Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s unrivalled dominance over the Maltese political landscape has seen him emerge as a major power player across the entire European Union. His economic success and liberal approach has endeared him to the generally progressive European block, despite the serious allegations levelled against his government.
As one of Malta’s worst kept secrets, Muscat has long been rumoured to hold lofty ambitions to occupy a top EU post. With the terms of many of the body’s top officials expiring at the end of May, after the upcoming elections, Muscat could leave his Prime Ministerial role by the end of 2019, before the end of his promised two-term cycle.
And with political leaders from Macron to Berlusconi regularly singing Muscat’s praises, it would appear that he’s gearing up to take that step.
EPP’s Dominance May Mean That EU Council or EU Commission President Will Be A Step Too Far
Undoubtedly, the president of one of the two leading EU institutions would be the most attractive positions on offer, both providing a level of influence that will allow him to have a significant effect on the direction the EU will take during the uncertainty of Brexit and the emergence of anti-EU parties across the continent.
Being a Prime Minister who actually currently sits on the council puts Muscat in good stead, with former heads of state regularly occupying both roles, either due to some sort of cliquey clientelism or because of the belief that a former executive may have the best experience for the roles.
In fact, current EU Commissioner Jean Claude Juncker is the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and current EU Council President Donald Tusk is the former Prime Minister of Poland.
However, with the European People’s Party (EPP) (of which the Labour Party is not apart) set to be the largest political grouping within the European Parliament and the Party of European Socialists (PES) set to make dramatic losses, the individual’s occupying these two key roles are highly unlikely to come from Muscat’s political family
The EU’s High Representative For Foreign Affairs and Security seems like a likely destination
With Council and Commission President seemingly out of reach for the present time, Muscat could turn his interest to the massively influential High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a role which will most likely be filled by a member of one of the larger EP political groups.
Currently occupied by Federica Mogherini, the role is sort of the EU’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. Mogherini herself is no longer be a viable option for the role, with a waning political influence within her own member state, after two anti-EU parties emerged to dominate the Italian political landscape.
Meanwhile, despite his insistence that he is an underdog, Muscat enjoys unrivalled popularity and political dominance at home meaning he could establish Malta as a key driver behind policy.
Muscat, through his strong stance on migration and ability for the country to assist in formulating ad-hoc agreements between member states amid worsening diplomatic tensions over irregular migration in the Mediterranean, may work in his favour.
He’s also already been able to position himself as a spokesperson for EU affairs regularly featuring on Politico to discuss key issues like Brexit and even carrying an opinion piece on the issue that was co-signed by EP leaders across the political spectrum in the Guardian.
Could his political baggage hold him back?
Muscat’s perennial links to corruption and the Panama Papers through two of the most important people in his government, Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, came to an apex with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, his most vociferous critic.
Tensions have over-flowed into the European Parliament with rule of law resolutions over Malta passing by overwhelming majorities, indicating that Muscat may have potentially soured any sort of goodwill he may have had in the EU by failing to take concise action against the pair.
The inquiries surrounding 17 Black, passport kick-backs, and other allegations are yet to be concluded and it may actually be wise for Muscat to jump ship early should any of the claims be proven correct.
However, the EU has in the past protected officials despite the controversies surrounding their affairs back home. Juncker himself was found to have orchestrated Luxembourg’s transformation into a major European centre of corporate tax avoidance during his premiership just days after becoming head of the Commission.
If all else fails, why not just appoint himself to the Commission?
The end of the latest European political cycle will also see the term of EU Commissioner For Fisheries and the Environment Karmenu Vella come to a close, opening up a potentially lucrative position for Muscat. The Commissioner is directly appointed by the Maltese government (on approval from the EU’s institutions) and should Muscat be snubbed for any of the key roles, he may just look at his home to get him an EU position, something which his popularity and control will yield.
He may just stay on…
Despite the mumblings of power-plays among those jostling to take Muscat’s place (see claims of Konrad Mizzi’s leadership bid), his cabinet members, MPs, and supporters have urged him to stay on.
Yes, he’s said he would never serve more than two terms, and has even suggested imposing a constitutional limit himself, but would any of his supporters actually care if he went back on this promise?
With two record landslides that have left the PN in ruins and a wealth of young talent occupying the PL, Muscat may just listen to their request and continue leading the country beyond 2022 to build an unrivalled long-term dynasty.