Poor Alex? MEP’s chiding was entirely appropriate

What could have been a feeble attempt with little attention and no follow-up, or a simple exchange of views, is now becoming a matter of high attention within the ranks of several political groups

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba
Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba

Short of being caught in a video-conference with your underpants, the resounding chiding of Alex Agius Saliba by the chairwoman of the Budgetary Control Committee is probably the most embarrassing moment an MEP can experience in the otherwise very civil environment of the European Parliament.

In the following lines I will try to explain that there is more to this exchange than meets the eye, trying to keep as fact-based as possible. First thing to point out is that there was no Maltese MEP in the Budgetary Control Committee that was debating a motion tying the barbaric assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia to EU funding in Malta. This committee bears a fundamental importance in the workings of the European Parliament and yet, no Maltese MEP is member, nor substitute, in its debates and votes. This committee is not the only one where we are not represented. The Agriculture Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and a good eight other Committees where Malta has significant stakes in EU developments are equally devoid of Maltese representation.

The reasons for this lack of representation are varied, starting from the difficulties of clashing agendas from several committees meeting at the same time and continuing in the practice of limiting the number of committee membership for each MEP. The latter practice is, in my humble opinion, in dire need of a revision given that, with six MEPs Malta is systematically underrepresented in committees which essentially are the real powerhouse of the European Parliament.

The above clarification puts Agius Saliba’s effort to intervene in the Budgetary Control debate on the use of EU funds in Malta as a noble one in principle. Saliba had to exercise a little used faculty of asking for special permission to address the committee in which he has no status.

The second point can be best illustrated by a reference to the most common ethics of human relations. When I invite a friend or acquaintance at home, I expect such a friend to behave, not to mistreat my dogs, not to insult my wife or my own friends. Saliba erred grossly on such basic ethics.

Thinking that an EP committee endorses such methods that he can use with his gullible core vote at a Labour Party każin, his address to committee chair Hohlmeier was rife with partisan content, shooting accusations to political groups and MEPs sitting in that same committee. Had the MEP addressed the point with the facts showing Malta’s good track record on EU funding and the rigorous checks that the state authorities effectively employ to handle and avoid risks of fraud to EU taxpayer money, the MEP would have been a veritable representative of Maltese interests in Europe. Saliba did not do that. His intervention was simply meant for his Facebook page and One TV, not to correct a devious effort by other MEPs in that committee.

The chiding he got by Hohlmeier was therefore entirely appropriate. Moreover, what was supposedly a defence of Malta’s interest by Saliba turns out to be a further shooting in the foot of Malta’s standing in the European Parliament. With his childish reaction to his hurt bullish feelings, the MEP has now put the matter higher up in the institutional echelons by invoking the Socialist’s help and the attention of President Sassoli.

What could have been a feeble attempt with little attention and no follow-up, or a simple exchange of views, is now becoming a matter of high attention within the ranks of several political groups.

Agius Saliba must understand that he needs to invest more to deliver results for Malta. This is not easy-peasy work like getting Forum Żgħażagħ Laburisti to wear the ‘I’m in’ shirts for that crook Joseph Muscat. Being an effective MEP takes more than image. It requires some substance. But maybe Agius Saliba does not really need to change things in Europe. He is probably content with inciting the deeply set impression that all the world has an axe to grind against Malta, because we are ‘the best in Europe’.

Best in Europe we are not, especially when the MEP in question was the best buddy of the chief of staff that had been covering tracks and interfering in investigations concerning the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia. What credibility can Agius Saliba have in such a debate when he is behind the same enterprise that brought us to the brink of a Moneyval downgrade and the collapse of our institutions?

The effort by the political group Renew Europe with its 98-strong MEPs to instigate questions on Malta’s rights to use EU funding by linking this to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is worrying and merits no support. We should indeed fend off any such attempt to denigrate the good work of hundreds of public service officials which commit much dedication to ensuring that Malta makes good use of European opportunities.

Sure, we can and we must do much better, but not on the fraud front as alleged by the Renew MEPs. To fend that off however, as with the advances to dismantle Malta’s competitive tax advantage and many other challenges, we need more credibility, more cross-party collaboration and less theatrics.