Pete Farrugia speaks with former President of Malta Eddie Fenech Adami about the country’s place in a changing European environment, and the particular challenges of conscience we all face today.
The interview began without fuss or ceremony. The Former President and PN leader led us to an inviting sitting room and while the camera was being set up, he opened with a few remarks about his time at the university of Malta and the policies of its various student organizations. Fenech Adami immediately expressed a longstanding belief in the importance of solid values and the essential need to keep true, in all things, to well reasoned convictions.
Shifting to the larger political scene, asked whether the European Union really achieves unity in the midst of its national diversity, Fenech Adami said, “Indeed, I think it does. Made up of 27 countries, so culturally diverse with their own social distinctions, there is no doubt plenty of diversity – but it is ultimately one. We come together to take decisions that affect all the countries as a whole. It’s a useful experiment that’s been successful over the years.”
The ways this experiment in supranational independent institutions has affected Malta seems, by and large, to have had a positive effect continued Fenech Adami. “I always maintained that the EU is where Malta belongs, not just because of our geographic location within the Mediterranean, but also because of our culture and history. We are trying to play our part, and Malta is active in this process.”
Has there been increasing conflict between current European values and Maltese identity? “No, I don’t think there is such a conflict – experience has shown us that we have to stand up and be counted, whenever that is necessary.” Fenech Adami pinpoints moral issues in particular and believes, “Malta has behaved in an exemplary manner. We’ve stood up when there was a need, even at the risk of the opposing currents going through the European Union.”
In light of the furore surrounding Tonio Borg as upcoming EU commissioner, some voices have decried contemporary European liberalism as fundamentalist in its approach. Fenech Adami is cautious, commenting, “Fundamentalist is a strong word, but there’s always the danger that, if one doesn’t tow the liberal line, one will be described as outdated and not keeping up with what is going on.”
“I am quite sure Tonio Borg won’t find it difficult to live up to his Catholic principals as commissioner, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be occasions where he’ll have to stand up and be counted, as has happened before. I believe it is only positive that one stands up for one’s Catholic views in such an important entity as the European Union. Anybody who wants to live up to their principles does not shy away from meeting challenges.”
And this strength of character must always be tempered with an awareness of cultural realities. “One has to be realistic and we must take account of the social milieu in which we live. I understand that conflict of conscience is an issue, but one must still behave in a way that will promote the best interests of the country at a particular moment.”
It is trying to walk this difficult line that has been most clearly highlighted by the tumult surrounding Tonio Borg. “It is difficult to achieve a balance,” said Fenech Adami, “but i think one who is convinced of his own religious views will necessarily try his best to live up to them in difficult circumstances – especially going into a compromise for the general interest of the member countries.”
“Taking political decisions, one has to go by one’s conscience even if contradicted by others. Always keep in mind the common good and act accordingly,” he said, concluding with words of concrete advice, “Don’t ever betray your principles.”
Now, it may seem easy to talk about principles but for many there’s the nagging fear that, by opposing a growing momentum away from steadfast precepts towards new, attenuated attitudes, they’ll be excluded from local and international processes of debate. Should one fear being “a voice in the wilderness”?
“Absolutely not,” said Fenech Adami. “On the contrary, it gives us strength and determination and courage. We must have convictions and be prepared to defend them.” When addressing opponents, we “can’t force others to change their opinions, but we must be rational – reason things out and go with our conviction. This is an opportunity not to suppress the convictions of others, but rationally convince them to go the right way.”
Asked about Malta’s particular relationship to its Christian heritage, the former President said that, “Malta has in many ways lived up to its Catholic beliefs, however these are changing, and fast. New means of communication are also having an unprecedented effect on Maltese opinion. The Christian faith is very strongly embedded in Maltese culture and we all know that our Christianity goes back to the very roots of the religion – and most people are not only aware of this, but proud of it, even when they seem to abandon the faith in practical life.”
In conclusion Eddie Fenech Adami said, “I do not despair of the situation in Malta. I am confident that Malta will live up to its vocation. I’ve always been impressed by what it says in the Acts of the Apostles, in insulam autem quandam oportet nos devenire. Malta was part of a providential design and I believe we have lived up to that so far. And I believe that the Maltese will, generally, continue to live up to those firm convictions.”