From Union to Europe – Interview with maltatoday on Sunday

From union to Europe

Rudolph Cini, the former president of the Malta Union of Nurses and Midwives, makes his transition to European politics with environment and immigration on his agenda.

Matthew Vella

Former union boss Rudolph Cini makes no bones about his political affiliation. Having spent 12 years at the helm of the Malta Union of Nurses and Midwives, Cini is returning to the public sphere after passing up an opportunity to contest the general elections on the PN ticket.

The 44-year-old father-of-one, an infection control nurse, says he has always been a Nationalist Party supporter. “The PN was the party that unstintingly promoted the vision that Malta should be an EU member,” Cini says, who adds that this quality has made the PN the “most deserving” to have more seats in the European Parliament.

“I believe that it’s the party that should have the advantage in representing Malta in this role. Everyone knows that the result was not that which was expected back in 2004. I don’t think the party deserved that result.”

Cini explains why Gonzi’s first electoral test should not have gone Labour’s way. “The PN was the party that, notwithstanding the obstacles and the opposition against EU membership, still managed to win accession for Malta… and today Malta is the most satisfied EU member state, according to surveys.”

Still, the electorate’s choice failed to go the government’s way. “When the Maltese chose their representatives for the EP, it was not reflective of the PN’s deserved claim to have that advantage in the parliament. I felt that with my contribution I could help the PN be even more representative in the EP. This was my biggest wish in my choice to contest for the PN.”

But Cini says it was the electorate that failed to understand or appreciate properly the Nationalist Party’s efforts during the EU membership negotiations.

“It’s not easy to analyse the reason for the 2004 result. Maybe the people wanted to send some kind of message. Maybe they hadn’t understood that the negotiations had been the best possible achieved by the PN at that time. Today we are releasing that the negotiations could not be any better. I think that at that time, the people wanted to send a message to the PN that, despite their support for EU membership, they had expected more… maybe it wasn’t properly explained to the people that what had been negotiated then had been the best possible deal,” Cini confidently says.

Cini’s career has been firmly entrenched in the world of trade unionism. Years before starting off the MUMN, he was a shop steward for the Union Haddiema Maghqudin, and before that a representative for the student nurses association. His evolution came almost naturally in the world of labour relations.

“As nurses and midwives, we felt we needed an organisation that represented our needs particularly, rather than staying under the umbrella of a general trade union. Having had experience in that field, many nurses asked me to organise what today is the MUMN,” Cini, today an honorary president, says.

Relations with government, including the one whose party he is now contesting with, have not always been good. “We didn’t always see eye to eye on the same things. Everyone has their own interests, and that meant we didn’t always start on the good foot. In the 12 years I was MUMN president, a form of compromise was always found that was acceptable to both sides. Sometimes we had to take recourse to the measures afforded to us by law as a trade union, especially when we felt we were right on the issue.”

Cini emphasises the union never strayed from its path in representing nurses, irrespectively of who was in power, and he emphasises his impartiality as a union boss.

In fact, Cini found himself battling against a government that had it wrong on the staff complement of nurses, where calls by the union on an impending shortage of nurses for the years to come was only heeded now. For years, calls for more job openings for nurses fell on the deaf health minister’s ears until Louis Deguara vacated his ministerial seat.

But doesn’t his credibility as a former union man suffer now that he made this transition to a politician?

“Absolutely not. I say it shows a certain sense of consistency. I occupied a post of responsibility in representing a sector of workers, and I feel I was representing them in the most honest of manners, whichever government of the day it was, without any partisan bias of sorts. And I feel that in no way did those 12 years change my political beliefs. It was always there and it has stayed consistent.

“It isn’t even a radical change. Trade unionism is politics in itself. It just isn’t partisan. Trade unionism, and how negotiations take place, can be utilised in the world of politics. Many trade unionists have made this step across the world.”

Cini stops short of revealing who approached him with the proposal to go for the EP elections, although he says the advance had been made soon after he stepped down from MUMN president. “There had been previous efforts for me to contest the general elections but it was still too early for me, having just stepped down from my position at the MUMN. And yet, I was still mulling over what contribution I could give over these years, and I was open to this option.”

Cini’s big crusade appears to be ‘illegal immigration’, a hefty slice of the European conundrum. For someone who offers a lot of truisms about migration, Cini’s vision is somewhat lacking, his thesis ostensibly based on a mix of achieving ‘understanding with Libya’ and getting the EU to give ‘more to Malta’, in terms of human resources.

“Especially after this year’s influx of illegal immigrants, we must throw in more resources than there are. Simon Busuttil in particular is doing all that is possible to make Europe more conscientious about the situation we are facing. I think a bigger effort is needed. I see myself as a helping hand for any other MEP who works towards decreasing the influx, or looking for more aid,” Cini says.

He chips in some words on the human tragedy at hand:

“Definitely we cannot forget the humanitarian aspect of this situation. The desperateness of the people who take this treacherous journey is something we must keep in mind… but we also have to see our interests as a people.”

What are those interests, or solutions he envisages?

“I think the biggest problem we have is that we don’t have the cooperation of countries of origin and departure such as is Libya. That’s where we have to try and see how, with this country and its enormous coastline from where immigrants depart, we can get its cooperation in curbing the influx. Spain has managed to negotiate with both Morocco and Mauritania in Frontex missions. That’s the point we must emphasise.

“And we must see what pressure the EU can make on Libya to get it to participate in Frontex, not to let people risk their lives on the sea, and to control the amount of those who manage to slip through,” Cini says.

Without fail, Cini manages to conjure up the most hackneyed of unscientific claims on immigration: “We need to get the EU to understand that every immigrant that lands in Malta is the equivalent of hundred landing in Italy,” he says, “because we’re a small, densely populated country. So we need cooperation with Libya and human resources from the EU… because we have our limitations.”

But how could he be sure of any sort of cooperation with a country like Libya that is not even a signatory of the Geneva Convention – not to mention its classic intransigence on issues such as its exclusive economic zone, its mistreatment of foreign workers, and its less then democratic credentials?

“One must persist… I always believed that persistence always reveals the road that takes you where you want to go. So with the help of countries like Italy, and strong economic powerhouses like France and Germany who can influence Libya, and with Libya now trying to open up to the West, I think this is the moment that we can really get this country on board,” Cini says, perhaps wishfully.

“But we have to show them that we have the support of Europe and that we mean business, and that we want to thrash it out once and for all.”

Cini’s other sphere of interest however, elicits interest in that it concerns one of Malta’s most backward areas – the under-employed segment of female labourers.

“Unfortunately Malta is the EU member state that has the lowest portion of female workers,” Cini says. “And the matter in itself is very complex… our culture often overshadows the very right of women to go out in the world of work. Women have that right to develop their career. And although the attitude that seems to think a woman’s place is at home might be diminishing, some elements of it persist.

“We need to give women incentives to go out to work,” Cini states. “And it’s useless calling for incentives if we cannot see to the care of their children while they work. This is the biggest problem for spouses. Even as president of the MUMN, a union where many of our members are women, we discussed the lack of childcare centres with government a lot. I don’t think the country is giving this issue a lot of importance.”

Cini says it is high time that workers are given a better structure on which to prop up their careers and working patterns. “We still think that grandparents are there to take care of children, but soon enough we are going to realise that this will not be possible because the elderly are either going to be unable to handle childcare or they will even be in employment themselves. We must find a way to support women to give them the incentive to go out into the world of work.”

Cini adds that it’s not only childcare centres that are needed, but also promoting the concept of teleworking – working straight from home. “Computers allow us to do work from home. What keeps women from having this situation, making their lives easier by being able to handle both work and childcare?”

Cini also rues the state of the Maltese environment, eliciting the lack enforcement on building regulations in Malta. I point out to him that the Maltese government has amassed a record number of complaints on the environmental record, with Brussels having seen to many investigations concerning the extension of development zones, MEPA approvals of projects without EIAs, tuna farms… would he be ready as MEP to take the government to task on these breaches to Brussels?

“My role as MEP will be that of representing the people, even though I am a Nationalist. And it won’t be the first time that something like this happens. I am ready to see whether the government will listen to me… and if the government keeps ignoring me, then I will not hesitate to bring to the government’s attention such breaches through the European Parliament.”

And is Cini satisfied with the government’s environmental record in the last five years, I ask, expecting him to comment on the litany of environmental gaffes the PN government has had?

“There is greater awareness… and it’s positive,” Cini claims. “There is more to be done, and I hope this happens within the next five years.”

But as he talks about enforcement of environmental regulations, I ask him if he is satisfied when a government allows construction magnate Charles Polidano to procrastinate on his legal obligations, such as the case was with the destruction of the Xemxija Bypass, almost inoperable to this day.

“Well… I wouldn’t say that they are allowing him to ‘do what he wants’ as you put it. One must see how the legal implications in such cases often drag out for too long… it’s not case of big people and small people. The big ones can afford the lengthiest legal tussles, the small ones tend to concede straight away.”

But isn’t this why people are not satisfied with Malta’s European ‘adventure’ – in that their expectations of European standards are not being met? “People had the perception that the EU would take some stand on such matters, but it’s not its remit. And the government knows that things must improve and must be addressed. The prime minister has taken up those ministries in which he felt he had to give his priority – these are clear indications that the government has realised those areas in which it could have improved, and is taking clear measures about them.”

This interview appeared in Malta Today on Sunday of 14 September 2008 and qppears here with permission.

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