Cyrus Engerer is a Labour Party candidate for the upcoming European Parliament elections. He is the Prime Minister’s Advisor on EU Policy and served as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the European Institutions between 2014 and 2018. During the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Cyrus Engerer also headed the Council’s relations and negotiations with the European Parliament, while he presided over the General Affairs Group in Council.
He graduated in European Law, Politics and Economics from the University of Malta. After winning a scholarship offered by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, he read a master’s degree in European Politics at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. His areas of study include the evolution of the European Parliament, Europeanisation of political parties, Member States and Lobby Groups.
Cyrus Engerer is a Human Rights activist and was at the forefront of campaigns in Malta for the introduction of Civil Rights and Liberties. In 2013 he was appointed as the first Chairperson of the Maltese LGBTIQ Consultative Council which worked on the Civil Union Law, adoption by same-sex couples, the world-renowned Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act and the criminalisation of conversion-therapy practices in Malta.
He is 37 years old and is partnered to Randolph De Battista.
What prompted your decision to contest the EP elections?
I have always been very interested in politics. Politics is a tool which can bring about many changes to different people. There are changes which affect the interests of our country as a whole, but there could be changes which are important for a small group of people within our society. I took part in a number of campaigns, most of which were related to civil rights. StandUP was one such campaign where we urged youths to vote in favour of the introduction of divorce in Malta. The decision to contest the election was somewhat natural to me as I always strive to get things going on progressive issues.
Do you believe that there is sufficient awareness among the younger generations of the implications, the pros and cons of being part of such a huge bloc?
There is a lot of information available to them, especially on the net. Nevertheless, there are always new updates being discussed at EU level and we can never say that young people know enough about the implications of the EU. We must also acknowledge that sometimes information coming out of EU institutions is very technical. I believe that we have to work harder among young people to convince them that the EU affects their lives and their futures more than they could expect. In the meantime, we usually overlook the obligations of member states towards the EU. These factors are relevant to young people as much as their rights as EU citizens.
Do you believe young people have faith in the institutions of the European Union as it stands today?
Malta does not have a youth unemployment problem like other Member States. Our trust in EU institutions is higher than that of other European countries. Yet it would be foolish to think that there is not a sense of alienation. I still meet young people who are sceptic of the EU’s bureaucratic nature.
I think that there are three reasons for this scepticism. First of all, it could be the case that the EU is failing to communicate its achievements for the European people in an effective manner. Secondly, I believe that EU institutions are taking too long to come up with solutions on certain subjects such as migration, working conditions and the environment. In addition to these, the EU usually appears to be out of touch with the national and regional realities of its people.
Which issues do you believe should be at the top of the agenda in the EU parliament today?
Europeans, not least the Maltese, are very interested in their quality of life. The quality of life is not limited to high-quality jobs and attractive salaries. It also includes very important subjects such as work-life balance, employment conditions and the quality of the environment.
How do you personally view the European Union?
The European project has served many people and many countries over the past few decades. It has given hope and prosperity to different peoples across Europe. I think that it has supported the bloc in challenging periods, for example during the recovery period in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent economic downturn. Our trust in the European project should not make us rest on our laurels. We are responsible of keeping this project alive. The only way we could manage to do this is by convincing the people of Europe that what have been started more than half a century ago still works today. This means that we must shape an EU of the future that remains relevant.
Do you believe it is fulfilling its original scope?
The scope of the EU has changed over the years. What had started as a union on coal and steel is now a fully-fledged European project. I think that the EU is fulfilling its original scope, yet this does not mean that there are no internal challenges which need to be addressed urgently. The EU should evolve continuously with the involvement of its citizens. Changes should be bottom-up and not the other way round.
Do you believe that the wellbeing of Europeans is wholly being taken into account through the European Parliament’s legislation, or do you believe that certain issues are being consistently ignored?
There are very positive initiatives being taken up by the EU. The European Parliament is an ideal platform for the people’s representatives to present different issues at EU level. Members of Parliament may address the concerns of the people directly to the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU. On the other hand, I think that the EU needs to work more on finding solutions in a timely manner. The migration and financial crises have exposed rifts among different European countries towards the common approach adopted by the EU. Unfortunately, such conflicts may threaten the very own existence of the EU in the future.
How can this be dealt with?
We should not take the concerns of Europeans for granted. The failure of mainstream parties to discuss delicate issues is contributing to a sense of dissent.
Populism is once again rearing its ugly head… what do you believe has led to this dangerous state of affairs?
Populist parties are exploiting this sense of dissent, automatically filling up a political space which is left vacant by moderate political movements.
Looking ahead, what do you predict for Malta – What are the future benefits and obviously the challenges for our country as part of the bloc?
In the last years Malta has improved its standing among EU countries, particularly in terms of economic growth, fiscal consolidation, the efficient use of EU funds and civil liberties. The way the current administration is tackling civil rights, economic growth and the fair distribution of wealth has given Malta a more leading role in Europe, especially after Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2017.
The turnaround experienced by Malta following Labour’s election in 2013 should not sidestep the importance of EU funds. One of our main challenges is to convince the EU that despite Malta’s progress in financial and economic terms, the country still needs an injection of EU funds to sustain such growth. Currently Malta does not have a representative in the Regional Development Committee of the European Parliament, which is the committee tasked with EU-funding. I plan to be part of this committee if elected to the European Parliament. We must defend Malta’s interests during the drafting of the EU budget for the period 2020 – 2027.
What is your personal vision for Malta within the EU?
We should continue to build upon the exceptional results we achieved during the Maltese Presidency. Malta has shown that its small size has no bearing on the results which can be achieved. During such a challenging period, I wish to see Malta take a greater role in the creation of a more effective social and progressive Europe. When he was addressing the Party of European Socialists’ congress, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat mentioned that following pure traditional political doctrines could hinder the success of progressive parties in government. I believe in a formula which could see economic growth being channelled towards supporting the most vulnerable people in society as well as a greater emphasis on the protection of the natural environment.
As a prospective MEP, which priorities do you believe should take precedence at EP level?
Malta’s members of the European Parliament should work on a set of common priorities. Currently, we have to defend Malta’s competitive tax regime. There is cross-party agreement about this, and we should work together to support our country’s stand on this matter.
Social issues are one of my topmost priorities. Workers and pensioners are seeking better living standards. Young people, students and owners of small and medium-sized businesses are looking for better prospects inside the EU, balanced with quality of life. These three represent Malta’s single resource – human resources. We should see that decisions taken at EU level are in the best interests of these categories.
Finally, what is your message to the electorate, especially young people who will be voting for the first time?
This is the first time that young persons aged sixteen and seventeen are going to vote in a nation-wide election. The country has shown that it wants to give a greater voice to young people. We used to say that young people are the future. I consider them the present as they are working, starting a career, paying taxes and looking to find a new home. Besides the importance of going out to vote, I wish to see more young people taking part in this electoral campaign. We at Partit Laburista are making sure that young people continue to be at the centre of our electoral campaign. Young people should be the driving force for the rest of the electorate to take a more active part in this electoral campaign rather than just expressing their preferences on election day.