Update 2 | Government reacts to Labour motion for Richard Cachia Caruana's resignation
Labour say Wikileaks cables revealed Richard Cachia Caruana's active lobbying for Malta's re-entry into the Partnership for Peace, bypassing the country's sovereignty.
20 April 2012, 12:00am
The Office of the Prime Minister has denied that there was any proposal in 2004 for Malta to become a member of Nato's Partnership for Peace, accusing the Opposition - which today filed a motion calling for the resignation of Richard Cachia Caruana - of misunderstanding contents of US embassy cables concerning Malta.
The Labour Party tabled a motion of censure at 9:30am, calling for the resignation of Malta's permanent representative to the European Union, Richard Cachia Caruana, for his 'behind-the-scenes' role in bringing Malta into Nato's Partnership for Peace in 2008 and bypassing the parliamentary procedure for this decision.
Shadow foreign minister George Vella cited the contents revealed in US embassy cables by Wikileaks in 2011, which showed Cachia Caruana had actively lobbied the United States as early as 2004 to reactivate Malta's participation in the PfP.
"This motion is being presented because it was revealed clearly how Cachia Caruana had manipulated events, together with another country, to bypass Malta's parliamentary sovereignty. He convinced the prime minister to take a decision that goes beyond democratic norms," Vella said.
While Vella - who in 1996 signed an "unconditional withdrawal" from the PfP after Labour was elected to power - said the PL was always suspicious of the "dubious" way in which PfP membership was reactivated, the Wikileaks cables revealing Cachia Caruana's lobbying were published in 2011.
Labour's motion comes just a week after Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando raised opposition against the government's support of Turkish membership into the EU - the same country had opposed Malta's participation into Nato-EU security meetings, because the island was not a Nato member.
"The permanent representative advised Malta's government, and actively devised a way so that there is no parliamentary accountability in these decisions. With his actions, the Permanent Representative put the interests of other countries above our country's; this House deplores the fact that the Maltese parliament was bypassed in sensitive matters, with no public discussion of something not even included in the government's electoral mandate," the motion reads.
Referring to one of the cables which detailed meetings between Cachia Caruana and United States officials in Brussels, the OPM said the cables concern a 2004 meeting in which the permanent representative and US diplomats discussed how Malta could gain access to Nato-EU documents, so that Malta participates in these strategic meetings with Nato.
"It is clear that the discussions were on the security agreements with Nato that Malta had signed in 1996, and not any proposal by anybody in 2004 for Malta to enter the Partnership for Peace.
"The facts are clearly the opposite of what the Labour opposition understands. Our country deserves a more serious Opposition."
In a statement, Labour said government's reply was "weak" and said it had nothing with which to contradict the motion. "Labour invites GonziPN to debate the motion in parliament without any delay."
Richard Cachia Caruana was instrumental in bringing Malta into the stream of Nato's Partnership for Peace by overturning Labour's "unconditional withdrawal" in 1996. [FULL STORY in MaltaToday - 5 September, 2011]
As revealed in the US embassy cables, Cachia Caruana proposed a "procedural bandaid" by which Malta would argue that it had not withdrawn from the PfP, but "simply ceased active participation" making it possible to say that the prior PfP agreement 'remained in force'.
Cachia Caruana actively lobbied the US for support as early as 2004, because Turkey was blocking both Malta and Cyprus from joining the Nato-EU fora: specifically as retaliation for the isolation of Turkish Cypriots after the rejection of the Annan plan for reunification by Greek Cypriots.
Malta was caught in the crossfire because Turkey was demanding that both countries become PfP members as well as sign a Nato security agreement, which option faced domestic opposition in both Cyprus and Malta.
As described by US ambassador Molly Bordonaro in an embassy cable leaked by Wikileaks: "Malta officials estimate popular sentiment runs 50/50 over Malta rejoining NATO PfP... given the current stalemate over the NATO security agreement and political challenges to rejoin PfP, the question arose whether Malta had withdrawn completely from PfP in 1996, or simply ended its active participation and its Individual Partner Program."
Cachia Caruana's solution was to have Malta declare that it had simply suspended participation in PfP in 1996, but not that it had formally withdrawn from the agreements.
This was in direct contrast to the "unconditional withdrawal" of the Labour government in 1996. As shadow foreign minister George Vella told ambassador Douglas Kmiec in November 2009, Labour had executed a "complete unconditional withdrawal" from PfP, having himself approved the letter to NATO.
He went on to tell Kmiec that it would have been "improper for NATO to have characterised the action as a suspension" and that the government had no basis to "reactivate" Malta's PfP membership.
Gonzi never made any public pronouncement on his intentions to 'reactivate' the PfP membership. On 31 January 2008 - two month before his re-election - he informed ambassador Molly Bordonaro that Malta would rejoin PfP if the Nationalists win the elections.
Left rudderless after their defeat in the March 2008 elections with Alfred Sant's resignation, Labour sat silent as Gonzi and Tonio Borg rushed to Brussels the day after victory to sign the PfP agreement.
Cachia Caruana's strategy gave Gonzi a unilateral approach that meant he did not need the House's approval - but most importantly, bypass the Turkish stumbling block of signing a NATO security agreement.
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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