How is Malta’s corruption and lack of good governance affecting the EU?

, by Christine Mamo

How is Malta's corruption and lack of good governance affecting the EU?
Malta’s capital of Valetta has been the site of many recent protests. Image credit: Dudva

The European Parliament has expressed its concern that the crisis surrounding the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta will affect other member states.

Malta is risking EU sanctions following the revelation that members in the Maltese government allegedly had a part in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. All of this has numerous consequences for the European Union.

“There is a problem,” said the head of the EU delegation, Sophie in ’t Veld, who investigated the situation in Malta as part of the LIBE (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) committee on behalf of the European Parliament. “This is not just between the Prime Minister and the Maltese people but it is also between Malta and the EU. Cooperation within the EU is based on trust and it is very evident to everybody that that trust has been very seriously damaged. All have to abide by the same rules and we can only be a European Union if we can trust each other. The basis for that trust does not seem to be there at the moment.”

“I want all the facts to emerge in Daphne Caruana Galizia murder,” said former Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in mid-November. “As a party, we need to establish ourselves as the movement that safeguards institutions. We need to be there to show, and facts will continue to show, that institutions in our country are working.”

A debate took place on 17th December in at the European Parliament in Strasbourg following the return of the LIBE committee arrived back from its two-day fact-finding mission in Malta. Iratxe Garper, an MEP from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group, said that her “political group has always and will always defend the rule of law and the truth. We need the truth here. The murder of a journalist is a matter of grave concern.”

The majority of the MEPs present at the debate said that if the dignity of the country is not restored, all members of the EU would be marked with the same crisis. “We need to restore dignity to a country that should not be regarded as a place where dirty money is recycled or where passports are sold to Russian magnates,” said EP President Antonio Tajani at the same debate.

What is the situation in Malta?

A taxi driver, Melvin Theuma, was initially arrested following allegations of his involvement in money laundering. As things did not seem good for Theuma, he decided to ask for a Presidential pardon to reveal information about the assassination of Caruana Galizia back in 2017. As he was given the pardon, he named Yorgen Fenech as being his partner in the assassination. Yorgen Fenech, a businessman in Malta, also asked to be given the Presidential pardon but this was refused. Despite this, Fenech told the media outside court that he will be revealing information about this case. Fenech accused the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, of having played a part in the assassination, well as two ministers, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona.

All of these people are linked by one person; the former Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, who has, for years, protected some of those allegedly involved in the assassination. All of this led to hundreds of people taking to the streets and protesting, demanding for the used-to-be most trusted Prime Minister to resign at once. After a number of protests, Muscat resigned on 13 January as Dr. Robert Abela took his place as Prime Minister.

How is this crisis affecting the countries of the EU?

“The situation in Malta has consequences for the entire European project,” said German head of the EPP Group, Manfred Weber. “I think this Parliament needs to point out, that the assassination of a journalist with clear political links must have clear political consequences.”

If a member state were to be found to have violated the rule of law, the European Parliament has the power to call for a sanctioning procedure.

“It is not only the fate of Malta which is hanging in the balance,” said the head of the Maltese Nationalist Party delegation in the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola. “If [Joseph Muscat] is not held accountable for his clear violations of the rule of law, we put at risk the strong foundation of the entire EU. When Malta joined the EU, it promised to play by the rules.”

The President of Malta, George Vella, said in a Christmas message that the time in Malta is not easy for anyone while admitting that he is feeling sad and shocked with the situation of the Caruana Galizia case.

The assassination of the Maltese journalist was also an attack on the freedom of the press in Europe given that Caruana Galizia was murdered for revealing scandals about members in the Government. A spokesperson said that the European Commission is working to make it safe for any journalist to work in Europe. He added that “if journalists are silenced, so is democracy.”

“We started a process to reform the institutions and we won’t stop until the whole constitutional process is concluded,” said Maltese MEP Josianne Cutajar. “An action against Malta by the European Parliament would be prejudicial to these changes.” Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola said that the situation in Malta will not only have negative consequences on the country, but on all EU member states.

“The political and constitutional crisis in Malta must be a catalyst for change also on a European level,” said Metsola. “We need to have mechanisms in place to ensure that we have the tools to prevent criminality and corruption at the highest level of EU member states. In crisis situations like Malta, people look to the EU for legal and moral leadership. We cannot have more platitudes, we need concrete action and for that to happen, the EU needs to develop instruments to protect people from corruption. Corruption kills. Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated because she exposed corruption at the highest levels of government.”

She added that the European Parliament does not wish to punish any government, political party or any individual, but rather help Malta to safeguard its rights. “Rebuilding the integrity of the Maltese government and safeguarding the rights of the Maltese people rebuilds the integrity of the EU and safeguards the rights of all Europeans,” said Metsola.

“I have always seen this Parliament raising its voice to claim the respect of the rule of law to several governments of the EU and the freedom of the press,” said Manfred Weber. “Today it’s time to do the same in Malta. Let’s raise our voices together!”

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