You will not contest again the European Parliament elections, scheduled for next year. What can you tell us about life as an MEP?

I am basically a technocrat not a politician! After entering the realm of politics ten years ago, five of which spent as an MEP, I feel it’s time to hang up my political boots! However, hand on heart I can say that I gave my elected post my all. I am satisfied that during my term of office I was entrusted with very important reports on issues which made real difference to the citizens – like the report on roaming charges, European standards, the single digital gateway, Brexit and many others. I have won awards, including the MEP of the Year Award for my work in IMCO. I represented the European Parliament in numerous missions and conferences , including in the role of head of delegation.

In the end my greatest satisfaction is that I did not let down the thousands of people who entrusted me with their vote and their voice in the European Parliament. I believe I have served my country well. But, I am neither attached of the seat of power, nor to the handsome MEP financial package and so I decided to move on to other adventures – and to leave when at the peak of my political career. However, I am still an MEP until June 2019 and I intend to continue working to the very last day of my term.

It has been a big change in lifestyle for me since I became an MEP for the first time in 2013. Life as a Member of the European Parliament is what one makes of it. For me of it was a complete change of lifestyle living and working in different countries. But it is a wonderful adventure… It involves travelling to and from Brussels and Strasbourg, and other countries on various missions. A typical week starts by getting there on Monday, plan the week ahead, go through reports, agendas and answering emails. My days in Brussels and Strasbourg are hectic – report presentations, plenaries, shadow and committee meetings. When I’m in Malta I engage in meetings with individual constituents, local organizations, national politicians, businesses organizations, trade unions, local councils and so on. While many would assume that travelling so much may be glamorous, it quickly becomes stressful. Even so, I still love what I do and I knew what I was getting myself into… so I am only explaining, not complaining!

How do you account for your 10 year success to date, and what are the main highlights of these ten years?

These ten years have been a busy, hectic but exciting adventure for me. I entered into politics because I wanted to be part of the change the country desperately needed at the time. So I accepted Dr Muscat’s invitation to join the PL team to contest the 2009 MEP elections – when I was not elected for a whisker!

The biggest highlight during these years is, therefore, being elected as an MEP replacing Prof. Edward Scicluna in the 2013 by-elections. I am proud to be part of Malta’s political history as Malta’s first woman to be elected to the European Parliament.
As an MEP I am member of various committees – Internal Market and Consumer protection ( IMCO ), Vice President of the Petitions Committee(PETI ) , and substitute member in the Committee of culture, education and sport (CULT). I am also a member of various Parliamentary Intergroups including Animal Welfare, LGTBQ, Children’s Rights and others.

One of the main highlights was my role within IMCO where I was part of the negotiating team which was instrumental in the signing of the legislation that abolished roaming charges across Europe. This was a historic step for EU citizens since it meant that anyone with a mobilephone line based in any of the 28 European Member States can travel between EU countries and not pay extra for roaming.

This year we also managed to reach an agreement with the EU Council for a new legal framework for electronic communications, where I was the S&D negotiator of the IMCO on the new EU telecoms rules. One of the main proposals will reduce the price of phone calls made from one EU member state to another one. It is on occasions like these that I realise how our work as MEPs has a real impact on improving the daily lives of all Europeans.
On a personal level, it was an honour for me to win the prestigious MEP of the Year Award for my role as key negotiator on several Digital Singel Market dossiers, including on the European Standards of the 21 st Century report.

This was the second time that I was nominated for the MEP of the Year Award, after that in 2017 I was one of the finalists for my work on animal welfare issues.In the same year I was also named Eurogroup for Animals’ Person of the Year for standing strong for the protection and promotion of animal health and habitat across Europe.

More than anything I hope that my achievements and work will be of benefit and make a difference to the  citizens in their everyday life.

What do you expect the EU to do about Malta’s immigration concerns?

Respecting the integrity and rights of migrants is a must and xenophobic comments and behaviour are never acceptable. As an MEP I have been following this issue closely since 2013 and I was the rapporteur on the report on the situation in the Mediterranean and the need for a holistic EU approach on migration. I always sustained that the exodus of thousands of peoples from Africa into Europe is a symptom not the cause.

For a good number of years I have been stressing that to solve the migration problem we need action and no more useless words and catchy phrases in the European Parliament. Unfortunately, I have to say that concrete action is still lacking.

The migration phenomenon will not be solved as long as its cause of origin is tackled from its roots – mainly, the conflicts and instability in the countries where migrants come from. A solution has to be found for the main causes which are forcing thousands of people fleeing their country. If not, we should expect the situation to get worse and not better.I strongly believe that the best way to address migration from African countries is to make sure that the people are given all necessary toolsand opportunities in their country of origin. We have to give people a future in their own country.

In April I was part of the European delegation which held discussions with parliamentarians from ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries. One of the main issues was immigration and the funds, running into millions of Euros per year, which the EU contributes to these countries. During these meetings I insisted that we must ensure that the development funds are being used to create investment and to create jobs. Only then we can be satisfied that the millions given to ACP countries are being used for the benefit of all the citizens rather than for the few.
The EU must understand that while protecting our borders is a priority, no EU country can or should be left alone to address huge migratory pressures. We need stronger and realistic internal and external policies involving EU countries and institutions.

Recently, the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee (IMCO) approved with an overwhelming majority the Mizzi legislative report on creating the first ever European single digital gateway that will make it easier for citizens and businesses to do their paperwork online and to find the right administrative information they need wherever they are in the EU. How significant was this milestone for you, as well as for the general public?

I am proud to have successfully lead the tripartite discussions concerning the Digital Single Gateway, between the three European institutions to make this important legislation possible. After lengthy discussions, my Report on the Single Digital Gateway got the final approval from Member States and from all the political groups in the IMCO Committee. This legislation is an important milestone towards digitalization of public services in Europe.

All existing administrative information of all Member States will now be combined into a single search engine. This will make it easier for citizens and businesses to find information, procedures, forms and assistance for people moving to, studying or doing business in another EU country. It will also provide access to key administrative procedures online, such as requesting a birth certificate, car registration, European Health Card, applications for study loans and grants, and permits for business activity amongst many others.

The Single Digital Gateway would eliminate the need to search in different sites for cross-border information, filing endless forms, and hours waiting at long queues in public offices and the frustration of wasting long hours on-line, at times without getting the required information.

This legislation will make a positive difference to our citizens, and this is what gives me the greatest satisfaction in my work as a legislator and MEP.

Why do you consider this as a key step and how far are we from making the digital single market a reality?

Digitalisation is the present and the future. The internet has great potential and offers unlimited opportunities for the future development of the single market. Obviously there are also a number of challenges that might affect consumers, workers and traditional business providers and suppliers. The approval of the Report is a key step towards changing the way we think, the way we work and the way we live. The Single Digital Gateway offers more user-friendly services and millions of Europeans citizens will benefit from it – especially those who have worked or studied, or intend to do so , in other EU member states. The Single Digital Gateway will open the door towards numerous advantages and opportunites,and hopefully it will become a reality soon.

The Report will be put to the final vote in plenary in September.

You have campaigned in favour that citizens must be given stronger voice through European Citizens’ Initiative. What was your key role in drafting and voting on this strong position that will ensure that the instrument is citizens friendly as possible and lives up to its full potential?

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), which was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty, aims at increasing citizen’s role within the law-making process of the EU by enabling citizens to influence legislation. Regretfully, the instrument has failed short on expectations and after continuous callings from citizens and the European Parliament, the Commission published a new revised rules in September 2017.

It was indeed very satisfying to see the positive results we got on the new rules for the revision of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) in May 2018. There was widespread consensus across all the political groups in support of my amendments aimed at improving the current rules and give voice to European citizens when organizing, participating or simply supporting a Citizens’ Initiative.

I am happy that as a shadow rapporteur I had a key role to play in drafting and voting on this strong position that will ensure that the instrument is citizens friendly as possible and lives up to its full potential. This was a crucial vote in favour of giving a stronger voice to citizens where EU legislation is concerned.

The Commission’s new proposal will solve several relevant problems, which currently limit the user-friendliness of the instrument. However, the proposal still fails short on some fundamental issues, which are essential to ensure the future success of the ECI.

The main objective of my work as a shadows rapporteur was to address the current gaps, so that citizens will finally have the same power as the European Parliament and the Council to propose new initiatives and policies at European level. For me the Citizens’ Initiative is a direct appeal from the people to the EU to directly shape the political future in Europe.

You served also as Vice Chair, as well as a member on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. What are your experiences from these positions?

I was Vice President and member of ECON in the last year of the previous mandate, 2013-2014. As an economist thiscommittee was right up my street but the term of office was too short to, as it was also MEP election year.  However, ECON is a very important committee, but as it is very technical and its effectiveness is often underestimated. I decided to change committees for the 2014-19 mandate.

You were also appointed as a rapporteur for the Brexit newsbook – which report is aimed to create a market structure that would still give vehicle manufacturers access to the European single market following the United Kingdom’s exist from the Union. Can you share your opinions about Brexit?

As of present many citizens are still unsure as to whether we will see the continuance of Brexit or if there will be a second referendum – although I am personally skeptical about the latter possibility. Therefore, in that context one adds that one must wait and see what the British government is intent on doing with Prime Minister Theresa May at the helm. The one thing that is certain is that MEPs who have been trusted with files related to Brexit must negotiate with the intention to benefit all EU citizens. This is inclusive of those citizens who reside, and work in the United Kingdom, therefore the approach must be well-balanced.

Additionally, Brexit will set new corner stones for the European Union and its members, creating grounds of precedent which means that the European Institutions must get closer to the citizen than ever before.

The work of the negotiating team will determine the fate of over four million citizens and thus it is necessary that the right balance throughout the discourse is maintained.

You have been awarded with the MEP of the Year Award in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) category for her work as lead IMCO Committee Rapporteur on the European Standards of the 21st Century report. How significant was this award for you and for what recognition was this prestigious award bestowed to you?

This is the second year running in which I was nominated for the MEP of the Year Award (the first time was for my work in the field of animal welfare). I played a leading role in the IMCO committee as key negotiator on several Digital Single Market dossiers. I helped finalizing and drafting European legislation on important issues such as net neutrality and abolishing roaming charges. I also worked on a strategic report on shaping the future of European standards and I was one of the leading MEPs who worked so that phone calls from one EU country to another cost almost the same as a domestic call.

It is an honour to win this prestigious MEP of the Year award and to have one’s work acknowledged by independent judges. I was pleased, not only for me, but also for Malta. I am humbled that people have placed their faith and trust in me especially because I have been given this award for my contributions in the area of digital single market. What is particularly satisfying is that my work as an MEP leaves real impact on people’s lives and that the voice of consumers, citizens, and micro and small businesses is heard across the European spectrum and the European Parliament.

We need to ensure that the digital world we live in is more fair, just and sustainable, whilst providing equal opportunities for all. This award is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, and I will continue to represent citizens, consumers and businesses across Europe with the utmost devotion and boldness.

With the PN party in total disarray, where do you see Labour in a year’s time at the EP elections?

The worst thing the Labour Party , the government and the citizens can do is to take pleasure in the troubles of the Nationalist Party. The country needs a strong, serious and responsible opposition. I truly hope that the PN finds the courage to take bold steps and take those decisions which many not be easy – including disassociating itself from people who lack the integrity and the insight to realise the damage they have inflicted on the PN; from people who brought their own party in total disarray; from people who consider themselves bigger than the Party.

In the European Parliament I experienced a different way of doing politics, whereas it is more a politics of debate rather than one of continuous confrontation. It is due time to move away from the tribal politics which unfortunately exist in our country. Still, I am afraid that many PN MPs and supporters have not yet realised the gravity of the situation their party is in, and are still digging a deeper hole and harming the PN even more. On the other hand Labour is determined to keep on working in the interest of all citizens and our country, both on national, international and European level.

At the European Parliament elections people will vote for those candidates who really have their country’s interest at heart and not those who try to undermine national interest to gain political points. The electorate is no fool and knows who worked in their interest, and in the interest of our country and who collaborated with foreign MEPs to damage our reputation, hoping to bring down a democratically elected government.

I do not like to make predictions, therefore I will not predict! . However, I am sure that citizens will make the right choice since it is crystal clear which party is working for a better future for its people, and which party is just hungry for power, mainly interested in playing dirty games to turnish Malta’s reputation in Europe. Having said so, what I wish for my beloved country and for the sake of democracy, is a strong Government and a strong constructive Opposition. We have the former, we badly need the latter.

Sunday Trends – The Malta Independent on Sunday magazine 02.09.18