How safe is Labour really?
Just when you thought that Labour was safe, out comes MP Karmenu Vella telling us what he thinks about the agreement that put our country in its rightful place in the European Union.
On August, 13, L-Orizzont ran a report entitled The EU Agreement Can Be Changed. In it, Vella was reported saying that “we need to realise that the agreement we have with the European Union is not a contract that cannot be changed but one that can be altered according to circumstances, so certain conditions can be changed”. He added that “membership is not the issue, but how much are we benefitting from membership?”
I am here quoting from L-Orizzont. So there is no reason to believe that the report was not faithful. You may think that, eight years on, EU membership is a fact of life and that you can now afford to ignore this kind of statement, ominous as it sounds. You might even accuse of scaremongering anyone who, like me, takes them seriously.
But, pray, why shouldn’t we take these statements seriously? Why should we assume that he is just bluffing? Why shouldn’t we think that he actually means what he says?
Well, I for one, find Vella’s statements disturbing. And I will tell you why.
First of all, Vella is responsible for writing the Labour Party’s electoral programme. His word therefore carries a lot of weight in terms of what the Labour Party would do if it is elected in office in a few months’ time.
To put it in other words, what Vella thinks affects your future and that of your family because in a few months’ time he could be a senior government minister and even representing your interests in the Council of Ministers in Brussels.
And if he made this kind of statement as a government minister, our credibility in the EU would immediately hit the rocks. The damage would be instant and immeasurable.
So since we know precious little about what Labour plans to do if it is in office, there is all the more reason to carefully weigh the words of the man who is supposed to be hatching up those plans.
Because if this is what he thinks, then this is what Labour is likely to do in government.
Secondly, the agreement that Vella is referring to is no simple piece of paper. It is the treaty that took us into the EU. Suffice to say that it was ratified by the national parliaments of all EU countries, including our own.
So Vella does not redeem himself by saying that membership is not the issue but how much we are benefitting from it (which is rich, coming from him). If you touch the agreement that sealed our membership, you immediately raise the very question of membership and not just its benefits.
If Vella had not quite figured that out yet, I hope that he does now.
Thirdly, Vella’s was not a one-off. It was no gaffe. Nor was it harmless. He was following in the footsteps of his party leader and of the preceding leader. There is a pattern.
We all remember how in the thick of the 2008 electoral campaign Alfred Sant had pledged that Labour would renegotiate the Accession Treaty if he became Prime Minister. That statement – which was promptly defended by the then MEP Joseph Muscat – had sent shivers down our spines because we do not want Labour to touch EU membership.
But not if Sant could help it.
In 2008, there was no reason to assume that Dr Sant would not have implemented his ominous views on our EU agreement if he got into Castille. After all he had suspended our membership application in 1996 without so much as batting an eyelid.
And, likewise, I see no reason why Vella’s words in 2012 should be taken any less seriously.
After all, when this agreement was ratified by our Parliament in 2003, Vella had voted against it, along with the rest of the Labour parliamentary group, many of whom may be your ministers in a few months’ time.
And, nine years on, he is flippantly claiming that he wants to change it. Why else would he tell us that it can be changed? Because he had nothing better to say? No, it’s because he means it. So if you do not take him seriously you do so at your peril.
Labour will be quick to retort that this is scaremongering. EU membership, they will insist, is safe with Labour. But if they want us to believe them, they should stop railing against the agreement that made us members in the first place.
And they should tell Vella to get a grip on himself and be careful what to say. If they don’t, then they should not be surprised that people like me –who know just what kind of damage these statements could cause to our country – will warn that, even on issues as basic as this, the Labour Party is not as safe as it claims to be.
Simon Busuttil is a Nationalist Member of the European Parliament.