‘Biased’ is as ‘biased’ does...

Sophie Int’ Veld even described her own delegation as ‘politically neutral’: though she was sitting next to Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola when she uttered those words. How on earth did her audience manage to suppress their giggling fits, I wonder?

MEP delegates (from left) Sven Giegold, Josef WeidenHolzer, Chairperson Sophia in ’t Veld, Roberta Metsola
MEP delegates (from left) Sven Giegold, Josef WeidenHolzer, Chairperson Sophia in ’t Veld, Roberta Metsola

Funny things must happen to MEPs when they transit to the international stage from their domestic political battlefields. Judging by the latest EP ‘rule of law’ delegation to Malta, these people seem to suddenly think of themselves as ‘objective’ and ‘unbiased’... even if they all owe their very parliamentary positions to a political system that is itself inherently based on bias and prejudice.

Naturally I can’t go into too much detail about the individual political backgrounds of three of that delegation’s four members. I didn’t follow the electoral campaigns of Sophie Int’ Veld in the Netherlands, Sven Giegold in Germany, or Josef WeidenHolzer in Austria. But unless politics in those countries is done very differently indeed, you can rest assured that they will have all got themselves elected on the basis of campaigns that were intrinsically jaundiced and replete with bias.

Nor can it realistically be otherwise. Take away ‘bias’ from politics, you would also instantaneously remove the entire purpose of holding elections in the first place. The whole point of running for political office is rooted in a presumed ‘difference’ between the individual candidates/parties. Unless those candidates feel (or at least, try to convince us that they feel) that they are somehow ‘better’ than their adversaries – more qualified, more experienced, more honest, less corrupt, etc. – quite frankly I see no point in any of them running for election at all.

It is partly for this reason that ‘objectivity’ and ‘politics’ cannot, and will not, ever co-exist. You cannot be disinterested – in the judicial sense of the word – when you have glaring vested interests in the outcome of proceedings. Yet listen to those same politicians talk about themselves – which they seem to do a heck of a lot these days: must be a European election coming up, or something – and you might be forgiven for thinking they were models of objectivity and balanced judgment.

Chairperson Sophie Int’ Veld even described her own delegation as ‘politically neutral’: though she was sitting next to Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola when she uttered those words. How on earth did her audience manage to suppress their giggling fits, I wonder? If Roberta Metsola can be described as ‘politically neutral’, then Donald Trump must be a ‘political genius’, the Dalai Lama ‘part of the Axis of Evil’, and Silvio Debono a ‘militant, tree-hugging environmentalist’. Heck, even I could pass myself off as a world Sumo Wrestling champion, when I struggle to maintain a body-weight above 60 kilos. There is, after all, a limit to how far the suspension of disbelief can conceivably be stretched.

But that’s Roberta Metsola: a product of the local political duopoly, where to be ‘biased’ is the only political virtue that can still be said to exist. Unlike these starry-eyed European political newbies, we all know from experience that our politicians (and not just our politicians) are dipped into a bubbling cauldron of blind, aggressive prejudice from birth. The entire historical narrative of this country has always been rooted in the equivalent of trench warfare. Invective, slander and character assassination are the only weapons you will ever see deployed in the Maltese political arena; and by definition, all three of them are manifestations of a deep-seated political prejudice that is so palpably real, you can almost taste it in your coffee.

Yet Sophie Int’ Veld, who came precisely here to assess the local situation, is still very clearly unaware of the sheer extent of local political prejudice. It was reported, for instance, that “she noticed the political division in the country” – gee, how very perceptive – and “appealed to all political parties to heal the division in society.”

Well, that’s a bit like “noticing the existence of global warfare, and appealing to everyone to just stop killing each other, so that we can all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ in perfect harmony, etc.” Nice words, sure... but you may as well appeal to the ocean to be a little less wet, the desert a little less dry, and Maltese TV a little less trite. Like her previous claims to ‘political neutrality’, it is a tale of naive fantasy told by a very small child. Only from someone who is supposed to be investigating very serious – and very dubious – allegations against this country, with possibly severe repercussions for its future. Not exactly very reassuring, is it now?

What’s more, it is even debatable whether Sophe Int’Veld recognises the less blatant (but equally existent) prejudice that underpins all other European political systems, too. She went on to argue that “We have all the main political parties being represented here. [...] This was a very balanced approach...” Erm... excuse me for asking, but how does having representatives of three hopelessly biased political parties improve the ‘neutrality’ of your delegation? I would argue it makes it three times more prejudiced, not less.

But let’s cut all this naive crap once and for all, shall we? The European Greens, the European Socialists, the ALDE and the EPP are not exactly ‘disinterested parties’ in this particularly scenario. In case you haven’t realised yet, there’s an EP election next year.

They will be at each other’s throats in no time at all, and Malta (though small) is still a political battleground on which their local representatives – Metsola being one of them – will fight each other tooth and nail.

How, then, can we possibly trust prospective candidates in an imminent election to be ‘objective’ and ‘unbiased’ in assessing a political situation? You may as well believe in unicorns and little green men from Mars... except that the latter remains a little bit more plausible, as until we go to Mars and actually find out for ourselves: who the heck can prove that ‘little green men’ don’t exist there?   

But we can all safely say that ‘objectivity’ and ‘impartiality’ do not exist in this EP delegation, or anywhere else in European politics (Malta least of all). And if there is still any doubt that this delegation was from the outset hopelessly – but hopelessly –  unsuited to the task of objectively assessing the real situation in Malta... well, it was sitting two spaces to Sophie Int ‘Veld’s left.

Sven Giegold, of the European Greens, is another ‘politically neutral’ member of this delegation. In fact, he is so very neutral that he decided – six whole months ago – that he already knew all there was to be known about the situation his own delegation has only just come here to ‘assess’.

“The situation in Malta is unbearable”, he said in the European Parliament last April: and in the same statement, he requested a meeting “with our own Conference of Presidents with a view to a debate the situation with the EU Commission and adopt a plenary resolution, etc.” It was on that basis that the delegation was sent here in the first place

It’s strange how no one asked him the obvious question at the press conference yesterday. How could Sven Giegold possibly come to the conclusion that “the situation in Malta is unbearable”... if the entire purpose of his own delegation’s visit was to determine precisely that? And while I’m at it: why did Sven Giegold even bother coming here at all, if he already knew the answer to the question he supposedly came here to investigate?

Either Giegold possesses the secret of time-travel, and was able to project himself back six months into the past to inform us about the result of an investigation that hadn’t actually happened yet (in which case, any tips for the Super Five would be most welcome)... or else he simply made up his own mind, on the basis of all the farcically biased reports that would have reached his ears at that time... and came here only to confirm what he already ‘knew’.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this insane predicament is that, while all this was going on, the Constitutional Court was hearing submissions in a case filed by former PN leader Simon Busuttil, to prevent Judge Antonio Mizzi from presiding over the inquiries into the Panama Papers affair.

The bone of contention is likewise all about ‘objectivity’ and ‘impartiality’. The judge in question is married to Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi... and as Busuttil’s lawyer, Jason Azzopardi, argued in court: “[Marlene Mizzi] had repeatedly made political arguments in favour of the Prime Minister and hit out at Busuttil, referring to him with the derogatory acronym ‘LOO’ (Leader of the Opposition).”

Two quick observations: one, if I were Azzopardi, I would have made the same point without dragging the ‘LOO’ detail (which inevitably became the main headline). I had never heard that acronym before, and now that I have... I can’t even picture the former ‘LOO’ without instantly cracking up. In fact I’ve been chuckling about it all morning. Seriously, though: if Azzopardi thought that would generate sympathy for his client, he ought to know the only thing it is likely to generate is a tsunami of unflattering memes. ‘Nuff said.

The second point, however, is that... huh? What? How the heck are we even supposed to make head or tail of this one?

OK, let’s give it a shot. So Judge Antonio Mizzi is considered ‘biased’, because his wife (not himself) made disparaging remarks about Simon Busuttil, and praised Joseph Muscat. But Sven Giegold and Roberta Metsola are considered ‘politically neutral’... even though they have both passed disparaging remarks about the  government they are supposedly ‘assessing’, and are both (for obvious reasons, in Metsola’s case) openly sympathetic towards the people complaining about it.

Clearly, something doesn’t quite work out in the equation. It should be obvious that those two statements are entirely incompatible and antithetical; yet both are simultaneously made by the same side in this debate, without appearing to be even remotely conscious of the contradiction.

And the best part of it is... this is the delegation which will ‘impartially’ and ‘dispassionately’ assess the rule of law situation in Malta. Well, I just can’t wait to read their ‘unbiased’, ‘objective’ report. It’s been a while since I read a good fantasy novel...

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