‘I am confident that the PN can win three seats at EP’ – Norma Camilleri

07 APRIL 2024

Semira Abbas Shalan

PN MEP candidate Norma Camilleri said that she is confident that the Nationalist Party can win the third MEP seat in the upcoming European Parliament elections, noting that “the people feel the need for an alternative”.

Camilleri, a Gozitan who is a Speech Language Pathologist by profession, is one of the PN’s candidates for the upcoming MEP elections on 8 June this year. She spoke to The Malta Independent on Sunday on her fresh start into politics.

“Yes, I am confident that the Nationalist Party can win the third seat. The feedback is positive,” Camilleri said, adding that acquiring the third seat would be an important step for all.

Opposition leader Bernard Grech, some weeks ago, had set a target for the PN to win the third seat. Asked if Grech should resign if this does not occur, Camilleri said that whatever the result will be, one must evaluate what could have led to that negative result.

“I believe greatly in communication, and in listening. Finally, if the voters decide in that way, they would be sending a message,” Camilleri said, adding that she hoped this would not be the case.

On the question of whether Grech should resign in that situation, Camilleri said that it is not a matter which concerns her, but rather the decision of the executive of the party, and the leader himself.

She said that she has good communication with Grech and believes that he is doing his utmost for a positive result in June.

‘You have to be part of the system to see a change’

Camilleri, who had never been directly involved in the political sphere until now, explained that she still took interest in politics. She said that she often heard her father speak about current affairs as a young child.

She said that she was always brought up in an environment which believes that “if you want something to change, you have to be part of the system to see a change”, adding that there is a “great” need for things to change.

“That was already something which pushed me to take part, and involve myself in various organisations, committees throughout my life, and where I can, I give my contribution, instead of remaining a spectator,” Camilleri said.

“All those things together were a drive for my family and I to take the decision to take an active part in politics,” Camilleri said, taking her decision with her husband and daughter after discussion.

Her drive is to give her humble contribution to see a change for the better, Camilleri said.

Camilleri was asked if she believes that the Nationalist Party approached her to fill a vacuum as a Gozitan MEP candidate. She said that there is no one reason for the PN to have chosen her as a candidate for the upcoming MEP elections.

“I believe that it was not simply because I am Gozitan, while I am proud of that. It was not simply because I’m a woman, or because of my qualities. I believe it was a combination of all those things,” Camilleri said.

“In fact, my first reaction was ‘why me?’ But then I started reflecting, and thought, ‘why not me?'” she said, adding that there was a mix of many factors.

She also has a strong background in volunteer work, having been involved in the sector since childhood, first and foremost, through the strong sense of volunteering in the Xaghra community in Gozo, where she was brought up.

Citizens should vote, and for each candidate

The Nationalist Party has a top candidate in the European Parliament, President Roberta Metsola due to the position she has held over the past years. Other PN MEP candidates may seem in her “shadow”.

She was asked whether she requests that people give Metsola the first preference, and herself the second or third, rather than asking people to vote for her first.

“Roberta Metsola is a person whom I have enormous admiration for,” Camilleri expressed, noting that she had the opportunity to meet Metsola prior to her candidacy and develop a close acquaintance with her. “Personally, being on the same list of candidates as her, and others, is an honour for me,” Camilleri said.

She further stated that when she speaks to people during her campaign, she stresses the importance of voting for all candidates, while respecting the voter’s preferences, adding that there are more seasoned candidates who the voter could prefer.

“When I speak to voters who are already showing their loyalty to another candidate, I would not, by no means, try to force, or obligate them to change their mind, as I respect everyone’s opinion and decision,” Camilleri said, adding that she would then humbly ask for the second, or third preference.

“I like to show people my qualities and values, and what I can do if I am elected,” Camilleri said, adding that the position is the people’s choice.

When she was asked what she would like to focus on if she is elected, Camilleri spoke of her varied background, touching upon the health sector, sports, the music, arts and culture industry as well as education.

Coming from the health sector as a speech pathologist, she pointed out that there is a lack of services for mental health, as well as difficulties in obtaining the necessary medicine, even in terms of price increases.

“If you do not have a job and cannot work due to your ailment, this means less income and more difficulty with buying the medicine you need,” Camilleri said.

She highlighted that one of the problems the country is facing is the rising costs of medication. This issue, she emphasised, is something the European Union needs to deliberate on and take decisive action to alleviate the burden.

“It is very important for diagnoses to be made early when speech and language communication difficulties are observed, so that we can proceed with helping the individual,” Camilleri said.

She spoke of hidden disabilities, and the certain taboo and stigma still surrounding it, where many children are branded, and then left to fend for themselves.

There is also not enough awareness on these hidden disabilities, and those in contact with these children might not immediately recognise that there is a possible issue and are not referred to professionals. This leads to late or no diagnosis, which could have great repercussions, said Camilleri, who is also the president of the European Speech and Language Therapy Association (ESLA).

“Language is the door to educational attainment, and we must give it its importance, both in Malta and at a European level; to recognise that we need to increase awareness so that educators and those at the workplace can pinpoint the red flags,” Camilleri continued, which would also facilitate things for future employers.

16/17-year-olds not ready to be mayors of a locality

Camilleri said that there is a lack of political knowledge, or of current affairs among youths, particularly first-time 16-year-old voters.

“When youths become adults, they will then have the capacity to think, and vote for what they believe in, and not simply because the family has always voted for a certain party.”

She described it as unfortunate, and children should be nurtured and taught from a young age about what’s going on around them, and the fact that not everyone is as fortunate as others.

Asked about the recent bill passed in Parliament which now allows 16/17-year-olds to become mayors of their locality, Camilleri said that she does not agree with this.

“How can staff in a local council, during their working hours, have to call a 16-year-old mayor, who is either starting into the working world and has to give their 100%, or is a student sitting at a desk in a higher education institution, and ask them to solve the Council’s sometimes complicated problems?” Camilleri said.

She reiterated that there’s already an education system which puts huge pressure on youths, their parents, the educators, and the mental health of all.

“Let’s give children the chance to develop, to be children and adolescents, and not have to, from a very young age, choose subjects to study which will possibly determine their future career,” Camilleri said, referring to Maltese 12-year-old youths when choosing subjects in school.

Camilleri said that children should not be forced to make such difficult decisions, as many times they would not yet know what they want or else have their parents choose for them, which inherently destroys children’s critical thinking.

She believes that 16/17-year-olds, who have been elected by majority and who will become mayors, may be too stressed and it is not a good decision for their mental health.

“I agree that youths should be involved in politics from a young age, but we cannot put them in a position of such great responsibility that early. This does not mean that there are no capable youths,” Camilleri said, while also acknowledging that current local councils feel like they have been reduced to “customer care” with their reduced responsibilities.

“We have youths who are very capable, and who want to be pushed and encouraged, but there is a way to do this,” Camilleri said.

2024 marks 20 years since Malta’s membership into the European Union. Camilleri was asked if there was anything which disappointed her about the EU since.

She said that there was a lot gained with the country’s membership into the EU and could not imagine what the country would be like now had it not entered the EU.

Camilleri said that youths gained many opportunities to study, travel, job mobility and chances to develop. She mentioned that back in 2004, when Malta joined, she had applied for a Master’s programme abroad, due to the significant reduction in fees.

Funds for many projects, start-ups and businesses, the list of what was gained is never-ending, Camilleri said. “Can we do better? Yes, there is always where to improve,” Camilleri said, reminding that decisions are not taken only by the MEP representatives, but also by the European Council.

She said that that is why the PN works hard to encourage citizens not to take the election lightly, as finally, they will be electing their representatives who will be making decisions which impact them. Camilleri pointed out the recent Europe-wide farmers’ protests, where the Maltese government could have spoken up and done more.

“I learnt from my 16 years in a European organisation that what applies to other countries does not necessarily apply to us, but I also learnt that despite our small size, we can make our voices heard,” Camilleri said, adding that she never dreamt that the smallest country could take the organisation’s presidency.

Camilleri said that if the public has shown confidence and trust in an elected person, they have the duty to speak up for the Maltese and Gozitan public according to their needs.

Camilleri said that the upcoming MEP elections are very important. “There are those who take these elections lightly, and say that they will not bother voting,” Camilleri said.

She said that the people have a voice, and a tool, to communicate what they feel. “Each voter has the right to make their voices and true thoughts heard between the three walls of the polling booth,” Camilleri said, encouraging all to vote for the individuals they believe would be best to represent the country in the European Parliament.

She was asked to explain the reasons why the Maltese tend to have no problems voting for female candidates in the MEP elections; as compared to the national elections, where women can be elected through the gender mechanism in Parliament.

Camilleri said that she believes women should be in such positions because they are capable.

“Unfortunately, we have a system where many people still doubt women,” Camilleri said, a subject she is passionate about, as she believes greatly in women’s potential.

She explained the importance of having women in various positions of power, in local councils, in Parliament, in committees, and more.

Camilleri remarked that she has frequently served on boards where the number of men exceeds that of women, but this doesn’t imply that women are any less capable. “Does this mean that women are keeping back from pursuing such positions? Yes, very much so,” Camilleri said.

This is because the system is not facilitating or empowering females enough to move forward, Camilleri said, describing it as a “huge problem”.

She reiterated a lack of education and critical, creative thinking, and said that thought process is crucial for any individual.

Women, however, are not being encouraged from a young age to believe in themselves enough to think critically and creatively, being stifled to “blend in” with everyone else, Camilleri said.

“We are not providing situations to truly help women find their best potential, and to be able to exploit it,” Camilleri said, adding that many women tend to hold back and undermine themselves, having been victim to it herself.

“My message for women is to speak up and to not be afraid to say what they think,” Camilleri said.

Another important thing Camilleri pointed out is that the mentality around what jobs or professions a woman can or cannot do has remained relatively the same. “A woman can learn as much as a man can, and as strong as a man can be,” Camilleri said, noting that household chores are not only “female jobs”.

Camilleri said she felt lucky her husband has been supportive from day one, pushed her to make the decision to contest for the MEP elections and encouraged other capable females to seek these opportunities, even those in leadership.

“We must push ourselves and help, support and listen to each other, as we can understand each other,” Camilleri said.

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