Thanks to the 12th prime minister of Malta, Lawrence Gonzi, here it is: Valletta 2018. Our capital city is European Capital of Culture not because of spin, but thanks to no less than three decades of renewal projects started in 1987, thanks to the bid launched by the Maltese government led by Lawrence Gonzi in 2010, thanks to the hard work by the team of professionals to get that bid to fruition, and thanks to the Nationalist Party’s vision of a modern, European Malta for which Valletta had to be a showcase.

Most people under 45 remember the Valletta of the early 1980s: car parks in ‘Freedom Square’ and St George’s Square, potholes and wires crossing the streets, old buildings falling to pieces, our grand palaces and auberges no better than clubs for the governing Labour Party, in addition to the one that still greets you in Republic Street reminiscent of Pyongyang.

From 1987, however, the government led by Eddie Fenech Adami had the vision to turn our capital into a truly European city, a microcosm of what Malta and Gozo had to become: a modern European nation.

Action started with the Valletta Rehabilitation Project in 1988, the necessary budgets were voted in subsequent years, and a solution was found to the age-old question of who owns the St John’s Co-Cathedral, whether Church or State. Both agreed to shelve the issue and start investing in the restoration of the conventual church of the Order that gave us our capital city.

St James Cavalier then became a gift to the nation for the new millennium. The new Stock Exchange, in what was the Garrison Chapel, was not just a place for the free market in stocks and shares in newly privatised companies but also a tasteful experiment in rehabilitation, giving a new function to an old building.

The Siege Bell Memorial, the cruise liner terminal and the Valletta Waterfront started showing what our capital could become; the Valletta Waterfront is now an attraction in its own right.

Let’s enjoy Valletta 2018 and not miss giving credit where credit is due: to Eddie Fenech Adami, Lawrence Gonzi

Then European Union funds were sourced after membership in 2004 for many projects in Valletta.

I remember in December 2002, when the negotiations with the EU had just been successfully achieved and we were soon to vote on the decision of a lifetime, Labour’s Alfred Sant went on television – and his anti-EU campaign manager Joseph Muscat endlessly repeated – that all we would get from the EU were a “miljun lira flus kontanti”.

Well, what a wonderful million hundredfold! They turned out to be €2,500 million, a million lira for a hundred times, some of which we can see invested in Valletta.

The National Library, countless palaces and auberges, the gardens, theatres, churches, fortifications, bastions, streets, and squares have been restored, cleaned up and opened for the enjoyment of Maltese and tourists alike.

Then the works started by Lawrence Gonzi to give Valletta the entrance it deserves, a new Parliament building freeing up our majestic Grand Master’s Palace, a car-free St George’s Square, new De Valette Square, pedestrianised streets, the new lift, the breakwater bridge, and a restored Fort St Elmo. A miljun lira flus kontanti indeed.

The designation by the European Union in 2012 of Valletta as European Capital of Culture for 2018 was thus a final step in a long journey. The Valletta 2018 Foundation, created in 2011 and led by David Felice, could now present to the European Union the achieved vision and hard work of the previous 25 years.

And the response from ‘positive’ Labour? Joseph Muscat didn’t like the whole project around the entrance to our capital city. He particularly disliked our new Parliament. Once installed in power, he even had the effrontery to take a trip to Renzo Piano’s atelier in Milan to convince Piano that his Parliament should rather be an exhibition hall.

Renzo Piano, who’s known not to suffer fools gladly, told Muscat what exactly to do with his exhibition hall plans.

And, in the meantime, the miljun lira flus kontanti turned out to be what Muscat and Sant got paid – for themselves and their staff and their office – as MEPs. You see, the miljun lira flus kontanti was the battle cry of bigots who, once their anti-EU project failed, had the cheek to seek the seat they never wanted for any Maltese in the European Parliament.

And Muscat, who as anti-EU campaigner told us we would be invaded by Sicilians, is now planning to get 20,000 workers from outside the EU, from countries like Serbia and Montenegro, where wages are so low that they would accept to work in our new economy being built on cheap labour and dear towers.

But let’s enjoy Valletta 2018 and not miss giving credit where credit is due: to Eddie Fenech Adami, Lawrence Gonzi and those who were enthused by their vision and worked so hard for Valletta 2018. They turned Valletta into a showcase of what Malta could, and did, become thanks to European Union membership and their enlightened policies.

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