A fiery debate erupted within the European Parliament over the rule of law resolution that makes specific mention to Malta and Slovakia.
Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes collided with Maltese MEPs over her claims that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s judgement was being “clouded by the mafia” as he “continued to protect Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murderers”.
PL MEP Miriam Dalli would later describe her intervention as “incoherent.”
This followed a debate over tax issues held right before the rule of law resolution where Gomes and PL MEP Alfred Sant clashed, with the latter slamming the EU from promoting “tax populism” and “bias” against smaller member states.
In response, Gomes asked Sant what exactly he had done to fight corruption issues in Malta, making reference to the Panama papers revelations that implicated both Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri.
PN MEP Roberta Metsola backed the resolution, insisting that it “defends Maltese and European values”.
“Maltese fought against impossible odds to deliver us to our European destiny,” she said. “We did that not only because of economics or travel or funding. We faced down the doomsday scenarios of people, who ironically now find themselves in this very room because we knew then as we know now that We are Maltese, We are Gozitan and We are European. Maltese values are European values.”
“The European Parliament resolution provides the framework for future action by the Governments of Malta and Slovakia to strengthen the rule of law in the Member States and to ensure that the pillars of European democracy remain strong. This should not be controversial,” she continued.
PL MEP Miriam Dalli was quick to point out that resolution failed to mention the government’s decision to implement certain changes. Last week, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici announced plans for reforms in a number of institutions such as the Attorney General, Judiciary and Police following recommendations by the Venice Commission.
“The resolution does not give a clear picture of what is happening in the country,” Dalli said.
She also noted that these reforms had been neglected by previous administrations. While correct to some extent, it should also be noted that the PL Opposition headed by Sant had in fact shot down an attempt to change the AG’s role in 2002.
Sant would go on to tell the EP that the rule of law debate was the result of ‘biased’ interests coming from national partisan politics, saying that inquiries and investigations simply “seek to tarnish the image of the island.”
Speaking before the debate, EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová said that the EU has consistently fought issues of rule of law regardless of who the member state was, making reference to previous debates over Hungary and Poland.
She also said that with regards to Malta, the EU stressed the importance of ensuring media freedom in the country, also making particular reference to the lack of effective investigation and prosecution when it came to high-profile corruption cases.
It should be noted that while making specific mention to Malta and Slovakia, the resolution does have a wider EU focus.
The resolution does expressly call on Maltese authorities to establish an independent inquiry into the murder of Caruana Galizia that can lead to a speedy identification of its masterminds, to publish the full version of the Egrant Inquiry and launch an investigation into corruption and the links between 17 Black, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri.
There are also calls for the country to shore up its cash-for-passports scheme.
Last week, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told Lovin Malta action will be taken against the masterminds of Caruana Galizia’s murder once more evidence was available. While he did say that the investigations were at an advanced stage, he would not comment on specific details to the case, adding that it would do nothing but fuel speculation.
So far, three men have been arrested and charged in relation to the crime. In contrast, Multimillionaire Marian Kocner has been identified as the mastermind behind the murders of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova.
A vote was originally supposed to take place in April but will now take place on Thursday, after it was pushed forward so as not to clash with the second run-off of the Slovak Presidential Election.
MEPs feared that a debate and vote on the issue could prejudice the election result and wished to send a message that the debate was an important non-partisan issue.