‘Equality’ is one thing Malta never got from the EU

I didn’t know European member states had the right to ‘refuse’ to make cuts demanded by the Commission; it certainly didn’t seem that way when the ‘miscreant’ that needed ‘punishing’ happened to be Malta

I guess it stands to reason that Helena Dalli would be nominated for the ‘Equality’ portfolio within the new European Commission – and not ‘Justice’, for which she was originally considered.

After all, ‘equality’ is part of the reason Malta wanted to join the European Union in the first place: so we would ‘take our place as an equal partners around the same European table’, remember? (That’s how the propaganda went at the time, anyway).

Yet looking back on our country’s 15-year experience as an EU member state… equality remains the one thing Malta has never really experienced since joining.

Just consider, for a moment, all the ways Malta has been treated differently from other member states over the years. Money-laundering, for instance. Ever since the revelations of April 2016 – i.e., that Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri had opened secret companies in Panama – Malta has been subject to two damning condemnations by the European Parliament’s Rule of Law committee, as well as repeated censure by both the EU and the Council of Europe’s legal financial watchdogs – Moneyval, the Venice Commission, etc.

There have been threats of punitive action: calls for Article 7 to be invoked against Malta … which would strip us of voting rights at the Council of Ministers; and one MEP (Sven Giegold) even called for international banks like HSBC to pull out altogether.

And yet, when Switzerland’s Basel Institute for Governance released its August 2019 index last week – which “analysed 15 indicators of countries’ adherence to [anti-money laundering] regulations, levels of corruption, financial standards, political disclosure and the rule of law” - Malta was found to have actually “performed better than other key EU jurisdictions like Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Luxembourg.”

In other words, at least four other European member states are: a) more corrupt than Malta; b) less compliant with European AML legislation than Malta; c) less transparent than Malta; and d) subject to lower financial and rule of law standards than Malta… with the net result that considerably more dirty money is actually laundered through those countries, than here.

So… where was the Council of Europe’s fiery condemnation of the rule of law situation in Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Luxembourg? Why has the European Parliament only opened investigations into Malta on that score… and not into those other members states, which just happen to be (four of them, anyway) undisputed powerhouses within the EU?

The reason, I suppose, is the same as when the EU decided to scrap its ‘Growth and Stability Pact’ – twice – because countries like Germany and France couldn’t comply with its provisions.

Never mind that, in the days when Malta struggled to keep its budget deficit to within 3% of its GDP – as demanded by the Pact – the European Commission used  to come down on us like a tonne of bricks: threatening action in the European Court (indeed infringement proceedings were opened against us twice); sending back every one of Tonio Fenech’s 2008-13 budgets for revision; shooting down the government’s plans to restructure Air Malta; and so on and so forth.

But lo and behold: the moment Germany and France missed their Growth and Stability Pact commitments - in the same years, too: 1998 and 2003 - the same Commission’s reaction was to simply dismantle the Pact altogether.

This is how it was reported in The Economist in 2003: “Dead, sleeping, or in the refrigerator? All these descriptions were applied to the European Union’s “stability and growth pact” this week, after a majority of EU finance ministers refused on November 25th to press ahead with the sanctions envisaged under the pact for France and Germany as punishment for running ‘excessive’ budget deficits. The European Commission had recommended that the rules be applied to the two miscreants, both of which will break the deficit ceiling of 3% of GDP for a third year running in 2004, and both of which had refused to make the further cuts that the commission demanded…”

That’s funny: I didn’t know European member states had the right to ‘refuse’ to make cuts demanded by the Commission; it certainly didn’t seem that way when the ‘miscreant’ that needed ‘punishing’ happened to be Malta.

But Germany and France? Come on. You didn’t seriously expect the European Union would ever treat those two the same way it treats us, did you?

So much, I suppose, for Malta being an ‘equal partner around the same European table’, and all that jazz. The reality is that we have time and again come in for different, discriminatory treatment… at the hands of an EU that now no longer even bothers concealing its open contempt for its smallest, southernmost member state.

And that’s just when it comes to interpreting and applying Europe’s economic and financial crime policies. Where does all this European ‘equality’ suddenly go and hide, whenever it comes to public appointments within the EU itself?

There is more to ‘equality’ than just ‘striking a 50-50 gender balance’, you know. There is also the tiny matter of equitable representation within Europe’s institutions. And it can hardly escape notice that objections have been raised to each and every Maltese nominee, for each and every public posting… each and every single time.

Joe Borg? I was present in the European Parliament when, in April 2004, he was ‘respectfully’ turned down for his original portfolio (‘Development and Humanitarian Aid’), and eventually entrusted with Fisheries instead.

Oddly enough, the official reason was that “the fields of EU development policy and humanitarian aid policy need a person of the highest level of expertise, commitment and quality.” Borg had no direct experience in development or humanitarian aid (no offence, but it showed during that grilling)… but then again, he had no direct experience in Fisheries either, did he?

But you know how it goes: Development Aid handles one of the EU’s largest single-Commissioner budgets each year – literally billions of euros, to be allocated all over the developing world – so obviously, the suitable candidate has to be ‘of the highest level of expertise, commitment and quality’ (translation: from the north of Europe).

Little Maltese men from little corrupt Mafia states, on the other hand, have to be treated according to their stature. So we’ll give him Fisheries instead… because… um… he’s from the Mediterranean, isn’t he? Everything’s ‘fishy’ down there, isn’t it…?

Incredibly, this sort of open disdain for our country has not only persisted ever since… but it has intensified to almost obsessive levels, especially since 2016. When Leo Brincat was proposed as Malta’s nominee for the European Court of Auditors, for instance, the European Parliament voted against… for no discernible reason whatsoever.

The only argument brought up against Brincat during the EP hearing was that he was part of a government which ‘did not take action against two other members involved in the Panama Papers’. In other words, Brincat was vetoed, not because of his own involvement in that particular scandal – or any other, for that matter - but simply by virtue of association with two other members of the same Cabinet of Ministers.

I shudder to even contemplate what Europe would look like today, if the same objections were raised in the case of all nominees, from all countries, to all European positions (as opposed to only the Maltese, Polish and Hungarian ones, which is how it tends to work in practice).

It is hard enough to find a single Commissioner-designate who isn’t facing some sort of investigation back at home. But one who doesn’t have any colleagues under investigation, either? One whose entire government has never been involved in a scandal, never had any dirt thrown at it, and never been suspected of corruption, in any shape of form…?

Forget it. If the same treatment reserved for Maltese Commissioners-designate were to be applied equally to all European nationalities, across the board… quite frankly, we wouldn’t even have a ‘European Commission’ at all.

But we do, don’t we? And there is a reason for that, too: because all these ‘rules’ and ‘principles’ simply do not apply to all those nice, squeaky-clean EU Member States on the northern side of the Alps.

The same European Parliament that objected to Leo Brincat, also approved Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President by a wide margin… despite the fact that, as Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Juncker had practically designed the entire infrastructure for the same tax-haven economic template, that Malta is now criticised for merely copying.

I need hardly add, then, that it comes as no surprise that our latest Commissioner-designate has already been discriminated against – denied the Justice portfolio, even though there is nothing in Helena Dalli’s CV (well, except maybe that brief stint as an pulp-movie actress in the 1970s) that argues against her as a European Justice Commissioner.

All the same, however: seeing as we have no choice, let’s just content ourselves with the crumbs that occasionally fall from this blessed ‘European table’. Helena Dalli has been nominated for the ‘Equality’ portfolio… so – if she even gets it at all, which I seriously doubt – she will have at least part of her work cut out for her from the outset.

In case I haven’t made it clear enough already, the stark truth is Malta is not being treated equally – nor ever has been - as an EU member state. And as European Commissioner for Equality, it will be Helena Dalli’s job and duty to end this reign of prejudice and discrimination against our country… once and for bloody all.

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