With less than a week to go until the MEP election, the campaign has been heating up considerably. And one of the rising stars of this election has undoubtedly been 29-year-old Josianne Cutajar, the youngest Labour candidate seeking to become the first ever Gozitan representative in the European Parliament.
We sat down with Josianne Cutajar to get to know her, her background, and discuss everything politics and EU related.
First things first: what makes a 29-year-old Gozitan the ideal MEP candidate?
When it all boils down to it, a representative cannot represent if she hasn’t lived through and experienced the same challenges as her constituents. Neither can she be their voice if she doesn’t know their needs and priorities for their daily lives.
While I may be young, my experience speaks for itself.
I’ve graduated in European law and I’ve spent my life travelling between Nadur and Msida for study and work purposes. My family is your typical working class family. I know the struggles we face as working class Gozitans, and I know the struggles Gozitans my age face due to the limitations of our island.
As a family lawyer, I’ve experienced the heartbreak my clients shared with me in the most vulnerable phases of their lives. Their pain has left a mark in my heart and drives me to improve the lives of people going through similar situations, and it’s the reason I speak so much about the need for a stronger stance on domestic violence, for instance.
And as legal counsel to the office of the Prime Minister, I also fully know our country’s priorities and how we should work towards them. It’s such an inspiring job – the Prime Minister is a mentor to us all at his office despite his packed schedule. There’s never a boring day at Castille!
We only get six representatives in Europe and all six of them need to know their stuff and be able to defend our country. My life experiences would make me a knowledgeable, down-to-earth and passionate MEP.
You speak of defending the country – against what exactly?
The European Union is a melting pot of 28 countries, all with different priorities. An MEP’s first struggle is to make sure that the priorities of her country are heard and considered.
In our case, the new Maltese MEPs have to double down on migration and tax issues, as well as restoring our national reputation, which PN MEPs have thrown under the bus during the past years.
How would you describe yourself politically and who is your role model?
In short, I’m a socialist feminist, so it’s hardly any surprise that my international role model is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who by the way is only one year older than I am!
I believe in a fair society and that this is only possible if there is a decent standard of living for all. This hits specific social groups harder, including women and people of different abilities.
Through my work within the Labour Party, I have always strived to level the playing field for everyone in our communities. During my campaign, I’ve translated these values into issues which affect us on a day to day basis. From EU rules on work-life balance, to harmonising EU policy on domestic violence and gender-based violence, from our own local migration issues to urban planning, I wanted to lead an informed and vocal campaign.
Who is Josianne Cutajar away from the political spotlight?
With me, what you see is what you get – whether I’m on the podium, knocking on doors, or enjoying a day out or indoors with my family or friends, I’m always the same Josianne.
When I do get some free time, however, you’ll mostly find me immersed in a good book, listening to rock music (Pink Floyd are my fave!) or going to the beach or a walk. I love languages and used to dance when I was younger.
I believe that smiles and laughter are the best medicine – a positive outlook on life has always served me well and got me through some tough times.
You’ve tackled many policy issues during your campaign but how would you tackle these issues in the European Parliament?
There’s so much the EU can do, and do better.
Take work-life balance, for instance. EU rules and Maltese laws are improving, yes, but we can do so much more. Is it so radical to demand more quality time for ourselves?
For me, working on better work-life balance isn’t just policy, it’s personal. I know what being exhausted and overworked feels like, and it’s not pretty. Stress and anxiety are very real consequences of our lifestyle, and I want that to change. Working for a stronger work-life balance for me is just like making sure we have enough sick leave for when we’re physically ill – we need to take care of ourselves completely, and work should help us, not bring us down.
In the European Parliament, I want to work on laws that give us the opportunity to work from home through remote working, or jobs that cater for flexible working hours which we could tailor according to our needs. This would not only help in the work-life balance area, but also affect our environment through a decrease in traffic congestion. I want to make sure that any worker who has any caring responsibilities can keep up with them, whether they are new parents, or taking care of their own elderly parents.
You mention the environment: how can Malta improve in this regard?
The great thing about being part of Labour is that we’re never satisfied of our work – we’re never at our ‘best’, so to speak. The environmental sector is no different.
Throughout my campaign, I’ve made the case for preserving our rural areas, but also for protecting our urban areas, which is where most of us spend so much of our time. We sorely need masterplans, which should identify the iconic features of our towns and villages, while regulating future development.
We also need modern solutions for modern problems. Green roofs and car-free town cores, for instance, are relatively simple initiatives, but they could greatly affect our urban landscape.
Speaking of all things green: should Malta legalise recreational marijuana?
Personally, I don’t believe that smoking a joint, or having a plant in a private space, is a huge danger to society, as long as it is regulated. I don’t believe we should jail someone over that.
However, I have met many concerned parents who are still unconvinced and I understand their perspective too. I think Government is on the right track on this, by calling for an open and informed debate, and I invite everyone to be part of this consultation which will ultimately shape our future laws and policies on it.
You say you’re for the people and that you’re ‘one of us’. Doesn’t every politician say that?
In politics, there are sayers and doers. The PN, for instance, also says they’re with the people, but what have they proposed to improve our lives so far? All I’ve seen is populism and panic. Billboards implying the PN will cure cancer? Saying foreigners have ‘invaded’ us? What a pitiful state for a political party to be in.
Politics is about changing lives, not billboards and gimmicks.
I’ve based my campaign and policies on what I learned from being in touch with the people.
For instance, I proposed changes to the current system on maintenance in family cases because I’ve seen first-hand how our current situation is untenable. What’s the point of sending someone to jail, while the family remains without the money it so sorely needs?
Take my proposal for a GU Clinic in Gozo. I spoke about it openly because Gozitan teens approached me about it, and because we deserve to have public health facilities in Gozo too. Gozitan NGOs like LGBTIQ Gozo have been pushing for this for ages – I felt that it was my duty to be an ally.
I never speak about issues because they’re popular. I don’t care about popularity – I care about making sure my policies will improve the day to day lives of those I represent by offering solutions to the issues people are faced with.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Hopefully, for having made a difference in people’s lives, through my activism for a fair and just society.
For having helped families escape the cycle of violence in their homes; for having fought against the stigma of mental health; for having helped children out of poverty; for having helped young adults find rewarding jobs; for having ensured that the elderly are taken care of when they need it most. These are my life goals.
And finally, the EU – why should we even care?
European politics may feel far from Malta, but the truth is, it has been affecting our daily lives for the past 15 years. We are a living, breathing part of the European community, and as such, the decisions being made in Brussels will affect us all.
This year’s elections also come at a unique time for the EU – the UK has decided it wants out, the far right is rearing its ugly head, and Euroscepticism is on the rise.
Being part of the EU has literally changed our lives, especially the lives of my generation, and that has happened because of the policies and rules decided in the European Parliament. Our vote will affect Malta’s future as Member State, will determine the future of the Union and the next class of MEPs must remind their citizens that a united Europe means strength and opportunity for us all.
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