Prime Minister faces grilling by MEPs on Panama Papers, Malta’s rule of law

The Labour leader is said to be relishing the opportunity to face MEPs after telling supporters at a victory rally on Saturday that he would be travelling to Strasbourg as the “shield” of his country.

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
14 June 2017, 8:00am
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat will face MEPs in Strasbourg
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat will face MEPs in Strasbourg
Just over a week after he was reconfirmed as Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat will today appear before MEPs in Strasbourg to answer questions on the Panama Papers and Malta’s rule of law.

The Labour leader, re-elected for a second term with a 35,000 majority, is said to be relishing the opportunity to face MEPs after telling supporters at a victory rally on Saturday that he would be travelling to Strasbourg as the “shield” of his country.

“Some people in this country did their utmost to tarnish Malta’s reputation, but they soon realized that the public had rejected that tactic,” he said. “I will be Malta’s shield.”

The plenary debate in Strasbourg, proposed by the EPP and the Green Party, was originally scheduled to be held last month but was postponed to this afternoon amid fears that the timing could have interfered with Malta’s snap election.

The European People’s Party – home to the PN – had requested a debate titled “Situation in Malta: the need for the rule of law”, following the trend of recent EP debates on the political situations in Hungary and Poland.

Meanwhile, the European Greens had called for a debate specifically focusing on the Maltese aspect of the Panama Papers – which revealed that tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri had owned offshore companies.

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes confirmed with MaltaToday that Muscat will also face questions about Malta’s tax regime – which critics warn facilitates corporate tax avoidance.

Indeed, the MEPs heading the European Parliament’s Panama Papers committee had called for Malta’s taxation system to become more transparent, for the country to set up a public registry for ultimate beneficiary owners of companies, and for its beneficial corporate taxation schemes to be investigated further.

The European Green Party went a step further, warning that Malta’s taxation system goes against the basic principles of tax justice and that it essentially amounts to robbing other European member states of public funds.

PN MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola are set to address the debate, and their interventions could  provide an early insight into how the Nationalist Party plans to address and tackle government corruption in the wake of its landslide defeat at the polls.

In the last legislature, Metsola, Casa and Therese Comodini threw no punches when condemning government corruption on a European level. However, Joseph Muscat frequently told supporters during his election campaign that their speeches amounted to “speaking against Malta” as part of an underhanded strategy by the PN to regain power.

After Labour’s victory, Muscat said that Wednesday’s session will provide a “test” for the PN to show that it had learnt from its pre-electoral mistakes.

“Everyone will be evaluating what you say during that debate to see if you learned anything,” he said. “We will see whether the PN has learned that, no matter the differences between us, we are all Maltese, we are all Malta.”

Responing to questions by MaltaToday, Casa said that the debate was called in response to the Panama Papers revelations and the subsequent weakening of the Maltese institutions "intended to ensure corrupt politicians remain untouchable".

"The way the PANA committee was handled when in Malta further aggravated the situation," he added.