Alfred Sant unimpressed by ‘politicised’ Omtzigt resolution on Malta

As EU finds compromise on rule of law mechanism to keep Hungary and Poland on board, Labour MEP questions political solution

Labour MEP Alfred Sant
Labour MEP Alfred Sant

Labour MEP Alfred Sant has lambasted what he called “politicised” declarations by parliamentary assemblies in Europe, which have taken Malta to task over its rule of law shortcomings. 

Sant spoke about both the Council of Europe resolution on rule of law in Malta by the Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt, as well as a new rule of law mechanism in the EU that will withhold European funds to member states that breach the values of rule of law. 

Sant said that when MEPs speak on items of rule of law, it often depends on who governs the country, and the political ideologies of MEPs. “This creates politicised alliances, and it is also what happens in the Council of Europe. I certainly have no faith in such resolutions.” 

“I thought a number of the recommendations from the Council of Europe resolution were good, although I don’t like the fact that it is a foreign entity urging us to implement them. But unless there is an independent juridical system free of political calculations, we cannot trust such declarations. 

“And I am unimpressed with Omtzigt’s resolution, which tried to condemn the Maltese government for hastening the implementation of the recommendations.” 

Sant also suggested that the EU’s own rule of law mechanism had been politically mollified after Hungary and Poland threatened to veto the €1.8 trillion EU budget. 

“This is a politicised process which has now been given a legal and political solution. But the concession given to these countries is that when they appeal a rule of law warning and seek the European Court of Justice’s decision, the European Commission must suspend its action, something that could go against the executive’s independence. For now, politically, this is being allowed,” Sant said. 

Sant also said he feared the EC could use the same whip against countries, Malta included, who could be accused of not showing sincere cooperation on matters of taxation. 

The EU’s much-delayed budget and coronavirus recovery package has been agreed upon after being held up by Poland and Hungary, who opposed making some funds conditional on a country’s respect for core European values. 

Both countries, frequently at odds with Brussels over values like rule of law and judicial independence, called it “political blackmail”. 

In a compromise with EU leaders, the mechanism will be suspended while Brussels draws up guidelines for how it should be used and what might trigger it. 

Critics say the mechanism has now been turned into an instrument of last resort, just to keep Poland and Hungary on board with the budget. 

The two countries reacted positively to the compromise. "We have reached an agreement of a kind that, let me stress it, has accepted all of our preconditions that we have made,” said Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki. 

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, said the compromise had “saved the unity of the union”. 

“So don't forget that this dispute was not only about the rule of law, regulation, financial issues, it was about the future of the European Union and the question: what is the power centre of the European Union, the European institutions like Parliament, Commission or the member states? 

“Nobody can circumvent the intentions and the will of the elected governments of any nation neither the European Parliament nor the Commission, nobody, because [the] European Union is the unity of the nations.” 

But Daniel Freund, the Green group negotiator on the rule of law in the European Parliament, warned that the compromise will put the system “on hold for 1-2 years”. 

Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office said the delay “will allow for irreparable damage to the human rights of people in Poland and Hungary, and to the integrity of the rule of law across the EU.” 

The package includes the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), the EU's seven-year budget, worth just under €1.1 trillion, and the €750 billion COVID-19 recovery fund, known as Next Generation EU.

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