‘Sven’ will we ever learn…?

Sven Giegold’s approach is not to convince, or persuade, individual member states to co-operate on tax issues… no, it is to force us all to accept, through legislative impositions, and by sabotaging our ability to resist

Sven Giegold (bottom right), with Ana Gomes (left), and behind him MEPs David Casa (left) and Roberta Metsola (right)
Sven Giegold (bottom right), with Ana Gomes (left), and behind him MEPs David Casa (left) and Roberta Metsola (right)

There is something almost comical about the PN’s panicky reaction to Sven Giegold’s call for Article 7 to be invoked against Malta this week.

I say ‘almost’, because from practically all other angles, the issue is actually very serious indeed. By now, you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to have cottoned on to the existence of an organised movement within the European Parliament, aimed at forcing Malta (and all other member states) to relinquish tax sovereignty.

Its battle-cry is ‘tax harmonisation’; and the idea, in a nutshell, is ensure that small, poor countries like Malta remain small and poor forever… while the big boys (Germany, France, etc.) continue to channel absolutely everything into their own coffers.

So if these big, rich countries are unable to retain their own industries and corporations by offering attractive tax incentives of their own… their response is not to roll up their sleeves and compete (like any good old fashioned capitalist country would do)… no, it’s to change the rules to prevent other countries from drawing up their own, much more favourable taxation regimes.

So a European Union that is supposed to be based on the principle of open competition, seems hellbent on preventing its members from actually competing… when it comes to taxation.

In practically all other matters, however – where the big boys enjoy a natural advantage, owing to their size, their resources, their standard of living, etc. – we are all expected to carry on competing as usual.

Hmm. It’s a little like taking part in a race in which everyone has to run at the same speed. Only, some of the competitors have their marks set around 100 metres before the start of the race… and others, around 10 metres from the finishing line.  No offence, but under those circumstances, I won’t be rushing to Ladbrokes to place any bets on Malta’s survival chances…

And of course, we’re all expected to agree with this set-up without question (or else, be labelled ‘crooks’, ’corrupt’, ‘a Mafia-state’ etc.) What a lovely little place this European Union is turning out to be, eh?

In any case, Sven Giegold has positioned himself at the very forefront of this drive. But there is a teenie-weenie snag, which takes the form of the Accession Treaty signed by each member state (well, the enlargement ones, anyway) in 2004.

This excerpt, from a ‘euranet.org’ news item last February, sums up the dilemma quite succinctly:

“Tax matters are submitted to the unanimity principle, which means that a single member state can veto a decision. Yet, the European Commission has recently proposed to review gradually this procedure. Avoiding to change EU treaties [my emphasis], the Commission

suggests to use a specific tool, the so-called ‘passerelle’ clause – which itself requires unanimity.

“This was the wrong way to unblock the legislative proposals, says Sven Giegold…”

Well, no prizes for guessing what Giegold thinks is the right way to achieve tax harmonisation: “The right target is the unwillingness of member states, in particular Germany, Luxembourg and Ireland and some others, to make progress…”

Good of him, I suppose, to include his own country among the list of offenders. In fact, it makes you wonder why the European Parliament hasn’t condemned ‘Germany, Luxembourg and Ireland’ yet… like it condemned Malta and Slovakia last week. But that’s just an aside. The bottom line is that Sven Giegold is clearly criticising the European Commission for refusing to amend the Treaties.

What this means is that he – and all other MEPs trying to force Malta to change its tax regime – has set his sights on the right of every individual member state to veto his precious tax harmonisation proposal. Like the logic of the proposal itself, his approach is not to convince, or persuade, individual member states to co-operate on tax issues… no, it is to force us all to accept, through legislative impositions, and by sabotaging our ability to resist.

And he is not the only MEP to argue in favour of simply flushing the Accession Treaty down the toilet: Manfred Weber, of the European People’s Party, is also proposing the same thing. And there’s a fair chance that he will become the next President of the European Commission in just a couple of months’ time…

But what has all this got to do with Article 7, you might be asking? Well, just as there is more than one way to skin a cat… there are several ways you can force a country like Malta (especially one as small and poorly connected as Malta) to give up its right of veto. If you find that ‘amending the Treaties’ is not a realistic option - because it requires unanimity, and ‘unanimity’ is precisely what is being targeted here (how’s that for a Catch-22 situation, by the way?) - you can simply invoke another clause, within the treaty as it stands today, that will achieve the same overall result.

If you don’t believe me, take Wikipedia’s word for it (because, as well know, Wikipedia is never, ever wrong): “Article 7 is a procedure in the treaties of the European Union (EU) to suspend certain rights from a member state […]  The European Council can vote to suspend any rights of membership, such as voting and representation as outlined above. Identifying the breach requires unanimity (excluding the state concerned), but sanctions require only a qualified majority. The state in question would still be bound by the obligations treaties, and the Council acting by majority may alter or lift such sanctions…”

Charming, huh? But yet again, there is a snag. You can’t just go around throwing Article 7 at any old country you like, just for the heck of it. No, Article 7 can only be enacted “where the EU identifies a member persistently breaching the EU’s founding values (respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities)...”

This is where the Nationalist Party comes into the picture. Oddly, for a party which officially opposes tax harmonisation…and whose MEPs voted against the ‘tax haven’ condemnation last week… the PN evidently thought it would be a good to idea to supply MEPs like Giegold, Gomes at al, with all the ammunition they needed, to prove that Malta really does fit the above description to a ‘T’.

Never mind that Malta has unexpectedly become a beacon for certain (though not for all) minority rights in the last 10 years alone: that we outstrip all other EU member states when it comes to equality in LGBTQi legislation, for instance; or that Malta actually has a far better human rights record than some other EU countries I can think of offhand (certainly, we don’t go around parachuting weapons into war-torn North African countries, or supporting human rights hellholes to protect our overseas oil interests…). And never mind, too, that Malta has now accepted to implement all the Venice Commission’s recommendations; and that the implementation has already begun.

No, none of that counts for toffee. It suits Sven Giegold’s ideological agenda to continue portraying this country as if it were a failed state regardless; and it suits him even better that Malta’s opposition party would justify this outrageous misrepresentation, by publicly making Malta out to be some kind of forsaken, intolerably awful South American junta.

It suits him slightly less, however, when his perceived ‘allies’ suddenly turn around and knife him in the back… like the PN has now done, not once, but TWICE.

First, Nationalist MEPs like David Casa and Roberta Metsola publicly scolded Sven Giegold for suggesting that HSBC should ‘pull out of Malta’; now, the PN issues a strongly-worded rebuttal of his proposed invocation of Article 7.

Sorry, guys, but… make up your bloody minds, will you? I don’t like having to stick up for people who have declared unilateral wars against my country:  but Giegold is right on this one, you know. If he believes (though I doubt he genuinely does) that Malta really is ‘the Mafia state’ it has been made out to be… it’s only because you lot did nothing but reinforce that image, on the international stage, at every conceivable opportunity, for the past three or so years.

And besides: if even the PN believes its own propaganda on this score: by rights, it should be the one calling on the Commission to invoke Article 7, not a member of the European Greens.  For if the rule of law really has collapsed in Malta – and I’ll be damned if I can see a jot of evidence that it has – then: a) we ARE in breach of the EU’s founding values; and b), we SHOULD face the consequences… as per the terms of the treaty which we signed ourselves.

Change the violation to any other committable crime or offence, and the reason becomes rather obvious, too. If you rob a bank and get caught… you’ll expect to go to prison. You will not expect the law courts to find you guilty of a crime punishable by up to 25 years… only to never actually get around to the ‘sentencing’ part.

Yet just look at the PN’s reaction: ‘it’s not fair’, they cry, that people like Sven Giegold take their own arguments to their only natural conclusion. And the scary part is… I can even see the logic in this overwhelming paradox myself. Of course, the PN doesn’t want any of its own muck-raking to end up causing actual sanctions imposed upon Malta by the EU (not when there’s an election coming up, for crying out loud!). No, they only wanted to damage Malta up to the point where the present government would be forced out of office. And after that, everything would return to a blissful state of perfection, by magic.

It’s almost as though you can spend the better part of three whole years tarnishing a country’s reputation, day in, day out, while egging on the EP to keep condemning Malta again… and again.. and AGAIN…

….and yet, somehow expect the rest of world to simply change its entire, jaundiced perspective, from one day to the next… just because you’re in power, instead of someone else.

Honestly: you’ve got to laugh, I suppose. Only I don’t think we’ll be laughing too loudly, when – as a direct consequence of all this irresponsible Malta-bashing in the EP – our country is eventually stripped of its right of veto, and forced to kiss its tax sovereignty goodbye forever.

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