Why Malta should push for a Maltese EC president

I can’t realistically imagine any Maltese Commission President steering the EU in a direction that would utterly annihilate his own country’s very existence. Can anyone say the same for Manfred Weber?

German MEP and EPP chairman Manfred Weber addresses a PN mass meeting in 2017. Photo: James Bianchi
German MEP and EPP chairman Manfred Weber addresses a PN mass meeting in 2017. Photo: James Bianchi

When Manfred Weber announced his intention to run for EPP lead candidate for the EU Commission president, it did not exactly come across as an earth-shattering surprise. The Maltese expression ‘waqa l-ass’ has rarely had a more apposite application: it is as though the trump card we all knew was in the EPP President’s hand, was finally placed on the table.

Retrospectively, the announcement also put all that MEP’s former statements about Malta in general – and Joseph Muscat in particular – into some kind of context. It is no secret that Muscat has (or had) his own eye on that job, too; and that he enjoys (or enjoyed) a level of support in that direction from the incumbent EU Commissioner, Jean Claude Juncker. 

In any case: the prospect may admittedly seem a little improbable today, with all that’s happened in the past few years. Nonetheless I am informed (by all my EU contacts) that there was a time, not so long ago, when it was given serious credence indeed within the EU’s inner sanctum.

To date, I have not been informed of any actual change to that scenario: there is, in fact, no reason to suppose that Muscat’s candidature for that position is in any way ‘off the cards’, as so many people here seem to think it is. 

What we do know for a certainty, however, is that there has been a concerted attempt to sabotage it from the outset. If you’ll remember, Weber had addressed a Nationalist Party mass meeting before the last election – when Muscat’s ambitions were already known, or at least suspected – and his own speech on that occasion made the connection abundantly clear. 

“[Muscat’s] behaviour is not Malta, this corruption is not Malta, Joseph Muscat is not Malta,” he told the crowd. “Malta deserves a better future; you will be the future of Malta. Your vote isn’t only for the future of Malta, but for the future of Europe...”

Please note: “the future of Europe”. How else to interpret that, but as an indirect ‘warning’ that Joseph Muscat might be considered for the top Commission job, if he went on (as he, in fact, did) to win that election? 

Not all the dots were available to be joined back then; but they are now, and the implications are inescapable. The 2017 election campaign was dominated by a single issue, Egrant (at least from the Opposition’s perspective). 

As with all his other pronouncements on Malta over the past two years, Weber evidently seized on that allegation to undermine a future rival’s bid for a position he had earmarked for himself. 

And just to leave no doubt as to the EPP leadership’s intentions, its vice president, Dara Murphy, even spelt them out for us in no uncertain terms: declaring, on June 28, that “it is ‘inappropriate’ for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to be even mentioned as a potential President of the European Commission given the serious allegations against the government...”

With hindsight of Weber’s publicly-stated political ambitions, another card-game analogy shows its hand. In whist-based games such as Bridge, it would be described as ‘drawing out the trumps’: i.e., forcing your opponents to place their best cards on the table, where they will be of no further use in the rest of the game. Weber’s attempt to influence the outcome of Malta’s election must also be seen in that light: clearly, it was aimed at ridding himself of a future competitor. 

So far, so good. Politics is often described as a ‘game’, and there is nothing illicit about the strategy in itself... as long, of course, as there is no cheating involved. 

But alas, politics is far more often described as a ‘dirty game’ than a clean one: and – also with hindsight – there is a lot to suggest that the deck of cards has been ‘fixed’ for this particular hand.

Both Weber’s and Murphy’s declarations were made at a point before the magisterial inquiry concluded that the Egrant allegations were, in fact, a fabrication.

Naturally, the EPP leadership can claim to have been uninvolved in the deception itself; I myself consider it highly unlikely that they would have immersed themselves that deeply into the murky waters of Maltese politics.

Nonetheless, now that Egrant has been exposed as a lie, all their pre-emptive objections to Muscat’s possible candidature must be revisited accordingly. Juncker has already hinted as much, by publicly ‘welcoming’ the inquiry conclusions.

As things stand, however, it is still far from clear whether the European Socialists will indeed nominate Joseph Muscat as a candidate for the Commission presidency. My gut feeling tells me that it won’t. In one respect, the EPP’s card-game strategy has certainly been successful. In the eyes of Europe and the world, both Malta and its Prime Minister have been well and truly tainted.

As for myself, I will not make any secret of the fact that I sincerely hope Joseph Muscat is nominated for that position; and that he goes on to get it, too. 

I have no doubt this declared bias of mine will immediately be interpreted along the usual, childish partisan lines that we collectively seem incapable of ever rising above as a nation; but like Rhett Butler before me, quite frankly I don’t give a damn. 

My reasons for wanting Muscat to take over the Commission have nothing to do with local politics – or even with Muscat himself, for that matter. They have everything to do with the direction of the European Union as a whole, and where (if anywhere at all) Malta will eventually fit into the revised structures. 

To be honest, it doesn’t even have to be Joseph Muscat. Any Maltese citizen, from any political  background, would get my vote in this matter: so long as the candidate concerned is: a) capable, and; b) willing to defend the national interest tooth and nail, against what it is likely to prove the greatest existential threat this country has faced since Independence.

Why is it such a crucial decision for Malta, you might be asking? 

Part of the answer is provided by Manfred Weber himself, who delivered the inaugural address at a meeting (in September 2017), of the Union of European Federalists: “There is a new atmosphere in the European Union, with the believe [sic] that Europe is the future of this continent.” He was referring to a new ‘pro-integration wave’ in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, which seems to have – from the very superficial perspective we have come to expect from European politicians these days – ‘polarised’ Europeans into pro-federal ‘idealists’, and anti-federal ‘extremists, populists, Neanderthals, etc.’

Put simply, the idea is to fend off any possibility of further EU disintegration, by hastening its metamorphosis into a single, centralised ‘super-state’. Weber himself is described by Politico as ‘an avowed champion of the EU project’; though the exact nature of this ‘project’ has never fully been described or explained. 

It is debatable, for instance, whether ‘moderate’ conservatives like Weber are even in favour of a fully federalised Europe; but then again, the drive in that direction does not necessarily come from either Weber or the EPP alone. 

There is, as indicated above, such a thing as a ‘Union of European Federalists’; and Weber’s faction within the EPP clearly has some goals in common. Some of these are already stated aims in themselves: as Malta already knows to its cost, there is a drive towards tax harmonisation across the European Union. 

For reasons that are too cumbersome to go into here, that would be catastrophic for this country’s economic prospects (and for a change, both local parties seem to agree).

More worryingly still, the idea that Malta may be stripped of its power of veto has already been floated... by MEPs who loudly question whether a country as tiny as Malta should even have that kind of power entrusted to it in the first place. 

And of course, there are those who do not disguise their ambition that a single ‘super-state’ called ‘Europe’ will one day arise from the ashes of its individual member countries. 

The idea has its proponents here in Malta, too. In fact, I sometimes wonder if these people have ever paused to reflect on the actual impact such a development would have on our tiny, defenceless island state.

Well, I’ve given a lot of thought to this eventuality; and from whichever angle you choose to look at it, it spells out the complete annihilation of Malta as a sovereign country. 

Whether or not Europe goes the full distance to reinvent itself as a ‘United States of Europe’ – paradoxically, seeing as how Weber cites the USA as precisely the model not to be followed – all the steps and phases of this integrationist approach will slowly but surely erode individual member states’ ability to take decisions for themselves, and in their own interest. 

Even larger and longer-established countries run the same risk of losing a degree of autonomy and self-rule; but the danger is considerably more pronounced for a country that is – when all is said and done – just a little rock in the Mediterranean sea... only marginally larger than Lampedusa or Linosa. 

Well, just look at Lampedusa today. That island is already part of a much larger federal state called ‘Italy’. Being remotely governed from Rome, it has no sovereignty or autonomy of its own; and because of that – together with its size, its total lack of political clout, etc – it is now treated as a dumpsite for all Italy’s migration issues.

That, I fear, is a microcosm of what Malta’s future may look like fairly soon, within the federalised European Union that so many of its own citizens seem to want. Even as things stand today, several MEPs – Ana Gomes, Sven Giegold et al – can barely disguise their view that we are, in fact, just a little rock with delusions of nationhood, that punches way too far above its puny weight for the rest of Europe’s liking. 
If these people had their way, Malta would very emphatically not be a sovereign state at all. 

And they might get their way, too... as the future of our country may well be determined by next year’s choice of new Commission president. Joseph Muscat may have his flaws as Prime Minister of Malta; but I can’t realistically imagine him – or any other Maltese Commission President – steering the EU in a direction that would utterly annihilate his own country’s very existence. 

Can anyone say the same for Manfred Weber, or any other possible candidate from any other country? No, I didn’t think so either.