The EP resolution must be heeded

The European Parliament's resolution on Malta is important for us, and we should be mature enough to put aside political differences and accept the legitimate criticism

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

The resolution passed by the European Parliament last Wednesday may make painful reading. Yet it is pointless denying that Malta needed a wake-up call about the rule of law.

The reasons were spelt out by the resolution itself, which highlighted many of our national institutions’ failures in performing their most basic functions. It notes, for instance, that “the head of the FIAU and the Police Commissioner, which are both positions directly filled by the Government, resigned shortly after the completion of [the FIAU reports]”; that “no police investigation was launched into these serious allegations of money laundering by Politically Exposed Persons, including a member of the Government”; and that “two FIAU staff were laid off after the leak of the FIAU reports in the press”.

Given the seriousness of the allegations in question, it is indeed shocking, by European standards, that not a single part of Malta’s law enforcement capability took any action whatsoever to investigate them. This in turn points towards an underlying problem, which (by way of contrast) the EP resolution does not emphasise at all.

Unfortunately, the simple truth is that Malta does not – as yet – hold itself up to European standards when it comes to such matters. For too long now we have avoided confronting the limitations and shortcomings of our institutional set-up. The lack of an independent police force, questions concerning the autonomy of the judiciary, conflicts of interest within the office of the prosecution – not to mention wider, unrelated Constitutional issues such as the electoral system, national broadcasting, etc – have been sporadically discussed over the years... but no concrete action has ever been taken.

Whether or not this failure contributed directly to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in October might be debatable for some. But we cannot live up to the standards required of a 21st century EU member state unless we iron out these very basic inconsistencies. It is indeed unfortunate that we left things to deteriorate so severely, that the EP had to resort to this drastic action in order to call us to our senses.

From this perspective, criticism of the resolution on ‘patriotic’ grounds immediately falls flat. One can love one’s country, without also being blind to its many faults. Perhaps a few of the comments and innuendoes made by individual MEPs were unnecessary... but to dwell on this is to miss the point entirely. The resolution itself limits its observations to the important details. We cannot take offence, when our own genuine faults are exposed to us by others.

Ultimately, the EP resolution on Malta is important for us, and we should be mature enough to put aside political differences and accept the legitimate criticism.

By the same token, the European Parliament itself is also crucial for us Maltese as a sentinel on fundamental human rights and the protection of the Maltese press. This may at times be hard to digest, given that Malta has, perhaps too often, been singled out for unfair criticism within that institution. A little less overt nation-bashing would not be amiss from the EP’s side, but one must distinguish between the views of individual MEPs and the Parliament as a whole.

Certainly, we cannot ignore the resolution’s overarching principle, which is one of accountability. Irrespectively of how hard it is to hear one’s country hauled over the coals, or seeing partisan manoeuvres lobbying for international pressure to be brought upon a national government (even within the contradictory nature of what is happening elsewhere in Europe: such as Poland, Hungary and Spain, where the situation has been more radically controversial and even violent than in Malta), we still cannot allow the Maltese government to be left to its own devices. It must be kept on its toes

Moreover, Malta as a State must always be in dialogue with the European Commission and the EP on the subject of human rights, rule of law and good governance. It should really go without saying, let alone without a formal resolution passed by an overwhelming majority in the House.

Nor can we disregard the issue that precipitated this entire debate to begin with. The murder of a journalist must be taken seriously, regardless of what she wrote or how she wrote it. That we may argue on what Daphne Caruana Galizia represented, or where she fell on the Venn diagram of journalism and politics, is an academic matter. But the execution of a journalist is also a direct attack on what people seeking truth, and working in the name of the public good that journalism serves, are all aiming for. It is an attack on democratic society itself.

It is no surprise that MEPs are now talking about Malta’s taxation system either. True, few EU countries do not try to specialise in the international art of tax competition and lucrative tax games for the global elite and international kleptocrats. Only he who is without sin should cast the first stone.

But the Maltese have to adopt a critical approach towards this industry, and question whether Malta should keep playing a supporting role in this international game of tax avoidance. Otherwise, the question will be asked by others.