For 25 years Josef Caruana has worked as a journalist with Union Print’s daily newspaper l-orizzont until reaching its top position, that of Editor, in 2010. During this period, which lasted for seven years, he was also responsible for its sister weekly newspaper It-Torċa from 2014 to 2016.
At the forefront of this main left-leaning and liberal newspaper, Josef says that that it was difficult taking on the so called “independent media” when in reality almost all printed media were defenders of the right-wing government. He describes those times as times of struggle wherein l-orizzont was the prime target of the establishment, including Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi himself, who even used mass meetings to instigate against the newspaper’s editorial line.
After the last general election, Josef started a new experience as person of trust in the Office of the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, with responsibilities including parliamentary questions and requests through the Freedom of Information (FOI) system.
Apart from his professional career he also presents a radio programme called “Bonġu Solid Gold”, a Sunday breakfast show purely dedicated to classic songs and their history. Josef has been presenting this programme since the mid-90s and today (according to the Broadcasting Authority’s periodical surveys) it’s the most popular programme with an audience reaching 20,000. As a prospective MEP for the PL, we met up with Josef to better understand his take on the pros and cons of the EU.
What prompted your decision to submit your candidature?
Primarily, I couldn’t stomach the lies, slander, false news and conspiracy theories of the Nationalist MEPs. Sincerely I cannot stand such vile hypocrisy and shameless sedition. An unjust and immoral offensive on international level with no facts to sustain it, steeled my will to try to do something about it. Such base sedition had to be stopped. Quislings do not deserve to represent our country.
Their aim was to take control of Malta by other means as they do not stand a chance to do so in an election. Democracy suits them only when they win elections, when they lose, they cry foul and resort to their favourite weapon of slander reinforced by perjury. I believe that we are duty bound to start cleaning the European stables and clear Malta from the bad reputation the Nationalists tried their best and their worst to blacken.
What do you think of the European Union as it stands today?
Even though there have been quite a lot of efforts to close gaps and get down to the ground with its citizens, it can surely do a lot better with less bureaucracy, for instance. It also must act and be seen to act and treat member states on an equal level, irrelevant of size and/or population.
At the same time bringing everyone together on issues concerning Europe of today is a must but doing this without interfering in any way on a national level if this does not interfere or conflict with its principles. Since the changing of times and habits, including Brexit, a conscience test and a revisit to the purpose why it still does exist today and still needs to be in the future is much needed.
Do you believe it is fulfilling its original scope?
Since the times of its founding fathers Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi and others who were stricken by two world wars in one lifetime, I believe that the European Union has gone through a full cycle but it’s finding it difficult to understand that it practically has to be reborn again. Life and history show this is a never-ending series of challenges and responses.
And in the wake of every successful response which enabled humanity to move on, the creative personalities who succeeded in meeting successfully the previous challenge cannot do the same for the new one. Since they have rested on their oars, new personalities are much needed. These will surely have the energy and open minds to create new institutions more adept in finding successful responses to new challenges.
The economy must be kick-started to create more jobs and the migration challenge has to be tackled in a way that balances between mercy and justice.
Brexit and a wave of populism is plaguing the EU… what do you believe has led to this dangerous state of affairs?
All revolutions in man’s march towards fulfilment in life, were successful, only if they were expressions of the people. After all, democracy is supposed to be government for the people, of the people and by the people.
So, it would be folly to ignore populism nowadays since such parties are on a growing pace. In my opinion a great chasm has developed between the people and the EU establishment. The traditional parties and the so-called mainstream media in the eyes of the people have become an elite, a caste who want to impose their will on the peoples who feel that the EU doesn’t give a fig about their immediate needs and concern.
The common man feels abandoned and adrift. The Europeans’ concerns are economic stagnation which doesn’t create jobs at the rate to secure their future wellbeing and moreover immigration is seen as threatening the very existence of their way of life.
Otherwise, the British would have never opted for Brexit and the Italians would never have given the likes of a Matteo Salvini and a Luigi Di Maio the chance to ruin their state by their dilettantism.
If the EU changes course and is humble enough to notice that the smallest of its members is free from what you describe as the plague of populism, it would try to learn how and why Malta has the most dynamic economy which heralds a bright future for her people. The same people who will never dream to dump Joseph Muscat for an Orban or a Salvini.
What other challenges do you believe will the EU face in the short term?
I think that the two greatest challenges we must respond to are found in the spheres of economic growth and immigration. Most of the economies of the Eurozone are still reeling from the 2008 crash of financial markets and have been stuck in ridiculous low growth rates resulting in mass unemployment especially in the youth sector.
It seems that the EU lacks the will, the resources and the political strategies to solve the immigration challenge. Jean Claude Junker was forced to declare in his last State of the Union message that Europe will be enlisting more than 10,000 border guards and that it cannot continue with the policy of trying to find an impromptu solution for every migrant vessel that enters South European harbours.
The great divide between member states from West or North to East and South of the EU is compounding the immigration challenge. Clearly a solution lies in understanding the real and genuine concerns and to show a true spirit of solidarity. Up till now there is only egotism.
As to the slow economic recovery, the immediate future does not bode well. The EU cannot afford a tariff war with America, since numbers tell that the EU exports to the United States five times as much it imports from the same country.
How do you believe our country, albeit the smallest of the whole Union, can contribute to the wellbeing of the bloc and its populations?
Yes, with all my heart I believe that Malta can do so much to contribute to the wellbeing of the Union. Our diminutive size does not matter. Today, we are giving shining examples of how to respond successfully to the economic, social and cultural challenges emanating from financial collapse and mass immigration.
Our Prime Minister’s formulas for responding successfully to the above challenges are based on listening and understanding the people’s concerns, on giving every strata of society a fair deal, on the all-important strategy of helping the middle class to create wealth and thus jobs. And he dared to go even further by adopting a policy of expanding and increasing the middle class.
He did this on the one hand while on the other he reduced taxes, bettered the free education for all and free health services for all, increasing pensions, and other social welfare programmes.
In tiny Malta it is harder for the economy to find workers than it is for workers to find jobs. Yes, we can lead by example to other member states. The fact is that we are the only EU country with no strong extreme political parties.
What are the benefits and the challenges for Malta as part of the EU?
It is evident that Malta enjoys several benefits as a member of the European Union. Malta is not only the smallest member of the club with a population of a middle-sized European city but also lies on the periphery of the continent.
While countries like France, Germany or Denmark have no need to present any evidence to prove their European credentials, countries like Croatia, Slovenia and ours feel it is essential to prove that they too possess the European birth right. So, it is understandable that such countries of the periphery appreciate even more their European citizenship and hence the EU.
Apart from this European citizenship of which we are so proud, the huge market of more than 500 million people which EU membership opened for a country of 400,000 people has helped in a major way for the present success story of our economy. Investors are scared off very easily so here Malta’s miniscule size comes in handy. Our streets are safe, our financial institutions solid, our courts steeped in the best traditions of Anglo-Saxon Common Law. Investors have no problems on a small secure island.
As for the challenges, I am sad to note, these stem from the local party in Opposition. Knowing that it is impossible for these people to beat Prime Minister Muscat at the polls, they have decided on a strategy to use EU institutions, such as the European Parliament, as a battering ram against their own country and our local financial institutions. As members of the PPE they continuously ask their fellow members to assist them in destabilising the country with conspiracies built on forged documents such as “Egrant” was.
Malta is well respected in the Council of Ministers which is the highest deciding body of the EU and in the Commission, so the challenges always come from the EU Parliament where the PN representatives are adamant in using it as a club to batter our most legitimate government.
What is your personal vision for Malta within the EU?
I see it very clearly. Malta has become the shining city on a hill. It has a vibrant economy which churns out jobs continuously and expands at record rates.
It has the Union’s most remarkable education system at all levels. Malta is the only EU country which pays its university students and even pays for their transport. It has an all free health service, increasing pensions for the elderly, decreasing taxes for everybody and it is on the threshold of achieving full employment.
The country is stable, and the people look with increasing confidence to the future. The people are happy, and they are sure that their children and grandchildren will enjoy an even better deal.
We have no extreme political parties that threaten our democratic institutions. The main opposition party is unpopular not only because it has failed to offer an alternative to Joseph Muscat’s strategy of economic expansion and national unity but also because it has failed the Maltese people in general and failed to respond to the challenge of the times.
Yes, Malta is an example for all those countries which cannot realise a take-off in stability and economic recovery.
If elected, which priorities do you consider should take precedence?
As I noted above, as MEPs representing the Labour Party our top priority should be to use all our energy, all our strength, all our will to convince the minds and hearts of our colleagues in the European Parliament that Malta was unjustly muddied.
Some members who chose to assist and aid the PN representatives in their smear campaign against their own motherland, did so because they also envied our successes despite their tactics of infamy.
I hope that those who have dishonoured their country will be thrashed at the polls by a shocked electorate. But even if one of them is returned, I promise that he/she will not have an easy ride endorsing the same tactics. It’s my priority and sacred duty to the country and the people.
With eight months to go to election day, what is your message to the people?
I believe that life is action. I have always chosen to fight for what I believe to be the best interest of our people. During the difficult GonziPN years, as Editor of l-orizzont, I never minced my words to expose the institutionalised corruption and the double standards of an elitist caste living off the fat of the land.
So much so, that the Nationalist ex-Prime Minister singled me out several times during his mass meetings. In the months leading to the divorce referendum I also put the issue on the paper’s front burner with no ifs and buts. I can humbly say that I have contributed all and fought for Labour’s record 2013 victory. And I fought even harder for the 2017 landslide which finally buried the Nationalist Party.
My credentials in the struggle against privilege, hate and evil are well known and documented. I promise to dedicate myself in the European Parliament not only as a jealous guardian of Malta’s name but also a voice of the people.