:

    I got as far as this and my blood froze:

    “It (the government) will not be in a position to wake up one morning and decide to take such action (to limit EU nationals seeking jobs in Malta in the first 7 years of accession). The moment the government will take such action, someone feeling that their rights have been infringed would be able to challenge the government at the European Court.”

    Clearly he believes that a government should be able to do what it likes, regardless of the law.

    I’m 53 so this doesn’t surprise me but anyone who wasn’t old enough to remember the 70s and 80s should read this carefully and think about it.

  4. Rjc says:

    Amazing how easily we have forgotten such trash. Six or 10 million a year, he reckoned. And he still shows his face in public?

  5. VERITA says:

    Dr Vella said Malta might get between 6 or 10 million euros a year during the first few years. Let’s for a moment forget that Dr Sant used to say that the maximum we might get is one million a year, but surely Dr Vella should have multiplied his figures by more than 15 times.

  6. Johannes says:

    The most worrying part of the interview is the bit when he says: “I am speaking on behalf of George Vella now. This is a personal opinion. I will accept the result of the coming general election”

    Is there an alternative to accepting the result of an election in a democratic country?

    The mere fact that he had to say that speaks volumes about the perception people have of the PL.

    I would be embarrassed and ashamed to have to state that I would accept an electoral defeat.

    Then again, with Labour’s track record of governing for a full term when PN had 51% of the votes, it clearly shows that doing the right thing is hardly second nature to PL.

  7. Pat Zahra says:

    ‘Let`s be realistic. If we want to be honest, do you imagine a hotel operator choosing a Maltese girl over a Swedish girl who can speak four or five languages?’

    Is this idiot aware that there are Maltese girls who can speak four or five languages?

    And if there weren’t, would it cross his tiny mind to ensure that there will be within five years?

    Probably not, because girls with that sort of capability tend not to vote for his sort. And also because the Labour Party has always championed the ignorant. . . and made sure they stayed that way.

    [Daphne – It’s not the languages that are the USP in George Vella’s opinion. The clue to what he thinks is the real USP when choosing an employee is in the word ‘Swedish girl’.]

  8. Pat Zahra says:


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