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‘It’s all small island talk: Konrad’s got nothing to do with the way Panama is discussed internally’ | Alfred Sant

Ask the MEP • From Panama Papers to migration, to Europe's relationship with Russia: Labour MEP Alfred Sant tells it exactly as he thinks

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
23 January 2017, 10:00am
Labour MEP Alfred Sant
Labour MEP Alfred Sant
How has Panama Papers impacted Malta’s defence of its taxation system? Can Malta withstand the European Commission’s plans for a common corporate tax base?

The Panama Papers and LuxLeaks revealed systematic agreements for tax evasion and tax avoidance on an industrial scale. Some politicians are now seeing it an excuse to bring in tax harmonization, such as the European Greens’ recent report that claimed that Malta is a tax haven.

I get the Nationalist Party’s reaction; if I were part of the opposition I’d probably be doing the same. I have made my position clear on the issue [that Konrad Mizzi should resign] and it hasn’t changed.

Minister Konrad Mizzi (left) and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (right) have both been implicated in the Panama Papers revelations
Minister Konrad Mizzi (left) and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (right) have both been implicated in the Panama Papers revelations
However, it’s all small island talk really; Konrad Mizzi himself has got absolutely nothing to do with the way the Panama Papers is being discussed internally.

When people like Jean-Claude Juncker are implicated in LuxLeaks, then Konrad Mizzi becomes a relative small fry. The real problem is that Germany doesn’t like Malta’s tax system, because it claims that it siphons tax revenue from their coffers.

Malta has always been in favour of increased tax transparency to combat tax evasion, but non-harmonised tax is the last tool that small countries have at their disposal to regulate their competitveness. Tax harmonization would be completely outside the EU’s remit.

How realistic is Joseph Muscat’s plan for the EU and the Libyan navy to conduct joint patrols in the Mediterranean to repatriate asylum seekers intercepted outside Libyan territorial waters?

The Maltese government is now mooting the idea of striking a deal with other North African countries such as Algeria and Egypt on stemming migratory flows
The Maltese government is now mooting the idea of striking a deal with other North African countries such as Algeria and Egypt on stemming migratory flows
I fully agree with it. The EU must start from somewhere, but this plan shouldn’t only be seen in the context of Libya. This will hopefully be just one aspect of a holistic Mediterranean policy that will include migrant deals similar to the EU-Turkey deal with Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia. We also need to start tackling the African dimension to the problem, revitalize their economies and set up an EU-run coastguard.

How concerned are you about Russia’s meddling in European and American politics? Should the EU loosen its sanctions on Russia if Trump goes down that route?

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Come on, the US has been interfering in foreign affairs and foreign elections for so long. It interfered in elections in Chile, and only last year found itself embroiled in controversy for having tapped Angela Merkel’s personal cellphone.

I agree that Russia has become too authoritarian, but for the EU to accuse it of interfering in its politics when some MEPs themselves had formed part of the Orange Revolution? What are they saying? That we can do whatever we want but Russia cannot? It’s ridiculous.

To accuse Russia of aiding populist European parties is a bit of a stretch? How exactly is it aiding them? Because Marine Le Pen took out a loan from a Russian bank? If certain sectors of a country have views that Russia agrees with, then yes, it will come out in favour of them. The European Parliament also uses strong language against Russia in some of the resolutions it adopts, but does that mean that it is interfering in Russian affairs?

The problem all boils down to the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990s. Europe screwed it up back then – instead of admitting that it had to accept complementariness with Russia, it took advantage of the fact that Russia was on its back and profited off it.

Now Russia is back on its feet and fighting back. 

I’m not in favour of everything that Trump says, but there’s salt in some of the stuff he’s saying. A US economist recently told the S&D meeting that Trump may be boorish, but that Hillary Clinton could have been an even worse option because she forms part of an elite establishment that would have increased confrontation between the US and Russia.

Do you agree with the accession of Turkey to the EU under the present circumstances prevailing in the country under Erdogan?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
It’s a joke. The EU has been taking Turkey up the road for ages; the truth is that most people at the top of the EU absolutely don’t want Turkey to become an EU member state. The EU absolutely shouldn’t try and act as an agent for regime change and try to impose its values on other countries. Look at how that strategy had worked in Iraq and Libya and how it’s working in Syria…

Do you think the EU should support Assad’s government?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
The red line on foreign interference should be terrorism. Admittedly there are grey areas in that definition sometimes, but there are some obvious cases, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Assad leads a government that has been recognized by the UN so there is already a legalistic approach to it. You can’t just try and depose Assad without having a back-up plan. There is no alternative to Assad right now, so sure, keep him where he is.

How do you compare internal debate in the European Socialists group with that of the Labour Party in Malta?

'There are many more streams of thought in the S&D than in the Labour Party – some are all out in federalism, some are more halfway...'
'There are many more streams of thought in the S&D than in the Labour Party – some are all out in federalism, some are more halfway...'
It’s a very different context. There are many more streams of thought in the S&D than in the Labour Party – some are all out in federalism, some are more halfway... Yet the debates are also more static because we have to use translators, which also means that debates are limited in time because of the interpetors’ working hours.

The main problems being discussed in the S&D right now are not related to Malta, but on the impact of austerity policies on socialist parties across Europe. The embracement of austerity – a rightist policy – has damaged socialist parties and we’re now losing constituents to populist parties across the continent.