MEPs debated the rule of law in Malta following the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia
The European Parliament convened this evening to debate the state of the rule of law in Malta, the second such debate since the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia last month.
As with the first debate, Caruana Galizia’s family were present in the Strasbourg hall as MEPs from all political groups lined up to lambast the Maltese government and institutions, as well as the country’s taxation system and sale-of-citizenship scheme.
One MEP demanded the European Commission suspend its friendship with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, while another compared the situation in Malta to the Netflix TV series Narcos.
Yet European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans made it clear from the start that he has no general concerns on Malta’s non-compliance on rule of law issues.
Here’s a summary, in quotes, of what went down in the European Parliament tonight:
1. No general concerns about Malta’ – Frank Timmermans, EC vice-president
“The rights of a journalist and a blogger to investigate and ask uncomfortable questions lie at the heart of our society. Bringing those responsible for Caruana Galizia’s murder to justice must be the top priority for the Maltese authorities. Malta must show the world that its rules and regulations are healthy and robust, and it is important to me that the government has indicated the prosecution and investigation will be allowed to run their full course regardless of their results.
EU rules, such as those against money laundering, must be implemented on the ground, but the facts from our analyses raise no general concerns on Malta’s overall compliance although improvements can be made.”
2. ‘We should all be ashamed of ourselves’ – Esteban Gonzalez Pons (EPP):
“We don’t yet know who killed Daphne, who ordered the killing and who supported the killing, but we should all be ashamed because without her murder we wouldn’t be aware of what is going on in Malta. Media houses are being blackmailed by banks suspected of money laundering, high government officials have been implicated and police authorities are refusing to investigate the allegations because they have economic and personal ties with the government. We must say loud and clear that Europe’s values and principles are more important than money. Europe is about justice and rule of law, but it is also about freedom, transparency and truth.”
3. ‘Saying the rule of law has collapsed is exaggerated’ – Tanja Fajon (S&D)
“My Maltese colleagues have assured me the government is putting all its efforts into the investigation, and I strongly welcome that, just as I welcome Malta’s recent legislation on media laws, whistleblower legislation, artist censorship, and financing of political parties. This murder highlighted corruption at the top of politics and we demand answers to all of this, but I cannot welcome the exaggerated claims from the EPP that the rule of law in Malta has collapsed.”
4. ’Juncker must suspend his friendship with Muscat’ – Maite Pagazaurtundua Ruiz (ALDE)
“An entire system of tax havens has formed, with corruption at its heart, and this is placing our freedom of expression at risk. There are structural problems in Malta which undermine democracy, such as how you can purchase citizenship if you have enough money. Daphne was trying to condemn impunity in Malta but paid the price with her own life. We should do our best to ensure that this cannot happen again. There is no point in the European Council or Commission shedding crocodile tears, and [EC presidnet] Jean-Claude Juncker must suspend his friendship with Joseph Muscat until the situation on the rule of law in Malta is clarified.”
5. ‘Insinuations are being brewed like instant coffee’ – Alfred Sant (S&D)
“The European Parliament must assess the facts or it risks losing its credibility when debating the rule of law. This brutal assassination has shocked us all and justice needs to be done, but Malta is now being perceived as having deficiencies on the basis of jumbled facts, unproven allegations, innuendos and issues irrelevant to the rule of law. Is this a tit for tat for rule of law problems of other member states? The Maltese government has just been re-elected by a majority not represented by any other party in this House and has overseen the highest economic growth in Europe. Insinuations are being brewed like instant coffee, and this tactic can be used to make all member states smell foul.”
6. ‘Europe is the last bastion of hope for the Maltese’ – Roberta Metsola (EPP)
“All is not well in Malta and remaining silent would make us complicit in how the authorities are pillaging our children’s legacy. The European Parliament has become the last bastion of hope to the Maltese people, and indeed we joined the EU to ensure no politician with delusions of grandeur will trample on our rights without our European partners helping us out.”
“Daphne’s execution exposed how the ruling party has used its majority to run roughshod over the rule of law. It is unacceptable that the press are under threat and that the police refuse to investigate corruption. Muscat calls us traitors and says he is defending Malta from evil Europe, because he thinks he can intimidate everyone but we will not be silenced. The situation is desperate – don’t let us down when we need you the most.”
7. ‘EU must investigate MFSA chairman’ – Sven Giegold (Greens)
“How is it possible that the head of the Malta Financial Services Authority [Joe Bannister] is at the same time the vice president of Malta’s financial development agency [Finance Malta]? The boss of the financial services regulator is also the boss of those who want to develop the sector, and the European Commission should take action to clarify what conflicts of interest in that area mean.”
8. ‘While we’re here, Muscat is selling passports’ – Werner Langen (EPP)
“While we’re here, Joseph Muscat is currently selling passports in Hong Kong, which he describes as promoting investment. The arrogant way in which the government has acted, regardless of public opinion and the Panama Papers, underlines how much is rotten in Malta. Unless the Socialists Group suspends Muscat’s membership, then they will lose credibility.”
“We have seen how Malta’s head of police was fired after an investigation [into former European Commissioner John Dalli] and how its state prosecutor made allegations that were never published. The impression I get is that Malta isn’t guaranteeing the separation of powers, and it requires massive support from the European Parliament and the European Commission.”
9. ’This reminds me of Narcos’ – Georg Mayer (ENF)
“It’s clear that there are things going on in Malta which must be taken really seriously. An investigative journalist was killed in broad daylight – this seems more like the Netflix series Narcos than an EU member state, but that is the reality in Malta. More and more facts are coming to light – from drug dealings to corruption. What is really going on in Malta? We must shed some light on this.”
10. ‘The problem is Malta’s deregulation policies’ – Ana Gomes (S&D)
“This is not about the current Maltese government, but about a policy of deregulation which Malta has followed for many years and which has led it to becoming a tax haven at the heart of the EU. Letterbox companies and corruption have proliferated, EU citizenship is being sold, and Daphne’s murder was just the most glaring example of this threat of the links between politics, business and finance. Malta must rethink its development model and stop being a specialist in tax evasion and money laundering.”
11. ‘Panama Papers was the last straw for people in austerity’ – Eva Joly (Verts/ALE)
“I have a message for Joseph Muscat – elections cannot substitute police investigations. Malta’s tax rules must be changed because they are undermining the future of the EU, and indeed the Panama Papers revelations were the final straw for people suffering from the effects of austerity. The EU must end this unfair tax competition in one of its member states.”