With a Bachelor of Commerce Honours in Economics and a Master’s degree in Business Administration read at the University of Malta, Fleur Vella launched her career with the Government of Malta carrying out research related to Malta’s pre-accession negotiation position. During this time Ms Vella also started lecturing at the University of Malta as a visiting lecturer. Following Malta’s accession into the European Union, Ms Vella was part of a team working on Malta’s EU budget 2007-2013 negotiations. This process determined the amount of funds Malta received during the period in question. In 2006 Ms Vella joined the private sector and is currently running a small business enterprise. Throughout the past years she has grown aware of the challenges that micro and small business enterprises encounter in a very competitive set-up. Ms Vella is a spokesperson for micro and small business units, economic performance, domestic violence, work-life balance, immigration and the environment. In view of the upcoming MEP elections, we spoke to PL MEP candidate Ms Vella to garner her view on the current state of the EU and what prompted her candidature…
What motivated your move into politics?
My educational background taught me how wrong economic policies used by politicians can be disastrous for any economy. The current economic conditions prove that sound economic policies are necessary to have economic success. I believe that my academic background together with my professional experience make me ideally suited to be a political leader. Both through my work and personal life I get to meet people from all walks of life, on a daily basis, and this allows me to be a voice for people who find it hard to be heard by other politicians.
This I believe is the second time that you have submitted your candidature for the EP elections – what has changed since then, both on a local scenario and a European one?
You are right, this is my second time. This time people are more focused on the problem of migration. During the past five years, the European Parliament has failed to address issues related to security, offering legal routes for migrants into the EU as well as concrete measures to substantially improve the standard of living of persons living outside the EU. This has led to the rise of unscrupulous right-wing politicians who can only offer solutions which are inspired by hatred rather than a genuine action to improve the standards of living of all persons living in this world.
What will you do differently this time around?
Life is a learning process and indeed I have learnt a lot during the last five years, particularly this last year through the LEAD project organised by Partit Laburista. It has boosted my self-confidence and I feel much better prepared to face the challenges ahead. Of course, I am still relatively new in politics as I actively started only in 2013 as previously, I was mainly involved in NGOs. So, I keep myself grounded with a view to contribute towards Partit Laburista for decades to come, to slowly gain people’s trust in me.
You are running for the EP elections on a PL ticket, how do you believe the party will fare overall?
As the Prime Minister has rightly stated, we start for each election from scratch and we cannot predict election outcome at any stage, as at the end it is what people write on their ballot paper which counts.
Do you believe that the electorate is fully aware of what it means, being part of the EU – the advantages and disadvantages?
I think that the electorate has now experienced EU membership, and statistics show most are happy with being part of the EU. Of course, the EU is always evolving, and people need to be aware of changes that are occurring.
How do you think this can be remedied?
The European Parliament Office in Malta is entrusted with the task of explaining new laws which are enacted or repealed at European Parliament while the European Commission Representation in Malta is entrusted with explaining changes proposed by European Commission.
Do you believe Europeans in general have faith in the institution of the European Union as it stands today?
Well, most Europeans know that the European Union has safeguarded the continent from wars, as matters are discussed around tables by democratically elected senior politicians rather than on the battlefields by young soldiers.
Which issues do you believe should be given top priority in the EU parliament today? Why?
Immigration should be taken more seriously as surveys repeatedly show that this is a main concern of EU citizens who fear for their security.
What is your personal view of the European Union?
I think the European Union has prevented useless wars between Europeans. Therefore, I think it’s a good thing. The EU funds used to regenerate Birgu, Valletta, Mdina and Cittadella have also contributed greatly towards improving our tourism product.
Do you believe it is fulfilling its original scope?
Yes, it is avoiding wars. However, it needs to be closer to people and their fears. Top technocrats need to get out of their ivory towers and meet more the common person in the street.
As a former economist and now an entrepreneur, how do you believe the needs and challenges of small businesses should be tackled in a European context?
Due to Malta’s size, the country’s physical and economic infrastructure is held in the hands of natural monopolies. The European Union has delegated local regulators the task to keep a fair market. However, if there are power cuts, road closures, internet disruptions, mobile networks jamming – do businesses who cannot operate due to these disruptions get any form of compensation for lost business? The answer is no. Are charges imposed by banks on local businesses in any way monitored and compared internationally? Local businesses live in a globalised world and if the infrastructure is not as competitive as that prevailing in other EU economies, we will lose our competitiveness and therefore our long-term sustainability.
What are the future benefits and obviously the challenges for Malta as part of the EU?
Through the Labour Party administration, Malta has had a very good absorption of EU funds and thus took advantage of EU funds. The challenge ahead is becoming a net contributor. The challenge will be how to be a net contributor and keep the Government accounts in balance. Through Malta’s sale of passports, the government is putting money aside, so we have funds available in the future if the current economic scenario changes. Therefore, we do have some cushioning. The question is what if we did not have money from the sale of passports? I would like to know what MEPs running under the Nationalist Party ticket, who have criticised heavily the sale of passports would suggest, to ensure we can be net contributors and keep our finances in balance.
As a candidate what sets you apart from your peers?
I am a candidate who has worked for over 12 years in the private sector and know what it means to have to make ends meet every day. Every day one must keep developing innovative ideas to keep up with competition and negotiate with suppliers to obtain the best price for customers. Regulators are not sensitive to this reality. I am also very concerned about the problem of migration. A migration model as was used by the Maltese to migrate to Australia or Canada should be in place. This would allow locals to know that immigrants have a job and a place to live in. This would make people feel safer as they do not feel surrounded by desperate persons who are hungry and without shelter. I also believe that living conditions outside Europe should be improved through allowing only ethically produced products in EU markets. I cannot forget the image of children working in a mine in Congo to extract a mineral used in our smart phones. Do I have to become an accomplice and exacerbate the problem of children crying with pain from working a whole day in a mine instead of studying, just because I bought a smart phone? Persons born outside the EU either immigrate illegally and become slaves due to their lack of legal status or are treated as slaves in their own countries as EU allows products which are manufactured in conditions which ignore basic human rights, to be sold within the EU.
With just five months to go to the upcoming MEP elections, what is your message to the electorate?
Immigration problems can be resolved through a legal immigration system, as well as making serious efforts to improve the lives of persons living outside the EU, so they do not need to leave their country to have a decent life.