“L’Uomo del Monte ha detto ‘No’...”

We don’t know for certain whether Brussels can block the sale of a single banana; but we do know, from our own collective experience, that the latter can’t block the sale of a single Maltese passport

How else are we, lesser mortals, to determine that the bananas we buy are, in fact, of the highest quality possible… without banana experts flying around the world to taste them all for us, and give the best ones their seal of approval?
How else are we, lesser mortals, to determine that the bananas we buy are, in fact, of the highest quality possible… without banana experts flying around the world to taste them all for us, and give the best ones their seal of approval?

Remember those annoying banana ads on TV? The ones where a man flies around banana plantations in a helicopter, deciding which bananas are good enough to be sold in supermarkets under the ‘Del Monte’ label?

One of the things that used to irk me is that… well, the ‘Man From Del Monte’ wasn’t exactly very picky, was he? I don’t recall him ever once saying ‘No’ to a single bloody banana he ever tasted. It was always: “The Man From del Monte has said ‘Yes’.” Which as far as I can see, makes him the banana-testing equivalent of a ‘Yes-man’… nothing more, nothing yes (I mean, less).

Yet his job was ultimately that of a ‘quality controller’: and it’s an important job, too. How else are we, lesser mortals, to determine that the bananas we buy are, in fact, of the highest quality possible… without banana experts flying around the world to taste them all for us, and give the best ones their seal of approval?

But then again, they do have to be the ‘best ones’... otherwise, it defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. And ‘quality controllers’ do have to be just a little bit discerning; after all, some bananas are indeed better than others (Note: even our own collective experience, as banana-eaters, amply confirms this).

Yet just look at how the Man from del Monte always went about his job. You could throw just about any old banana at him, and – after keeping all those plantation workers on tenterhooks for hours (funny, how the unions never had anything to say about that) – a loudspeaker announcement will eventually confirm that… drums rolling… oh my, what a coincidence. “The Man from del Monte has said ‘Yes’”… AGAIN!

Looking back (note: I honestly have no idea if those ads are still airing today) I am suddenly itching to know what might have happened, had the Man From Del Monte one day done the unthinkable, and actually said ‘No’ to a single, solitary banana… even just once in his entire career.

Leaving aside that the world would probably stop spinning around its own axis, and all that… personally speaking: my own trust in the ‘Del Monte’ label would automatically shoot up overnight. Now that’s what I’d call a properly tested banana: a banana that actually passed a test, where others had demonstrably failed.

Besides: it would do wonders for the Man from del Monte’s own credibility, too. It would instantly establish that he does indeed wield the power to block the sale of a banana; something which (let’s face it) we don’t really know for certain… seeing as that power has never really been publicly demonstrated (and therefore may not really exist).

Ok, enough about bananas. There are other, equally imaginary powers in this universe; and some of them test much more consequential things than the occasional tropical cash-crop here and there. Like Malta’s ‘Golden Passport’ scheme, for instance: you know, the one that was both ‘endorsed’, and ‘not endorsed’, by the European Commission in the space of just five years.

Hmm. It almost makes me regret my earlier complaint about the Man From Del Monte. For just as I don’t recall him ever withholding his seal of approval… I don’t ever remember him saying both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to the same bloody banana at the same time, either. There was, at least, the vague semblance of ‘consistency’ in his approach (flawed though it clearly was). The European Commission, on the other hand…

But let’s try and come to grips with this latest twist, shall we? This is a quote from an article that appeared last Wednesday: “In response to [MEP Roberta Metsola’s] question, and others on the issue of the sale of citizenship, the EU Commissioner Věra Jourová said: ‘The Commission does not endorse the system’.”

Got that, folks? It translates as: “L’Uomo Del Monte has detto ‘No’.”

And this, by way of contrast, is from a February 2014 news report: “The European Commission has conducted an analysis of the Legal Notice’s text related to the ‘effective residency’ clause and is ‘satisfied with the changes made to the Maltese Citizenship Act’, meaning that the Commission has now officially given the last stamp of approval to the Maltese authorities to proceed with the citizenship scheme’s legal notice.” […] “The ‘effective residency’ clause was the last remaining bone of contention with the programme but the Commission has found the revamped residency clause to be in line with what was agreed upon late last month between the Commission and the Maltese authorities.” […][…] “For Ms Reding, the 12-month requirement is an acceptable compromise, which reflects the duty of sincere cooperation among Member States and between Member States and the European Union.”

Erm… excuse me for asking, but how, exactly, did we go from “the Commission has now officially given the last stamp of approval to the citizenship scheme” (2014), to “The Commission does not endorse the system’ (2019)? What has changed between now and five years ago, for the European Commission to have completely reversed all its past pronouncements on Malta’s cash-for-citizenship’ scheme?

And while I’m at it… does this hold good for all other past European Commission policy positions and statements, too? Can anything the Commission does or say today, be completely overturned by an equal and opposite statement or action, just a few years down the line?

I hate to say it, but a cursory glance at certain other Commission U-turns seems to strongly confirm that this is, in fact, the case. A few years back – when Scotland held a referendum on whether to secede from the United Kingdom or not – former EU Commissioner Jose Barroso had bluntly told the Scots that they would have to reapply for EU membership, if Scotland did indeed become an independent country.

But today – i.e., after the UK voted to leave the European Union in another referendum – the Commission policy on the same issue just happens to be the complete opposite. If Scotland withdraws from the UK now… the EU would welcome the newly independent member state with open arms.  Suddenly, the Man from Del Monte seems to be saying ‘Yes’, to something he himself had rejected just five short years ago…

Yet I am unaware of any changes to the European treaties between 2014 and today. And last I looked, it was the treaties – not the whims of individual Commissioners – that decide matters such as whether, and under what circumstances, a country is considered eligible for EU membership.

If you ask me, however, it is the European Commission’s own credibility that seems to be really being tested here (not, I might add, with very favourable results). For even if we assume that the Commission’s current (contradictory) position is the correct one – i.e., that Malta’s passport scheme does not meet the approval of the Commission, though it did five years ago – well, it’s a bit like the Man from del Monte’s bananas, isn’t it? We can all see with our own eyes that Malta is still selling citizenship, with or without the Commission’s approval. So, what’s the point of even having a Commission to ‘endorse’ or ‘not endorse’ anything at all… if its ‘endorsement’ doesn’t actually amount to a hill of bananas anywhere in the real world?

Viewed from this angle, it suddenly doesn’t really matter very much what the European Commission ever says, or does not say, about any issue under the sun. For one thing, it might say the clean opposite tomorrow; and for another… well, who cares if the Commission suddenly ‘disapproves’ of our citizenship scheme, or not? Evidently, it doesn’t wield the power to stop it. And as far as I can see, that’s about the only tangible thing that distinguishes it from the Man from Del Monte.

We don’t know for certain whether the former can block the sale of a single banana; but we do know, from our own collective experience, that the latter can’t block the sale of a single Maltese passport. So ultimately, the Commission can say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – or both at once – as much as it likes. And if anyone out there still thinks any of its pronouncements actually matter… well, what can I say?

They must be bloody bananas…

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