When the local council electoral register showed that more EU foreigners than Maltese people are eligible to vote in St Julian’s this month, the warning bells started ringing loud.
Quite a few people, including local council candidate Sean Gauci, claimed that Maltese people will soon end up as a minority in their own country and that the “Maltese identity” will eventually get eroded.
However, Albert Buttigieg, the town’s own deputy mayor, is seeing things quite differently
“First of all, I don’t see these people as foreigners but as EU citizens,” Albert Buttigieg, who is running on the Nationalist Party ticket, told Lovin Malta. “When we voted to join the EU, we had known that EU nationals would have a right to settle here, just as we have a right to settle in their countries and vote in their MEP and local council elections.”
Buttigieg played down the concerns raised by the electoral register, arguing that some 6,496 foreigners registered to vote in St Julian’s have already left Malta.
“Some just come to Malta for a short-term contract or an adventure and then return after a few months,” he said. “Others are youths who have no interest in voting in their home country, let alone in ours.”
As for those foreigners who are interested in participating, Buttigieg said they should be encouraged to do so and that indeed a council for foreigners should be set up within the St Julian’s Council
“Just as we have a Youth Council, I would also like a Foreigners’ Council so that we will be able to hear their views,” he said. “Many of the foreigners living here are environmentalists and can show us their countries’ best practices. Instead of turning against us, they will feel part of the community.”
“St Julian’s is a cosmopolitan centre and it’s part of what makes it what it is,” he continued. “This is the reality and we can either bang our heads in desperation or try and make the best of the situation.”
“Yes, foreigners can pose challenges but they can also offer opportunities and we need to make our foreign residents feel as though Malta is their second home.”
Buttigieg warned that the alternative to integration is friction between different nationalities and the consequent formation of ghettoes.
“If integration doesn’t take place, then we’ll risk the rise of fascism and Nazism in Malta and I’d rather the Labour Party than these movements,” he said. “All the fascists need is a charismatic leader and both PN and PL will risk an exodus of people.”
The council for foreigners is one of several proposals Buttigieg has come up with ahead of the election on 25th May
He is also proposing a circular bus service to improve the mobility of elderly people, a public consultation on whether the annual St Patrick’s Day festivities should move out of Spinola, and a social contribution fund for the council from money earned through the tourist bed tax.
“The government is earning around €7 million a year through the bed tax and even 1% of that would be significant for the council,” he said. “The government has argued that it wouldn’t be fair on other towns if it were to only give a cut of the fund to us, but the reality is that St Julian’s is the most tourist-heavy town in Malta.”
“Tourism isn’t only about hotels but about the surroundings, and we need a steady flow of money to improve the tourism product through, for example, embellishment works and investing in green wardens.
He is also calling for the devolution of Spinola Palace to the St Julian’s local council, to serve as a council hall, police station, library and day centre for the elderly.
“The government has taken beaches and parking spaces away from the people and now it’s time for it to give something back,” he said.