Major disagreements between MEPs during debate on rule of law in Malta

Labour MEP Alfred Sant said that in his opinion, the Maltese government was too quick to implement the Venice Commission recommendations but that this was simultaneously testament to Malta's willingness to respect the rule of law

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli and Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes were asked by the European Parliament Speaker to take their heated discussion outside the Strasbourg building
Labour MEP Miriam Dalli and Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes were asked by the European Parliament Speaker to take their heated discussion outside the Strasbourg building

Labour MEP Alfred Sant said in the European Parliament on Monday evening that there was no need for the Maltese government to commit itself so quickly to the Venice Commission's recommendations.

"The changes need to be discussed in Malta with the Maltese and not with biased members of this house. However, surely, the government's decision last Friday to implement the recommendations of the Commission is a clear sign that Malta is and will be fully respectful of the rule of law," he said, and asked the European Parliament to face the facts with honesty.

Sant was speaking at a rule of law debate at the European Parliament where this was discussed vis-a-vis Malta and Slovakia, based on a resolution adopted by the Civil Liberties Committee last February.

He criticised the rule of law delegation that came to Malta last September for a two-day visit, meeting various stakeholders. "One of the key members of this rule of law committee is also a member of the Opposition Party of Malta. Are we to take the far-reaching value judgements reached by this self-appointed committee seriously?" he asked, adding that accusations sought to tarnish the reputation of the island.

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli: 'today we have a government who is putting forward amendments for the sake of the rule of law'
Labour MEP Miriam Dalli: 'today we have a government who is putting forward amendments for the sake of the rule of law'

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli said that it was ironic that certain members of the European Parliament were criticising Malta when it had just last week implemented recommendations of the Venice Commission.

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes said that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was giving orders to the public prosecutor and that "the mafia is manipulating the government, which was behind the murder of the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

"Her children continue to be harassed by defamation cases."

Gomes ran out of time and continued with her speech. She was called out by the Speaker of the House, who asked her to be "respectful" to her colleagues.

Dalli described Gomes' speech as incoherent as the speaker suggested that the two belligerent MEPs take their discussion outside. She challenged the Portuguese MEP to say whether she was against the proposed reforms.

Recommendations

Dutch MEP Sophia in 't Veld said that the mastermind behind the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder must be caught.

"We should always recall the names of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak," she said, adding that the EU Commission should start a rule of law dialogue with Malta.

PN MEP Roberta Metsola: 'I am described as a traitor by the Maltese government for defending Maltese values'
PN MEP Roberta Metsola: 'I am described as a traitor by the Maltese government for defending Maltese values'

in 't Veld said that it was great to see Malta recently implementing the recommendations of the Venice Commission, but that more should be done, including the abolishment of Golden Visa schemes, not just in Malta but in all member states.

"We also need to strengthen Europol because as it stands, it can only do its job when it's invited by member states to do so. But what if public authorities themselves are engaging in wrongdoing? We should have the power to invoke Europol when we feel member states are participating in wrondgoing," she said.

PN MEP Roberta Metsola said in her speech that she was honoured that she was a citizen in the "only nation on Earth to be recognised for our collective bravery in the worst conditions of war in the history of mankind."

She said she would always defend Maltese values.

"For doing that, my Prime Minister and his representatives spend their time screaming at their rallies calling me a traitor, but the only betrayal here would be to remain silent or defend the indefensible when all we have ever stood for is under siege.

"It is not always easy to fly your nation’s flag even when those in power and their propaganda machines are the ones blowing the wind against it. But I am in politics because I stand up for what I believe in," Metsola said.

German Green MEP Sven Giegold said that Europe was a community of values and that a rule of law mechanism needed to be in place to protect these same values and to allow all EU member states to investigate wrongdoing.

Alfred Sant—'bias against smaller states'

Labour MEP Alfred Sant said that a bias against commercial institutions in smaller states in the European Parliament was palpable. "While the experience of small Pilatus Bank was highlighted in Malta, that of the Deutschebank, of a much greater concern, has been ignored," he said. He added that TAX3's final report on financial crimes, tax evasion and tax avoidance was fundamentally flawed for this reason, and ultimately based on mere allegations.

Labour MEP Alfred Sant: 'there was no need for Malta to commit so quickly to Venice Commission recommendations but this, surely, is a testament to Malta's respect for the rule of law'
Labour MEP Alfred Sant: 'there was no need for Malta to commit so quickly to Venice Commission recommendations but this, surely, is a testament to Malta's respect for the rule of law'

Sant argued that tax flexibility remained the only competitive tool for small and peripheral economies in the single market.

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes retorted with a question: "What have you done to prevent Malta from becoming a tax haven that puts in question the fight against financial crime and terrorism in the EU? What have you done to prevent e-gambling and cryptocurrency and the two members of your government involved in the Panama Papers scandal?"

Sant said that this was not the way for a serious parliamentarian to move forward, to associate crime with mere allegations.

PN MEP David Casa said in his speech on Monday evening that as an MEP his duty was to defend citizens and that this was why he was always against abuse of power and corruption.

A number of MEPs then spoke about the possibility of abandoning several Golden Visa schemes across Europe and introducing a common corporate tax with a minimum rate.

Rule of law vote on Thursday

The European Parliament vote on the rule of law in Malta and Slovakia was postponed to Thursday.

This was after the intervention of Slovakian MEP, Monika Smolkova, member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

Nationalist MEP David Casa: 'I will always be against corruption and abuse of power since it's my duty to defend Maltese citizens'
Nationalist MEP David Casa: 'I will always be against corruption and abuse of power since it's my duty to defend Maltese citizens'

She said that since Slovakian Presidential elections enter the second round this week, a vote might affect the campaigns. "It's better to avoid a situation where this debate might have some negative consequences on the campaigns in Slovakia," she said.

The Dutch MEP Sophia in 't Veld disagreed. "I am aware that the Slovakian Presidential elections are coming up but we can't just keep quiet everytime there's an election. The resolution is factual and I don't see how it could unduly affect the elections.

"Rule of law is not a political issue. We should not politicise these matters by taking them off the agendas. The rule of law is not partisan but universal," she said.

The European Parliament then proceeded to a vote and decided that the the vote would be postponed to Thursday 28 March.

Smolkova then left the Parliament building in Strasbourg.

Last February, MEPs had adopted a draft resolution outlining serious concerns over the rule of law in Malta and Slovakia.

The resolution was adopted by the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday with 40 votes in favour, seven against and six abstentions.

It will now be put to the vote in the plenary session next Thursday.

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