The road to (traffic) hell is paved with EU funding

Of course not! Don’t be silly. There are, after all, such things as ‘European elections’, to be held next year...

It’s not often that I agree with something posted by Roberta Metsola on Facebook... and let’s face it: that’s not altogether very ‘surprising’, either.

No, indeed. After all, Metsola and myself clearly come from the clean opposite poles of the liberal/conservative spectrum. And besides: around 90% of the stuff she actually posts on Facebook, consists only in stage-managed, self-publicising photographs of herself, in various different poses (Honestly, though. It would be no exaggeration to state that – since March 2022 – Roberta Metsola has probably uploaded more ‘selfies’ on Facebook, than Russia has dropped bombs on Ukraine. Just saying...)

Nonetheless, it is hard to disagree with the President of the European Parliament, when – speaking in that capacity, please note – she argues that the Government of Malta has ‘failed’, in pretty much all of its primary objectives.

She said that on July 22, in case you were wondering... at the height of the recent ‘blackout crisis’.

“When patients in a mental health hospital are left for long hours without light, in the heat, without electricity, in the dark, with doctors, nurses and professionals doing everything they can to keep them healthy and calm – everyone can see how much this Government has failed,” Metsola wrote.

And what followed was an entire litany of such ‘failures’, which – like her opening salvo – are very hard to actually refute. “They failed Miriam Pace. They failed Daphne Caruana Galizia. They failed Jean Paul Sofia. They failed their families. They failed the workers they promised to protect. They failed us all...”

But as tends to be the case, whenever Roberta Metsola steps out of her role to take a pot-shot at the (Labour) government... there are some aspects to her criticism that are neither very accurate; nor even very ‘appropriate’, coming from someone who represents the European Parliament (and no longer ‘just the PN’.)

And from that perspective, I find this line to be particularly problematic:

“It [the government] failed when it spent €700,000,000 from our taxes to fix the roads – and instead created a traffic problem that jammed the country.”

Hmm. OK, let’s start with the ‘accuracy’ part. To be fair to Metsola: she was, like I said, speaking on behalf of the institution she now represents... so it is by no means clear whom she actually meant, when she said that those €700,000,000 came from ‘OUR’ taxes.

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, though; and assume she meant that those road-fixing projects had been partly financed by ‘the EUROPEAN taxpayer’ (and not just us, as Maltese taxpaying citizens).

If so, she is entirely correct. The figure of €700m comes from an Infrastructure Malta announcement, back in 2019; but it traces its origins to the Labour Party manifesto for the 2017 election, which had stated that “a new Labour Government would give unprecedented priority to the infrastructural development to roads in our country. All roads will be done up, as they should be”.

Significantly, however, the Labour Party promised to invest €700m “through EUROPEAN FUNDS [my emphasis], funds from the Development Bank, funds gathered through the Citizenship by Investment Programme and through other financial instruments”.

Now: it remains somewhat unclear – though it shouldn’t, really – exactly how much of those €700 million came from EU funding programmes; and how much was financed directly by the Maltese exchequer (or other sources).

But former Transport Minister Ian Borg told us (when launching the project) that it formed part of the European Unions ‘Trans-European Transport Network’ (TEN-T): a project that aims to develop a “coherent, efficient, multimodal, and high-quality transport infrastructure across the EU”; and particular, “to reduce the environmental impact of transport, and to INCREASE THE SAFETY AND THE RESILIENCE OF THE NETWORK.” [My emphasis, again].

Separately, Dr Borg also revealed that at least one aspect – the Marsa Junction Project: which cost €70 million, all on its own – was co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility: an EU funding programme that aims to “support investments in building new cross-border energy infrastructure in Europe, or rehabilitating and upgrading the existing one.”

I guess it follows, then, that other individual components of this nationwide, road-fixing endeavour were likewise ‘co-financed by the EU’; in accordance, of course, with the EU’s supposedly ‘superior’ environmental/health-and-safety standards...

... even because the same, steady stream of EU funding – which, by the way, also made all those road-projects ‘feasible’ for the Maltese government, in the first place - still keeps on flowing right in, even as we speak.

In July of last year, for instance, the European Commission DG Mobility and Transport awarded Infrastructure Malta €21.8 million, in EU funds, for the Luqa Junction Project, Kirkop Tunnels, and Airport Intersection Project.

We were also told that “the total investment for the project is €57,064,741: of which the EU’s Cohesion Fund is contributing €42,364,293 from the Operational Programme ‘Investing in Competitiveness for a Better Quality of Life” for the 2007 to 2013 programming period..”.

By my count, that’s almost 90% of the entire project, paid for directly by European Union sources. From there, one can only imagine the total amount of funding that the EU must have poured into Malta’s doomed road networks, ever since we joined almost 20 years ago (and even earlier: there was such a thing as ‘pre-accession funding’, remember?)

Clearly, we must be talking about a total figure that can only be measured in billions – not ‘hundreds of millions’ – and quite possibly, a few tens of billions, at that.

And, um... oh, dear! Just look at what happened, as a direct result of all that multi-billion European Union investment, in our national road network.

By Roberta Metsola’s own admission, please note: all those ultra-expensive ‘EU funded’ infrastructural projects – which were supposed to ‘modernise’ our traffic network, if you please, by making it ‘safer’ and ‘more efficient’ – have proven to be a complete and utter... oh, let’s be kind, and just call it a ‘FAILURE’.

Not only has all this investment (as Metsola rightly points out) “created a traffic problem that jammed the country”... but the projects themselves proved to be woefully substandard, to boot!

As I recall, for instance, the reason for the latest ‘blackout crisis’ was specifically connected with the failure of those EU-funded, TEN-T projects, to actually live up to their lofty promises of ‘reducing the environmental impact of transport, and increasing the safety and the resilience of the network.”

At the first serious heatwave, those newly ‘fixed’ roads grew so incandescent, that they succeeded in disabling the (admittedly archaic) energy-distribution network, beneath.  [Note: and it was exactly the same with the earlier, EU-funded ‘stormwater’ projects, to reduce flooding in areas like Marsa, Msida and Birkirkara... all of which were promptly inundated, at the very first downpour.]

And just as this was a problem that SHOULD (for reasons I’ve already spelt out in a recent article) have been perfectly predictable, to the Maltese government... well, the European Union must now likewise shoulder some of the blame itself, for having:

a) failed to anticipate the consequences of climate change, by approving funding for projects that were clearly not designed to sustain ‘higher temperatures’ (still less, the extreme weather we are likely to experience in future);

b) blinded themselves to the reality that “more roads = more cars.” (In other words: by encouraging the construction of so many new roads, the EU is also partly responsible for the ensuing ‘traffic hell’, that we are all now living through right now);

c) invested so heavily in all those ill-fated ‘road-fixing’ projects – many of which, by the way, were actually to fix roads that had only been built a few years earlier (through EU funding, course) - evidently, without ever monitoring the implementation of those projects, to ensure that its own criteria of ‘standards’ were actually being met.

For let’s face it, folks:  when ‘things go wrong’ with any given construction or infrastructural project - and this, incidentally, is particularly true of the Jean-Paul Sofia case – it is not just the ‘building contractor’, or ‘project-manager’, who ends up taking the rap.

Oh, no: in the Sofia case, at least, the project owner and architect are also facing criminal charges... and possibly, the investigation might extend even to the operations of INDIS (the government lands agency): whose role in the land-transfer will now be scrutinised by the public inquiry.

Depending what else emerges from that inquiry: the net of responsibility might widen further still (perhaps, even as far as to engulf the planning process itself... by investigating whether that doomed project should, or should not, have even been granted a PA permit, to begin with.)

By the same token, however: when a country’s entire traffic system breaks down... the blame has to be apportioned among ALL the parties, that were/are involved in its construction, and maintenance.

This category, by the way, includes not just the European Union; but also Roberta Metsola’s own Nationalist Party, which – back in the 1990s, and all the way up to 2013 – had originally set the ball rolling, for Malta’s transformation into precisely the sort of ‘traffic hell’, that the same party now has the audacity to actually complain about, itself.

Then again, however: Roberta Metsola didn’t exactly blame the European Union (still less, the PN), for its own part in this catastrophic failure, did she now?

Of course not! Don’t be silly. There are, after all, such things as ‘European elections’, to be held next year...