Malta rule of law debated in Strasbourg, Labour mounts defence of slow pace of reform

MEPs salute the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, at fifth anniversary debate that highlights rule-of-law shortcomings in Malta

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba watches as European Commissioner opens the debate on the state of rule of law in Malta
Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba watches as European Commissioner opens the debate on the state of rule of law in Malta

MEPs in Strasbourg yesterday opened the debate on a ninth resolution on the state of rule of law in Malta, following the fifth anniversary of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia by car bomb outside her Bidnija home.

With interventions from all Maltese MEPs and cross-party representations from Civil Liberties Committee members who form part of the delegation to Malta on rule of law, the debate scrutinised ongoing reforms in Malta following the assassination of Caruana Galizia.

European Commissioner Didier Reynders presented a detailed run-down of shortcomings inside Maltese political life, specifically calling for the shuttering of Malta’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, media reforms and other necessary changes to render judicial proceedings more efficient.

 A succinct opening from Dutch socialist MEP Thijs Reuten honoured Caruana Galizia’s legacy, saying her murder had exposed the problems of Maltese rule of law.

“When someone keeping those in power accountable is literally under fire, it’s not the journalist only that is under threat: ae are all under threat and democracy is in danger…

“[Caruana Galizia] paid for this with her life. In order to keep her legacy alive, the wounds to Maltese democracy need to recover. We will not get her back, but bringing all accomplices to her death to justice is the absolute minimum and remains a top priority.”

Reuten acknowledged that Malta’s government was constructively working on important reforms. “Although we understand that change does not happen overnight, we always aim higher. Therefore, on several reforms, from the judiciary to the citizenship schemes, as mentioned by the Commissioner, we need further progress.”

Nationalist MEP David Casa (EPP) paid tribute to the investigative work of Caruana Galizia, for having revealed corruption at the highest levels without fear of the political apparatus mobilised by Castille to “ridicule and isolate her”.

“It is easy to forget that Daphne was a proud Maltese woman: the story of her courage reminds us of the risks faced by journalists when governments drag their feet and ignore the evidence of corruption and criminality exposed by journalism. This is when the risk to the safety of journalists is at its highest.”

Casa said the imprisonment of the Degiorgio brothers for 40 years for carrying out the 16 October 2017 execution of Caruana Galizia was only a small step for justice. “On the criminality for which Daphne was killed, we are still behind in prosecuting it: now it is up to politicians and officials to play their role and ensure the masterminds of this crime are apprehended.

“Daphne deserved better – the Maltese deserve better. We will insist on full justice being served, because yes – Daphne was right, and yes, she is a Maltese hero.”

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer, who dubbed the assassination “a terror attack”, reminded the plenary that although he had attended the vigil on the night of the murder in Sliema, he had realised that his partner and him were “not welcome there… due to partisan-political reasons. I did not agree with all that Daphne wrote, but what happened has to be fought by all of us, away from partisan bickering, which is leaving all of us alienated.”

Engerer said that while Malta was undergoing an important process of judicial reforms, the country would still need time to heal from the aftermath of the assassination. “What we need is to heal as a nation from divisions rooted in the past. Our challenge is to fight hate, classism, the belief that our opinions are superior to others… to honour Daphne’s memory we need to open minds, hearts and fight partisan hate, and we must do that together.”

Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld (Renew), who leads the LIBE rule of law delegation to Malta, said journalists were vital for keeping governments honest. “They are the oxygen of democracy. Journalists must be able to do their jobs in safety. I salute you, Daphne Caruana Galizia. We will continue to work tirelessly for justice and the rule of law.

“And oh yeah, a little P.S. message to Mr Joseph Muscat: I believe you need your lawyers for more urgent matters than writing letters to MEPs, telling them what they can and cannot say.”

Labour MEPs mount defence

Labour MEP Alfred Sant however was more pointed in his criticism of the debate, calling out the resolution as an echo of “the messages of right‑wing splinter groups which disparaged the Malta government on all fronts and mindlessly.”

Sant said the Maltese government’s reforms “mighty seem slow” but that they were part of a democratic and open process of give-and-take, in some instances putting Malta ahead of other member states on judicial, constitutional and police systems.

“The process of justice and reform will continue to the end. However, this debate and the resolution attached to it will bring, I’m afraid, no value added to this process, and they do not reflect well on the objectivity and common sense of this House.”

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba was disparaging about “the ninth resolution and debate on recycled facts about the rule of in Malta,” and railed at the plenary’s “partisan interest” at hiding aspects of Malta’s process of reform in its institutions.

“With all due respect to the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, I am waiting for debates and resolutions in this parliament on the four murders of four other journalists that happened after the murder of Cauana Galizia – murders whose prosecutions have not even been started or even concluded.”