Living in interesting times

Whether Malta is damned or moving towards redemption is what makes these times so interesting

Throughout his political career, Muscat has shown that he always sees further ahead than his rivals, whoever they may be
Throughout his political career, Muscat has shown that he always sees further ahead than his rivals, whoever they may be

Although it seems that its origin has no connection with China, some claim that the expression ‘May you live in interesting times’ is a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. While seemingly a blessing, the expression is normally used ironically, with the clear implication that ‘uninteresting times’ of peace and tranquility are more enjoyable than interesting ones, which usually include disorder and conflict.

To my mind, the dramatic events of the last few days have left no doubt that we are again living in interesting times. Whether Malta is damned or moving towards redemption is what makes these times so interesting.

Yet, my faith in the collective sense of responsibility that the Maltese people resort to only ‘in extremis’ – when they really need to do so – has not been shaken. On the contrary, it has been once again vindicated.

The arrest of Yorgen Fenech – and the circumstances how it happened – in connection with the investigations on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, has opened the floodgates: people were stunned and could hardly believe it happened. Was there some catch – they asked – on seeing Muscat ostensibly putting ‘his friends’ at risk?

The connection between Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi with the Dubai-registered company 17 Black was revealed by the Panama papers, but Yorgen Fenech’s ownership of this company was only revealed in November 2018. According to Matthew Caruana Galizia, the media giant Thomson Reuters had spent around half a million euros to find out that Yorgen Fenech owned the till-then mysterious Dubai company 17 Black.

Some assumptions on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia that have sprouted in the minds of the Maltese man – and woman – in the street ever since the day of her hideous murder have been proved to be fallacious, while others seem to have been spot on.

The six-million dollar question is now: Quo Vadis Joseph Muscat? Is his political career suddenly approaching a tragic conclusion? Or will his ‘Teflon’ luck hold on?

The writer of the editorial of The Times last Thursday argued that Joseph Muscat has adopted a contradictory – and untenable – stance: ‘The Prime Minister cannot, however, have it both ways. He cannot seek to take credit for Mr Fenech’s arrest but then brush aside responsibility for standing by those who had offshore dealings with him.’

On the same day, the editorial of The Malta Independent put it in another way: ‘It seems the Prime Minister is using this whole tragedy as a PR opportunity, to come out unscathed and smelling of roses.’

I have no doubt that the Prime Minister is attempting to have his cake and eat it. I would not be too surprised, either, if he succeeds in pulling an ace, against all odds. Throughout his political career, Muscat has shown that he always sees further ahead than his rivals, whoever they may be.

His political career, in fact, is a series of events in which those disagreeing with him have continually underestimated him – beginning from his political ‘colleagues’, Labour candidates contesting the EP elections, or Labour stalwarts contesting the leadership election after Alfred Sant called it a day, or others who stood in his way when he was reforming the Labour Party’s image – Anglu Farrugia and Jason Micallef come to mind.

As to the Opposition, the PN led by Lawrence Gonzi and subsequently by Simon Busuttil and Adrian Delia has a track record of continually underestimating Joseph Muscat.

Are the PN and the ever-protesting ‘civil society’ again doing this mistake, thinking it impossible for him to dump his pals and survive practically intact?

Has he concocted some plan to ditch those whom he should have ditched long ago, and then facetiously take credit for doing so?

There is no doubt that logically Muscat should suffer the consequences of his protecting the people in his orbit who were obviously in cahoots with Yorgen Fenech. This would mean an ignominious end to his stellar political career.

But politics and logic are not gravitationally bound in the same galaxy; sometimes they are more than a universe apart.

We are indeed living in interesting times.

Trading as one bloc

The European Union and Singapore have signed a Free Trade Agreement and an Investment Protection Agreement.

The agreements – arrived at after some ten years of negotiations – aim to remove nearly all customs duties and get rid of a lot of red tape; improve trade for goods like electronics, food products and pharmaceuticals; stimulate green growth; remove trade obstacles for green tech; create opportunities for environmental services; and encourage EU companies to invest more in Singapore, and Singaporean companies to invest more in the EU.

As an EU member state, Malta benefits from such trade agreements and it would have been practically impossible for Malta to negotiate such a trade agreement alone directly with Singapore. This is one of the benefits of our EU membership that was completely ignored by Alfred Sant in his opposition to Malta joining the EU.

The EU has about 40 free trade deals, covering more than 70 countries. That means members of the EU, can trade with countries like Canada without having to pay taxes on imports on most goods. The advantages of making trade agreement as one bloc are obvious.

The Brexiteers in England also seem to have dismissed this advantage of EU membership. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would suddenly lose tariff-free access to these markets and it would have to trade under World Trade Organisation rules.

To avoid this, the UK government is in the process of rolling over the EU’s existing free trade deals with other countries – worth about 11% of total UK trade. It wants to replicate the EU’s trade agreements ‘as far as possible’ but this will certainly take more time than what Boris Johnson seems to think.

As to a new trade agreement with the EU itself, Johnson has insisted that the UK will leave the EU in January with ‘bags of time’ to wrap up negotiations for a comprehensive new trade deal by December 2020. But Sabine Weyand, the EU’s Director-General for Trade, said there will not be enough time to strike a proper new deal by then – but only for a ‘bare-bones’ deal, or none at all.

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