If it made things ‘simpler’, Muscat would take blame for migration

Malta’s prime minister says EU leaders are to blame for lack of solidarity among member states on irregular migration

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

The European Union cannot expect to show solidarity and deliver an effective means of tackling migration into Europe, if the European Council fails to have an honest discussion about its values and what it believes in, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

“I would, if I could, take the blame for the migration problem because that would make it a simple one,” the Prime Minister said.

Muscat, whilst addressing the European Parliament during a closing review of Malta’s presidency of the Council of the EU, said neither the European Commission, nor the European Parliament, could be blamed for the problem.

The problem, he said, was the European Council – the institution made up of the leaders of each member state - since there was not common long-term policy for dealing with the phenomenon.

Muscat said the Maltese presidency had “inched forward” and made some progress. He said the EU’s mission to Libya had successfully convinced some 5,000 individuals not to cross the Mediterranean and had agreed to return to their country of origin.

“I must stress that for every person that is convinced, there is a huge effort by all of us,” the Prime Minister said, adding that it was his hope the number would increase to 10,000 by the end of the year.

He commended “huge efforts” in Mali and other third countries, especially in communities that “earn a living by smuggling people”.

Several MEPs described their satisfaction at the progress made by Malta, in closing a number of important dossiers. However, there was also considerable criticism by those claiming that the presidency had failed in effectively dealing with migration.

Cypriot MEP Neoklis said that despite efforts on migration by the Maltese presidency, cooperation in the Mediterranean was at a dead-end.

This was echoed by Patrizia Toia of the S&D who insisted that Italy should not be “left alone” on migration and Georgios Epitideios who accused Europe of failing to show solidarity with Greece and Cyprus as migrants continued to flow into Europe.

Despite the criticism, several others pointed out that the Maltese presidency could not be blamed.

Sven Giegold from the European Greens said it was a “shame” that the presidency was being accused of not solving the migration problem, adding that other member states had been refusing to cooperate on migration policy for years.

During his intervention, Muscat said the presidency had “achieved” a lot in terms of making a difference to people’s lives – such as the elimination of roaming charges across the EU, the signing of the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence as well as legislation to combat money laundering.

He said that not many would have thought that “such a small country” would have been able to chair so many meetings, and work on so many issues that would affect the lives of European citizens.

Alfred Sant, the leader of the Labour Party’s delegation to the European Parliament, said the presidency had been a success despite “efforts made to denigrate Malta, by implying the rule of law was not being followed”.

He also noted that despite progress on a number of fronts, there was still no consensus on migration and tax policy.

Money laundering legislation

Several MEPs spoke about the presidency’s track-record on money laundering legislation.

Pagazaurtundua Ruiz, from the Alliance of Liberal Democrats praised Malta for pushing forward “highly ambitious” legislation on money laundering.

However, Gilles Lebreton from the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group, accused Malta of being “a tax haven” and had failed in fighting money laundering. Similarly, Green MEP Jean Lambert criticised Malta for its “silence” on taxation matters as well as for its inaction on the revelations from the Panama Papers leaks.

This was echoed by Sven Giegold, who said that while the Maltese presidency had failed in implementing successful money laundering legislation, it was not Malta’s fault since every member state was determined to protect its own “dirty money”.

In response, Muscat said he appreciated there were many “misgivings” on tax policy while reiterated his belief that the matter fell within the remit of individual member states.