Maltese parliament urges EU to fight for democracy

Joseph Muscat calls on Europe to resist ‘temptation of excess protectionism’ • Simon Busuttil uses special parliamentary meeting to urge EU to take tougher stance against Panama Papers

European Parliament president Martin Schultz enters Parliament with Ray Scicluna, clerk of the House of Representatives
European Parliament president Martin Schultz enters Parliament with Ray Scicluna, clerk of the House of Representatives

A special meeting of the Maltese parliaments saw MPs urging the European Union to fight for a stronger democracy, where European citizens felt that their concerns are being heard and addressed and were politicians acted for the greater good.

Whilst Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called on Europe to become more social, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil lambasted the EU for staying out of corruption scandals, such as the Panama Papers.

The political leaders and MPs were addressing parliament in the presence of Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament.

Busuttil insisted that "it was not OK" that minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri own offshore companies. 

"It is not OK for us for a minister and chief of staff to have secret companies in Panama, and I am disappointed that the EU isn’t talking as much action as it should on corruption," he said. 

Schulz had earlier dismissed concerns that Malta's ability to pass through anti-money laundering legislation will be hindered by the Panama Papers. 

He also called on EU member states to learn from Brexit, that no alternative is better than EU membership. 

"The UK has no idea how to handle a departure from the EU and its prime minister and ministers are now travelling the world to try and seek new relations to replace the one it currently has with Europe," he said.

"What a shame it is that the UK is spending all its resources on leaving the EU instead of exploiting the opportunities of membership."

The Prime Minister used his speech to call for a long-term "Marshall Plan" aimed at reducing immigration from African countries. 

"We cannot expect the fruit to fall into our mouths, and we don’t have the luxury to wait for things to hopefully smoothen out, but rather we must take action now," he said.

He called on Europe to resist the temptation of excess protectionism, and to keep into account the realities of everyday workers who struggle to make ends meet and feel abandoned by the EU.

In his speech, Schulz warned that the price of a breakdown of the EU would be paid for by future generations.

"We carry a legacy of previous generations and will leave a legacy to the next one. I am a post-war Western German and have known nothing in my life but peace, welfare and security. It is up to us to decide what heritage we will leave our children, whether it will still be welfare and security.

He hailed the dignity and courage of Malta in how it has managed influxes of refugees over the decades, way before larger European countries woke up to the problem. 

Some larger member states believe the presidency is part of our daily business, and I am hopeful that the Maltese presidency will be a successful one. 

Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech said that the overarching goal of the Maltese presidency would be to restore belief in the European project, and urged the EU to tackle the social inequalities that globalisation has left in its wake. 

"Recent and upcoming elections and referenda have led to a surge in nationalism and xenophobic tendencies that contrast with the EU project," he warned.

"Several citizens feel that national responses to migration, economy and security are far more effective than European ones, but there is so much more we can do together. 

PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami recounted how Malta had been pushing for a burden-sharing approach to migration for over a decade, but how its calls had often landed on deaf ears at the EU.

"The silver lining behind the recent migration tragedies is that, for the first time, the EU has recognized that migration is a problem that must be shouldered by all member states," he said.

"Malta gave birth to the concept of burden sharing, and I am glad that this is now a widely accepted concept."

Partit Demokratiku leader and independent MP Marlene Farrugia praised Schulz's earlier comments that he was proud to be part of a European establishment that supports democracy and the rule of law.

"People aren't fighting against the establishment per se but against wrongdoing; the establishment is a good thing, when it fights for democracy and the rule of law," she said.

Government whip Godfrey Farrugia delivered a powerful speech, saying that "we are all migrants" and warning that the EU has in several instances failed to act kindly to refugees.

"Human rights have often been sacrificed in place for political populism," he said. "The problem requires a comprehensive European solution that ensures life with dignity for all," he said

Brief speeches were also given by foreign minister George Vella, economy minister Chris Cardona, Labour MPs Luciano Busuttil, Anthony Agius Dcelis and Silvio Schembri and Opposition MPs Tonio Fenech, Stephen Spiteri and Claudio Grech. 

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