Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has been appointed secretary-general of the European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament, a role he will take up as of March.
As a result of this new job, Busuttil will step down as an MP from Malta’s Parliament.
Busuttil first came to prominence on the Maltese political scene when he campaigned for Malta to join the EU ahead of the 2003 referendum. This role effectively placed him in an information battle with Joseph Muscat, who formally stepped down as Prime Minister yesterday.
The two men were on different sides of the fence ahead of the referendum, with Muscat strongly campaigning against EU accession and Busuttil strongly campaigning in favour. After the ‘Yes to Europe’ side won the 2003 referendum, both Busuttil and Muscat were elected to the European Parliament, with both politicians receiving the highest number of votes from their respective parties.
Muscat left the European Parliament in 2008 to become Labour Party leader, while Busuttil left Brussels five years later to contest the general election as deputy leader of the PN.
Following Muscat’s historic triumph over the PN and Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi’s subsequent resignation, Busuttil was appointed PN and Opposition leader.
As PN leader, Busuttil is best-known for taking a strong stance against corruption, particularly in the wake of the Panama Papers, which found that former Minister Konrad Mizzi and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri held offshore companies in which they attended to deposit large sums of money from two Dubai companies, one of which was owned by major Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech. Fenech has since been charged with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The PN organised a number of anti-corruption protests to demand the resignations of Mizzi and Schembri, with the protests typically ending with a speech by Busuttil himself.
However, he had his own fair share of critics, particularly within the Labour Party, who accused him of trying to destabilise the economy as a pretext to become Prime Minister himself.
When Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote that the Panama company Egrant belonged to Muscat’s wife, Busuttil immediately called for the Prime Minister’s resignation and called a protest for the following weekend.
Muscat, who denounced the Egrant claims as an absolute lie, instead called a snap general election a year before it was due. The election campaign was marked by the clear personal animosity between Busuttil and Muscat, typified by a Xarabank debate in which both leaders said that the other leader’s body language showed that they were lying.
Trailing badly in the polls, Busuttil entered into a coalition with the nascent Partit Demokratiku but was heavily defeated by some 35,000 votes.
Busuttil tendered his resignation as PN leader and was succeeded by a political outsider, his old law classmate Adrian Delia. During this campaign, Daphne Caruana Galizia alleged that Delia had helped launder money for a Soho prostitution ring back in the early 2000s and Busuttil urged Delia to withdraw his candidature.
However, Delia ignored him and went on to win the PN’s internal election, with voters warming up to his call for the PN to stop being an “elitist” party and to reach out to Maltese people from all walks of life.
A month later, Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in a car bomb, filling Busuttil with a new political vigour. The former PN leader attended several protests demanding justice for the slain journalist, including a sit-in outside the police headquarters, and was a regular presence at the monthly Valletta vigils.
In February 2018, Delia appointed Busuttil as his spokesperson for good governance but he removed him from the role a few months later after a magisterial inquiry found no evidence that the Panama company Egrant belonged to Muscat’s wife. Delia also called on Busuttil to suspend himself from the PN parliamentary group, but the former PN leader refused to do so and was supported by several PN MPs.
Busuttil stayed on in Parliament, but his intention to seek pastures now was highlighted when MaltaToday reported in January 2019 that he had applied, but had been turned down for, the job of executive director of the European Union Asylum Office.
Busuttil was one of the first people to call for Muscat’s resignation when Yorgen Fenech was arrested on 20th November 2019 in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Muscat ended up tendering his resignation after Fenech implicated his chief of staff Keith Schembri in the murder and officially stepped down yesterday, with MP and Cabinet’s former legal consultant Robert Abela succeeding him.
Joseph Muscat’s ‘earthquake’ destroyed our country’s reputation. Now that he’s finally out, we need to turn the page on this dark chapter, start afresh and get out of this abyss once and for all. pic.twitter.com/yqrgVc8mHe
— Simon Busuttil (@SimonBusuttil) January 10, 2020
“Joseph Muscat’s ‘earthquake’ destroyed our country’s reputation,” Busuttil reacted to his old adversary’s resignation. “Now that he’s finally out, we need to turn the page on this dark chapter, start afresh and get out of this abyss once and for all.”
Busuttil will now return to Brussels as secretary-general of the EPP, the most senior role in the European Parliament’s largest political group. He will succeed German national Martin Kamp, who has occupied the position since 2007, and will work closely with EPP chairman Manfred Weber and newly-elected EPP president Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council.
What do you make of Simon Busuttil’s new job?