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Brimming with energy

This may be her first time contesting a general election, but MIRIAM DALLI is far from a newcomer. The former MEP and current Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development tells Claudia Calleja about her political journey so far and her hopes for the future.

A little boy runs through the corridors of the ministry and peeks into Miriam Dalli’s office, before realising he should not be there because she is busy. 

She turns and smiles at him – the son of a staff member – as we settle down for the interview. I ask about the collage of family photos that take up a corner of her office, right opposite her huge desk. 

“Those came with me from my office in Brussels,” she says as she sips her espresso after a busy morning of meetings. I ask the photographer to try to capture the family photos. 

“You are already visualising your story, right?” she asks. I nod as I am reminded that she started off as a journalist for the Labour Party television station One. 

“Entering politics was not a planned path. Back then I thought I’d be a journalist for life. If you would have asked me if I was interested in contesting an election, I would have replied: definitely not,” she says. 

Dalli always took life one step at a time. After working as a journalist, she developed an interest in managing people and completed a Master’s in Business Administration which, she says, came in handy when she became news editor of One News. 

Meanwhile, as the country debated joining the European Union, she grew interested in the subject and completed another MA, in European Studies. 

As time passed, she wanted a change – so she studied law. In total she spent 15 years at university, all the while working while she studied and built a strong skill set. 

“As a journalist you have to work against deadlines and learn to focus on the important things. Studying business helped me manage teams. Law helped when it came to negotiating and drafting legislation at EU level and gave me a legal perspective. The seven years I spent in Brussels gave me a European perspective and built my negotiation skills,” she says. 

Her journalism days, she adds, also helped prepare her to deal with the media in her public roles. 

“Journalists keep you accountable. This is part of the job. I expect uncomfortable questions and make sure I have an answer. I question myself all the time so that, if there is something I am not comfortable with, it’s a no-go,” she says. 

Dalli stepped into the political world when the PL approached her to contest the 2014 MEP elections. She had just given birth to her firstborn, Jack, who was just three weeks old when she accepted, with the support of her husband, John. 

“I felt I had the right background and that I could do a good job,” she says. Between 2014 and October 2020 she built a strong track record. Amongst other things, she served as vice-chair of the Socialists and Democrats. She was responsible for the Group’s position on the European Green Deal, spearheaded the EU’s regulation on reducing carbon emissions from cars and vans, and worked on the EU’s position on single-use plastics and pesticides. 

Then in 2020, when Robert Abela became Prime Minister, she stepped down as MEP and was sworn in as minister in November 2020. 

Leaving Brussels was a tough decision. “It was not an easy decision, but I believe I can make a positive change in people’s lives and across the board as a country,” she says. 

“I’m passionate about the decarbonised economy and helping enterprises be more efficient and would like to keep working in that direction. But I remain open to any challenge,” she says when asked what role she would pick if she could. 

Dalli is quick to add: “I don’t take it for granted that I will be elected. Like everything else in life, you need to work hard for what you want. My mother always taught me and my sister that we need to work hard and, since we’re girls, even harder,” she says elaborating that her mother had studied to be a nurse but, back then, had to give up her career after getting married and having children. 

Dalli attributes her drive and determination to her mother. Hard work never scared her off – whether it meant studying for 15 years while working, or juggling being a new mother and a new MEP. 

“It’s not easy. There were sacrifices. After three years I had my second son, Kane. I used to take both sons with me to Brussels until they were two years old. I’d travel carrying a backpack, a child and a pushchair,” she says stressing that she was lucky to have the support she needed to make this career move.

Now that her sons are eight and five and she is based in Malta, her typical day starts at 5am, when she wakes up to exercise before getting the children ready for school together with her husband, then heads out for a day of meetings. Sometimes she takes her boys to her office after school and, in order to spend time with her family in the evening, she tries to avoid evening events. 

“I encourage people to bring their children to the office if they need to. I think this is important. In my first years in Brussels, when my sons were small, I would take them with me to the office. If anyone had an issue with that it was their problem and not mine,” she says unapologetically. 

I ask her if her sons know what’s happening. While they know she is a minister, they don’t really grasp what that is. “I tell them I help the prime minister. They ask what the prime minister does and I say he manages the country. To which they reply: why aren’t you prime minister?” 

Does she aspire to be prime minister? Is Malta ready for a woman to lead the country? 

“Malta is ready for a woman, but women need to have that opportunity. We still have a patriarchal society. We need to provide support systems because it is still difficult to advance in politics if you are a woman,” she says.

So will she be that person – the first woman prime minister? 

“Right now I’m happy doing what I’m doing. It’s a role that has to be considered if particular circumstances arise. The party has a prime minister that has only been there for two years and we will continue supporting him. We are a good team at the moment and I hope to continue working together,” she says. 

Does her political career have an expiry date? Is she craving a new chapter in her varied life? 

“My next chapter is still a blank page which we will fill as we go along,” she says. 

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