Power to the People!

Power to the People!

Go out and vote for a healthy and liveable environment in the MEP elections

In April and May 2024, Friends of the Earth Malta met with a number of Maltese candidates running for MEP elections on the 8th of June. Since our national environmental policy is strongly connected to decisions made at the European level, we believe it is extremely important for everyone to use their right to vote and show their support for green policies, such as climate action, nature friendly farming and a circular economy, in the EU. We are seeing a tangible shift to the political far right on the European continent, including scaremongering around the costs of environmental measures and populist attempts to delay environmental policy that will be essential to ensure a liveable future for us all. All the more reason to show our support for green policies in these elections! 

The purpose of our meetings with MEP candidates was two-fold: to share information and resources about our work as a leading environmental NGO in Malta, and to discuss pertinent environmental topics with the candidates, to understand and share their position with our followers. We discussed topics across our three main campaigns as Friends of the Earth Malta: 

  • Climate, Energy & Mobility 
  • Food, Agriculture & Biodiversity
  • Circular Economy & Resource Use 

Friends of the Earth Malta’s Director Martin Galea De Giovanni and Climate Campaign Coordinator Dr Suzanne Maas met with the following candidates: 

    • Arnold Cassola (independent)
    • Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar (ADPD)
    • Peter Agius (PN) 
    • Matthias Iannis Portelli (Volt) 
    • A candidate from PL was invited but did not respond to our invitation

On fossil fuels, renewable energy communities and an efficient transport system 

Friends of the Earth Malta campaigns for bold and ambitious climate policy, to reduce our carbon emissions and ensure we live within the planetary boundaries. To do that, we need to move away from fossil fuels – oil, coal, and gas – as soon as possible. We need to uphold our commitments under the Paris Agreement and find a way forward for an environmentally ambitious and socially fair European Green Deal. FoEM actively opposes the proposed Melita TransGas pipeline, a project on the EU’s Project of Common Interest (PCI) list, as it would lock us into a fossil fuel future, and is connected to corruption and the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. While the gas pipeline was rebranded as a ‘hydrogen-ready’ pipeline, today more than 95% of hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels; not the green energy source it is made out to be! Our report Towards a Fossil Free Malta provides further information on Malta’s energy system and outlines our vision for a fossil free future for Malta.

Instead, we believe public money should be invested in energy savings, renewables, and community energy. Malta’s current target of 11.5% renewable energy in its gross final energy consumption is shamefully low and should be increased to encourage the green transition.  In the field of transport, responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions in Malta, we advocate for an urgent reduction in car dependence and fuel consumption of private vehicles, and prioritising the shift to more sustainable modes of transport; efficient public transport, shared mobility, and active transport. At FoEM, we are promoting active transport, micromobility and public transport through our media and advocacy work, by providing cycling training, and by using our electric cargo bike to transport goods.

Arnold Cassola (independent): Arnold Cassola stated that our country needs to immediately adopt a serious environmental policy that favours increased research and investment in renewable energy, such as sun, wind and wave sources as well as geothermal energy. He added that the process to set up offshore wind and solar farms must be stepped up. Arnold Cassola signed the letter drafted by Friends of the Earth Malta and the Daphne Foundation, sent to the Prime Minister, Energy Minister, Finance Minister and MEPs earlier this year, petitioning them to abandon the proposed Melita TransGas pipeline project. He also signed the pledge on cooperatives, and agrees that energy cooperatives should be set up and supported. 

Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar (ADPD): Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar stressed their party’s commitment to climate action, and explained that climate change and energy are amongst the main themes on their programme. They strongly oppose the proposed Melita TransGas pipeline. A survey by the globally active Climate Action Network (CAN) showed how the European Greens (which ADPD would form part of, if elected) performed best of all political groups in the European Parliament when it came to voting on climate policy. They commented how Malta’s renewable energy targets are still so low, only 11.5% for 2030, and that we should aim for much higher targets, to push for the green transition in the energy sector. They believe the government should support energy cooperatives to enable citizens to get involved in the renewable energy transition, instead of making deals with the Malta Developers Association. “With all those energy subsidies we could have invested immensely in renewable energy, using every rooftop, open air parking space, industrial roofs and public buildings” explained Ralph Cassar. The ADPD candidates stated that they are firmly against nuclear energy, because of the waste issue, as well as the risk of proliferation (the spread of use of nuclear weapons). 

Peter Agius (PN): On energy policy, Peter Agius stated that he is behind the PN push to invest in wind energy, highlighting the offshore wind potential for Malta, taking inspiration from offshore wind projects in France and the Baltic states. He added that community energy – empowering citizens to invest in communal renewable energy projects – is a great idea for Malta, not only to reduce emissions but also directly involve citizens in the energy system.  Regarding the proposed Melita TransGas pipeline, Peter Agius shared that from his party’s point of view, they have strong reservations about the proposed gas pipeline. However, he explained that this is not so much from the perspective of energy and greenhouse gas emissions, but because of the link with corruption and the involvement of Yorgen Fenech in the Electrogas deal. 

Matthias Portelli (Volt): Matthias Portelli shared that Volt wishes to see fossil fuels banned completely, as well as the subsidies still propping up these polluting energy sources. They believe that the pipeline project should only be approved if it is for green hydrogen. Volt believes we should invest in more renewables: solar, wind and wave energy. He stressed the need for a solar rights policy, to protect people’s investment in PV panels from being overshadowed by new buildings. They also see a need to improve our electricity grid, both nationally and our interconnectors with Europe, which should increasingly import green energy in their view. Matthias Portelli also commented on corruption in the energy system, such as the Electrogas scandal, and the need for more transparency on energy investments made with public money. They demand that the Electrogas deal is cancelled. However, while not relevant in Malta directly, we note that at the European level, Volt is in favour of nuclear energy generation on continental Europe, despite unresolved issues around long-term nuclear waste and the risk of proliferation. 

Arnold Cassola (independent): On transport, Arnold Cassola emphasised that traffic is a big problem for Malta and that to discourage the use of private cars we must ensure a functioning, regular and punctual public transport that operates nearly around the clock. “The building of flyovers and the widening of roads is a failed experiment and should be discontinued” he added. Instead, he views bus mass transport as the solution. An improved bus service has to be regular, frequent, with dedicated bus lanes and departing every few minutes in rush hour, with drivers being paid a proper wage, “then, if a tram is possible in certain areas, or in the future, that would be great”. He envisions the introduction of paid parking to discourage private car use, but having a free and reliable bus service, as well as an increased ferry service, from Bugibba to Sliema, Cottonera to Marsaskala, connecting all the coast. 

Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar (ADPD): On transport, Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar, commented how this is the toughest nut to crack for Malta. In Malta, and in the EU, this is the only sector that still has growing greenhouse gas emissions, despite the need to urgently reduce emissions. They explained that in Europe there are strong incentives to shift to rail, and stressed that Malta should be pushing for better connections with Italy and its high speed rail network, through improved ferry and rail connections. On a national level, they believe we should stop subsidising fossil fuels, including fuel for private vehicles, and invest in an improved public transport system, starting with bus priority lanes and a Bus Rapid Transit system for immediate results. Ralph Cassar noted how widening roads and building new roads is just inviting more cars and aggravating our traffic and pollution issues, and that instead we should focus on promoting cycling, creating safe connections and providing wayfinding signs between village cores and schools. 

Peter Agius (PN): On transport, Peter Agius commented that in Malta “we love our car a bit too much” and that there is a need for a mentality change, to limit the amount of new cars added on our roads and discourage the use of the private car, while investing in a mass transport system. He further said that for the connection with Gozo, Malta should tap into EU funds to shift to the use of renewable energy for Gozo ferries, as other EU countries such as Denmark and Greece have successfully done. 

Matthias Portelli (Volt): Discussing Malta’s transport system, Matthias Portelli stated we should dispel the notion that we must rely solely on private car usage. If we want a liveable and sustainable future for the country we cannot keep on adding more cars. He shared that Volt is proposing a national survey on what would be the most suitable alternative transport modes for the country, tram, light rail, metro, ferry … In the short-term, he believes there should be strong improvements to the bus system, with more routes and operating hours around the clock. Matthias Portelli also added that we need to Incentivise alternative modes of transport. To promote cycling, we need to teach people to cycle, so there is also bottom-up pressure, and we need bike lanes to improve safety. To promote walking, we need to pedestrianise more areas, such as the core of villages and urban areas. For the Gozo tunnel, Volt is demanding a survey and study to see if that is viable. In Europe there is a lot of investment in trains and long distance rail connections. For Malta, as a peripheral state in the EU, we should be discussing better connections between trains and ferries, for better connectivity with the European mainland. 

All candidates were given a copy of our Towards a Fossil Free Malta report, to inform them about the energy situation in Malta, and our recommendations for a fossil free future for our islands. 

On farming, nature and support for local farmers  

Friends of the Earth Malta campaigns towards a just and sustainable food system based on food sovereignty, where production and distribution are localised and cooperative. We work to end biodiversity loss and ensure access to nature for everyone. We support sustainable agriculture by backing local, small-scale farmers and promoting seasonal, fresh produce. Sustainable farming, based on organic farming and permaculture principles, enhances biodiversity and protects rural landscapes, ensuring we maintain sovereignty over our food systems.

To achieve this, we collaborate with farmers and advocate for stronger environmental and social policies. Our work spans multiple areas: we fight for fairer agricultural policies, such as the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, engage in community-based initiatives by creating and supporting community gardens and local pollinator-friendly spaces, and organise workshops and training programs to increase people’s awareness about agriculture, biodiversity and nature. We also publish resources like a calendar of seasonal vegetables, a local foraging guide, and the Malta Farm Map to connect farmers with people. By fostering sustainable practices and strengthening community ties, we aim to create a resilient food system that supports both people and the planet.

Arnold Cassola (independent): Arnold Cassola stressed that instead of taking up land for roads, building and recreational land, our outside development zone needs to be safeguarded for nature, agriculture. We need incentives for young farmers and for other young people to take up green jobs. He also suggested a fund to finance the change from chemical pesticides to natural ones. 

Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar (ADPD): Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar favour a shift to agro-ecological farming in Malta. They see a need for more support for local farmers and produce, instead of importing produce of lower quality and standards, which is unfair competition. Recognizing that Malta does need to import food, they stress the need to focus on a short supply chain and create stronger ties with Sicily to promote importation from nearby. The ADPD candidates emphasised that farmers need technical and scientific support, to be able to implement environmentally friendly farming techniques and reduce their reliance on imported fertilisers and use of pesticides. 

Peter Agius (PN): Peter Agius applauded the Malta Farm Map by Friends of the Earth Malta, saying this is a beautiful initiative connecting Maltese citizens with farmers and promoting local produce. He stated that for Malta, key points are the need to address the systematic lack of competitiveness of Maltese farmers, and the need to make a huge effort for organic farming, with the 25% organically farmed land being the EU target by the year 2030. Peter Agius commented on the need to empower younger generation farmers, and supporting local farmers by ensuring that local supermarkets stock and promote Maltese products and produce, and utilising mechanisms such as ‘Stabbiltà’ to subsidise local and seasonal produce, not imported salmon and processed foods. He also commented on the need to effectively implement environmental legislation, for example when it comes to the quality of our sea waters, to limit marine pollution from sewage and wastewater treatment plants. However, we note with disappointment that he signed the FKNK manifesto in favour of hunting and trapping, and that the EPP, the European group that the PN belongs to, voted against the Nature Restoration law, earlier in 2024. 

Matthias Portelli (Volt): Matthias Portelli explained that Volt believes the European Green Deal needs to be both ambitious in terms of its environmental target, respecting our carbon emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement, but also be ambitious in supporting farmers. He believes the way the policy is implemented is damaging to farmers, the European Green Deal also needs to be a social deal, to protect farmers and their livelihoods. Funding should be more direct, with specified funding for small farmers to protect that pool of funding. The bureaucracy should be reduced, with more support for farmers to access that funding and receive technical support using a shared data pool with best practices for farmers. He added that in their view, the sector should shift towards agri tech, such as vertical farming and hydroponics, as well as more community based farming and transgenerational farming, to incentivise younger farmers. Environmental conservation is a priority for Volt in Malta, particularly marine conservation. Matthias Portelli explained that Natura2000 sites need to be better managed. The tourist influx on the island of Comino is not sustainable and is damaging this unique natural area. 

On circular economy, resource use and waste 

Friends of the Earth Malta believes in transitioning to a post-growth and circular economy – to achieve the highest quality of life with the smallest environmental impact. A post-growth and circular economy prioritises a regenerative system, and emphasises recycling, composting, and waste reduction. The EU published the Circular Economy Action Plan as part of the European Green Deal, and the Waste Framework Directive has been introduced. In Malta, these initiatives should be implemented through the Long-Term Waste Management Strategy 2030 and the Circular Economy Strategy Vision. FoEM is concerned about the implementation of these plans as the recycling targets set by the EU have not been met. In 2019, Malta was ranked third in the world for waste generated per capita, with each person producing over 694 kg of waste annually, compared to the EU average of 505 kg. Malta had the lowest recycling and composting rates, with nearly 90% of waste being disposed of in landfills. Although some positive initiatives have been launched, such as the organic waste collections scheme and the Beverage Container Return Scheme (BCRS), these have not been implemented as effectively as possible.

FoEM’s vision is for resources to be used sustainably and equitably, with reduced resource extraction, minimised waste, and with products and materials designed with their entire lifecycle in mind. We are seeking effective waste reduction through the elimination of single-use materials, repairing of products (through such initiatives as repair cafes), and efficient reusing/recycling of items. Ultimately, we believe our relentless pursuit of endless economic growth threatens our way of life, through climate chaos and biodiversity collapse, which jeopardise peace, water and food security, and even democracy. A post-growth economy moves beyond the obsession with quantitative economic growth. It prioritises a regenerative and distributive system, focused on qualitative well-being for all. 

Arnold Cassola (independent): One of Arnold Cassola’s key campaign points is the demand for a clean environment. He  suggests that Malta should set a target for zero plastic, and start a serious discussion on reducing plastic packaging and food waste with the many restaurants and cafes in our country. He expressed concern about the proposed incinerator, fearing that we will have to become a waste importer, instead of reducing the volume of waste we produce. Arnold Cassola also linked these issues with our current economic model, stating that we cannot grow eternally. We need to include social and environmental externalities, and focus on improving our quality of life rather than focus solely on the economy. 

Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar (ADPD): Sandra Gauci and Ralph Cassar commented how in Malta we need to implement the ‘polluter pays principle’. With the introduction of the BCRS (Beverage Container Return Scheme), we made a start, and despite some growing pains, the scheme is successful in collecting recyclable materials. There is a need to further incentivise alternatives, such as the installation of filters, and large reusable bottles, to replace the country’s excessive consumption of bottled water. They criticised the proposed incinerator, as such a waste-to-energy plant requires large amounts of waste to keep going, doesn’t incentivise waste reduction, and poses health threats to the entire Maltese population. The ADPD candidates also stressed how we should be talking about going beyond (economic) growth, and value and use our resources better. Malta’s GDP is higher than the EU average and has gone up. However, the increase is not going into wages, benefiting citizens, but instead going into speculation of buildings, hotels. They also questioned investment in sectors such as the freeport and promoting Malta as an aviation hub, when we know we need to scale down such economic sectors in the future. Instead, they believe the country should change its outlook on its economy and life, and promote sectors such as creative industries, engineering, research and green innovation. 

Peter Agius (PN): Friends of the Earth Malta discussed the proposed waste-to-energy plant with Peter Agius, who commented that transparency around the tendering procedure and ensuring the plant is up to the highest EU standards is paramount. We discussed the waste hierarchy, focusing on the need to reduce waste first and foremost, then on recycling and reusing, before opting for incineration. Peter Agius said that Malta should put more effort into removing packaging, promoting reusables, and changing to recyclable materials, in line with EU Directives such as the Single Use Plastics Directive. 

Matthias Portelli (Volt): On the topic of the proposed waste incinerator, Matthias Portelli expressed his concerns: “In Malta, the population already lives very close to dangerous installations such as fireworks factories, so we need to look at the risk of impact and safety concerns (e.g. toxic gases produced) of the proposed incinerator”. They believe waste management should be better separated and organised, with collection shifted to underground containers for specified waste streams in local communities. Matthias Portelli shared that Volt is in favour of a circular economy and more efficient resource use, and sees the need for an expansion of the use of GDP to assess the state of our economy, including environmental standards and wellbeing into such a measure, taking into account both environmental and social dimensions. 

Show that you care for the planet with your vote, it’s our only home! We urge you to exercise your democratic rights and go vote in the upcoming MEP elections on 8th of June. The policies drawn up in the European parliament will determine our future and quality of life, so it is important to participate! 

#PowertothePeople #CareforthePlanet

We thank the MEP candidates for their time to meet with us and exchange ideas.

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