MEPs debate rule of law in Malta, Tajani calls for vote of ‘no confidence’ in Muscat

European Parliament debating resolution on rule of law in Malta following recent fact-finding mission 

L-R: Vera Jourova, Miriam Dali, Alex Agius Saliba, and Antonio Tajani
L-R: Vera Jourova, Miriam Dali, Alex Agius Saliba, and Antonio Tajani


Malta’s name reverberated through the halls of the European Parliament, once again on a familiar theme: rule of law and the aftermath of the assassination of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The plenary hall in Strasbourg was attended only by some 70 MEPs who addressed the session, which presented a resolution on the rule of law in Malta that will be voted upon on Wednesday.

But the admonishment for Joseph Muscat and his administration was loud, and left even the country’s defenders bruising.

Labour’s political grouping, the Socialists & Democrats, could not ignore calls to have Malta brought into dialogue with the European Commission to sort out its shortcomings on rule of law. But they also demanded that the Commission apply an equal yardstick with member states caught breaching the EU’s standards on values: Hungary was the usual suspect, with socialist MEPs calling on counterparts from the European People’s Party not to spare the rod for prime minister Viktor Orban.

But the session, which comes a week since MEPs on a rule of law mission visited Malta, was conjured as a “vote of no confidence” for Joseph Muscat, in the words of the former minister and one-time EP president Antonio Tajani, who sat alongside Maltese MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa.

“Joseph Muscat should resign as soon as a vote takes places in this House. It should be a vote of no-confidence in Muscat... we need to restore dignity to a country that should not be regarded as a place where dirty money is recycled or where passports are sold to Russian magnates. That dignity can only be restored when Muscat resigns,” Tajani said.

Metsola said the Maltese had been forced to stand up to a “criminal network that has seized control and chipped away at the pillars of our Republic”, and accused Muscat of trying to “intimidate, threaten and silence by calling rallies to denounce us as traitors.”

“We want the world to know that we are not all cut from the same cloth as Joseph Muscat and the criminals he empowers. When the world looks at Malta, they should see our true face: A proud people standing up,” Metsola said, after Malta was branded an “island of corruption” by other MEPs.

“Muscat is still trying to cling to power for at least another 30 days of chaos: interfering, influencing and contaminating the investigation.   He must resign immediately if my country stands any chance of moving forward.”

Her message was echoed by Casa, who described the “real Malta” as the people on the streets protesting every day.

“While Malta’s government has brought us shame its people brought us great pride. Pride that we are standing for what is right. Pride that we are taking action to bring our country back from the brink. Pride that we count Europe’s bravest journalist as one of our own.

“Now we demand EU action. We are not interested in vague expressions of concern or promises of monitoring. Now we demand that the Council and the Commission do their duty, and we demand that they stand up for the Maltese people.”

As stated by the European Commissioner on rule of law, Vera Jourova, who introduced the debate on the resolution, various MEPs called for the equal application of a rule of law mechanism that allows the EC to draw in errant states closer to the standards of values the EU endorses.

The socialist MEP and chair of the LIBE committee, Juan López Aguilar, said that while he endorsed the conclusions of the rule of law committee missions in Malta, “we need to make sure that all member states commit to the same basis without any criticism of political bias, and that they will abide by the legal questions of rule of law and independence.”

Both sides were criticised by the Alice Kuhnke of the Greens, who berated the S&D and EPP for jockeying for the moral high ground about the will to investigate similar incidents. “The fact that you lost your moral compass to hunt for benefit is not only shameful in itself, but because every individual politician in every assembly, who undermines the rule of law, is also undermining democracy and the trust that should exist between politicians and the populace, which is the democratic core of our values.”

Other MEPs, like Renew’s Ramona Strugariu, vehemently protested the lack of opprobrium shown by Muscat’s counterparts during the last European Council. “None of those ministers in the European Council should have shaken Muscat’s stained hands,” she said.

Malta’s Labour MEPs as expected, attempted to put up a staunch defence of their country.

Alex Agius Saliba was perhaps the most vociferous.

“I will never accept that all Malta be tarred with the same brush. The police carried out intensive investigations and today we have the alleged killers and murder mastermind, and they are facing justice… our institutions are functioning well and are not prejudiced towards particular individuals.”

Agius Saliba said the resolution being pushed on Malta was unjust, saying the country was already working to implement recommendations by the Venice Commission and the European Commission.

Josianne Cutajar also called for caution, warning that the resolution could be used for partisan political purposes when investigations into the Caruana Galizia assassination were ongoing.

“The Malta police force with Europol, have done great work… Malta stopped; understood where it went wrong; and made a decision. An institutional reform process has started and we will not stop before we have a significant Constitutional Reform.”

Labour’s head of delegation described the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia as an act of terror and said action had to be taken against whoever is responsible, “whoever those persons may be.”

“Malta is currently experiencing unprecedented circumstances that shook the whole society and we want these realities to be addressed in a constructive manner… We are confident that the process under the oversight of the President of Malta to propose constitutional reforms will yield results.”

She even called for all alleged cases of corruption to be thoroughly investigated. “No one is above the law and the fact that time-barring on cases of political corruption was removed should ensure such judicial process. Currently there are five ongoing magisterial Inquiries on cases of alleged corruption. We want these inquiries to be concluded as soon as possible for the benefit of all.”

Even Dalli called on the Commission to propose a rule of law mechanism made up of independent experts that monitors all member states in an objective and fair manner. “It is what we really need because conclusions that are not objective do not help anyone.”

Labour MEP Alfred Sant was equally honest about the situation Malta faced.

“That Malta faces serious problems of governance is clear. They arose in the context of the horrendous murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and also beyond… There have been fatal failures of judgement even at the top level. The political price for them is being paid.”

But Sant called for a dispassionate review of the situation leading to reforms that will ensure no future repetition of past mistakes.

“True: the criminal investigation arrived at sensational findings.  Even more sensational allegations have been made on their basis. We heard them being repeated during this debate, mostly for political jockeying. This runs contrary to the interests of the Maltese people whose commitment to European values is secure.

“When considering how European values are being respected, we must follow objective criteria, applied to all by an institution that all can trust. The resolution on which we shall vote tomorrow combines findings, allegations, one sided interpretations in a statement that paints black everything Maltese. It also blacks out the economic, social and cultural progress achieved in Malta during past years, which is not fair…

“There has to be a right way for this assembly to consider the affairs of Malta, one that would be applied equally to other member states like Hungary or Poland.  No matter how well intentioned, the direction in which this debate has been driven is not the right way, not for Malta, neither for Europe. We need a better way.”

11:30 Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for justice Reynders is gong through the contents of the letter he sent justice minister Owen Bonnici yesterday. Read it here. Matthew Vella
11:18 Interesting exchange of views between Agius Saliba (S&D, Malta) and a Hungarian MEP calling for the resignation of Joseph Muscat. Agius Saliba criticised the MEP whose party-in-government has itself enacted laws that undermined the rule of law in Hungary. Matthew Vella
11:12 Alfred Sant, S&D
That Malta faces problems of governance is clear. The consequences must be owned. The murder was duly investigated and is close to be resolved. There have been failures of judgement even at the top level, and the political price is being paid.
What's needed is a dispassionate review of the situation leading to reforms that will ensure no reputation of past mistakes. True, these are sensational findings and more sensational allegations are being made. We've heard them here as well for political jockeying, which runs counter to people's commitment to EU values.
We must follow objective criteria that are being applied to all, by an institution we can trust. The resolution we vote on tomorrow paint everything black in Malta and blacks out our economic achievements. A new government will be committed to a new beginning, not to commit the radical failures of the past, ensuring better separation of powers, battling corruption, justice for those involved in the assassination.
The current transition should be allowed to develop; making premature judgements is not the right way. The same yardstick should be applied to Hungary and Poland. We need a better way.
Matthew Vella
10:53
Matthew Vella
10:51 Josianne Cutajar, S&D We Maltese want justice... we should strengthen European values, we should not take a position according We are in this state because the Maltese police worked together with Europol. We started a process to reform the institutions and we won't stop until the whole constitutional process is concluded. An action against Malta would be prejudicial to these changes. Matthew Vella
10:44
Matthew Vella
10:43
Matthew Vella
10:36 David Casa, EPP
Allow me to start off by apologising. Apologising for the Maltese government’s failings over the past years, and its insistence on continuing to do this to this day. I never thought I would be this ashamed of the Maltese government.
Ashamed that a criminal cabal hijacked this government. Ashamed that our institutions did not do their duty. Ashamed that Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered because of these failings. Ashamed that Joseph Muscat continues to grasp onto power even now.
But, colleagues, this is not the real Malta. These few criminals are not the real Malta. The real Malta is on the streets protesting every day. The real Malta is standing to be counted. It is this resilience, this courage, that is Maltese.
And while Malta’s government has brought us shame its people brought us great pride. Pride that we are standing for what is right. Pride that we are taking action to bring our country back from the brink. Pride that we count Europe’s bravest journalist as one of our own.
Now we demand EU action. We are not interested in vague expressions of concern or promises of monitoring. Now we demand that the Council and the Commission do their duty, and we demand that they stand up for the Maltese people. We demand no less. We deserve no less.
Matthew Vella
10:25 Alice Kuhnke, Greens
It is shameful that politicians and political groups in this Chamber who claim to be democrats, are horse-trading over their will to investigate such incidents. The fact that you lost your moral compass to hunt for benefit is not only shameful in itself, but because every individual politician in every assembly, who undermines the rule of law, is also undermining democracy and the trust that should exist between politicians and the populace, which is the democratic core of our values.
Matthew Vella
10:21 Alex Agius Saliba, S&D
I will never accept that Malta will be tarred with one brush.
The police has carried out intensive investigations and today we have the alleged killer and murder mastermind, and they are facing justice. The serious manner in which the police has carried out its work was also confirmed by the EP delegation's visit two weeks ago. This is a clear signal that our situations are functioning well and are not prejudiced to individuals.
The resolution we have towards us today is a very unjust one when compared to the current situation in our country. Our country is not perfect, and because I love my country, I firmly believe there is room for improvement, but the government is still doing a lot to implement a number of recommendations by the Venice Commission and the European Commission. In fact last week, one of the recommendations on the law of the Attorney General was fully implemented. We must protect justice by strengthening institutions and allowing it to work freely.
Matthew Vella
10:05 Ramona Strugariu, Renew
751 letters from this House should have gone to Muscat, asking him "who ordered Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder and why?" None of those ministers in the European Council should have shaken Muscat's stained hands.
Matthew Vella
10:00 Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, S&D
We need to make certain that finally, we can have some mechanism on rule of law; we support the missions that the rule of law committee has carried out in Malta, and we totally endorse its conclusions, but we need to make sure that all member states commit to the same basis without any criticism of political bias, and that they will abide by the legal questions of rule of law and independence.
Matthew Vella
09:57 Antonio Tajani, EPP
Joseph Muscat should resign as soon as a vote takes places in this House. It should be a vote of no-confidence in Muscat... we need to restore dignity to a country that should not be regarded as a place where dirty money is recycled or where passports are sold to Russian magnates. That dignity can only be restored when Muscat resigns.
The murderers are hiding with the complicity of the government. We have to shine a light on this and give Malta back its dignity.
Matthew Vella
09:53 Marisa Mathias, GUE
What we have in Malta is an open door to corruption in terms of golden visas and money laundering. The fact that we cannot protest investigative journalists means that we have failed democracy... we should not wait for Mr Muscat to resign. It is simple respect for rule of law. The rule of law is being buried in the EU. We have to get together and defend democracy.
Matthew Vella
09:48 Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, Greens
Welcoming oligarchs and money laundering is something that has polluted institutions at their very basis, and this has major repercussions for any government of any major colour. We should not be issuing gold star and black marks to any political party; we should be speaking out against the sale of passports.
Matthew Vella
09:41 Miriam Dalli, S&D
Justice must be done and seen to be done. Action has to be taken against those responsible, whoever they may be.
Several recommendations have been made, some of the judicial changes proposed have been carried out, others including the CSRs and Venice Commission recommendations started being carried out. We are committed to ensure the reforms our country has started to implement, will continue to gather pace. We want to make sure that checks and balances continue.
All alleged cases of corruption must be thoroughly investigated. The fact that time-barred political corruption has been removed should ensure justice can be made.
Malta is currently going through a period of transition, and it would be counter-productive if this parliament issues judgements that would prejudice this process.
Madame Jourova, I urge you to propose a rule of law mechanism made up of independent experts that monitor all member states in an objective and fair manner.
Matthew Vella
09:35 Roberta Metsola, EPP
We have been forced to stand up to face down a criminal network that has seized control and chipped away at the pillars of our Republic - protected by a Prime Minister who refuses to resign immediately.
This is not hyperbole. For years, our Prime Minister and his paid envoys have conducted a taxpayer-funded disinformation campaign of vitriol, targeting anyone and everyone who dared stand up to them. They tried to intimidate, threaten and silence by calling rallies to denounce us as traitors. But we knew then what the world knows now and we refused to be give in.
We want the world to know that we are not all cut from the same cloth as Joseph Muscat and the criminals he empowers. When the world looks at Malta, they should see our true face: A proud people standing up. They should see people like Michael and Rose, Peter and Matthew, Andrew and Paul – Daphne’s family whose search for justice sparked a light that even the darkest of forces could not extinguish.
We are closer to justice than ever before but we are not there yet. Muscat is still trying to cling to power for at least another 30 days of chaos: interfering, influencing and contaminating the investigation. He must resign immediately if my country stands any chance of moving forward.
This must be a catalyst for change. We need a new rule of law mechanism that looks at the situation in every Member State. And we needed it yesterday. People fighting corruption, abuse of power and criminality should never be faced with shrugs of shoulders, inaction or excuses that protect political allies.
We need the whole truth. We demand justice. We must have accountability.And then we need a massive programme of reforms... Because after Joseph Muscat nothing can ever be the same again.
Matthew Vella
09:34 Stelois Koulglou, GUE
Mr Muscat, with his chief of staff allegedly involved in the crime, must go right now.
For once we agree with EPP... I hope we will be on the same page when we speak about Victor Orban and the rule of law in other countries. Malta is not the only place where there is corruption or where there is corruption, or where there is a fiscal paradise. I hope you will display the same straight and adamant character in Hungary and other countries where your (points to EPP) governments are in place. Malta is not the only fiscal paradise in the EU. It is not the only country that has given out golden visas and passports.
Matthew Vella
09:31 Assita Kanko, ECR A free press keeps us free... it keeps the eyes of our citizens open.
If Europe is to speak with authority and credibility on government, freedom and on the fundamental rights, then Europe must become the best it can be. If we have to win back the trust and retain this trust among our citizens, we must keep ourselves to the highest standards.
We need to look into the mirror and face what we might become if we don't make that justice happen.
Matthew Vella
09:24 Sven Giegold, Greens
Here in the EU we cannot have a culture of stagnation... it is important the EC puts everything in train to ensure the rule of law is applied in Malta.
The EC has to make sure that serious work is continued. The EU is a community of law, and in changing the situation in member states, but there is a lot more we can do. The previous Commission sat idly and did very little. What stops you from preventing the sale of passports and start infringement proceedings for disloyalty? Why can't you ensure infringements against public procurement corruption? Or on planning rights, which is destroying the environment, or on money laundering policy? What is stopping you? There is a long list of infringement proceedings when it comes to the separation of powers, and the improper implementation of Venice Commission recommendations.
Matthew Vella
09:21 Sophia In 't Veld, Renew
I am concerned at the lack of urgency, in particular in the European Council, to a lesser degree in the Commission; we have to realise that we are dealing with hard-nosed criminals who are literally ready to kill. They will not be impressed with our statements...
Will we have done everything in our power to stop this? Our task is not to ask for the resignation of the prime minister, but I should point out that his continued presence in the OPM is cause for great concern. If there is a trick of meddling with the investigation, we would be eroding trust in the investigation and rule of law. I ask the EC to start its dialogue with Malta on rule of law now.
The Council should be ashamed of itself, refusing to discuss what is going on with the Prime Minister of Malta.
This is not just a legal issue. This is an issue to take responsibility for the health of rule of law in the whole of Europe, or else this disease will spread.
Matthew Vella
09:18 Birgit Sippel, S&D
Over the past few years, a lot of distrust has been built up among the population, and we must ensure a balance between confidentiality and privacy, and information being given to the public...
The investigations into the death, and particularly, the corruption and sale of citizenship is something that is still going on. At the moment, Malta is a symbol of corruption, and it should be our common responsibility to change that. We should not have this kind of thing happening in Europe. We need to see change... but we need measures to prevent this kind of thing from happening in Europe. We need people to be able to have faith in rule of law, democracy and human rights.
Matthew Vella
09:15 Esteban Gonzales Pons, EPP
How can we afford a government in moral ruin? The eyes of all journalists across Europe are on you, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Every day you remain in office, it is a shame for the country, for the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, it is a slap in the face of thousands of Maltese asking for justice end truth. If your office has ben involved in a murder, what else do we still don't know? You must step down. This is not about you anymore This is about Malta. The EP stands wit the Maltese people. Justice will be done.
Matthew Vella
09:12 European Commissioner Vera Jourova It is essential that all EU institutions contribute to the upholding of rule of law in the EU. Today’s debate and the visit of MEPs to Malta are of great importance.
The EC has been following the developments in Malta very closely. The EC condemns the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, it was an attack on the free media, and is of concern to the EU as a whole.
Journalists must feel safe to work in Europe, if not, democracy as we know it, would be under threat.
It is not the Commission’s remit to speak on the ongoing investigations, but we expect a thorough investigation free of political interference. There are a number of structural reforms Malta is undertaking or is currently taking. The EC also brought infringements against Malta on anti-money laundering rules.
One of Malta's challenges is to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and anti-money laundering rules.
However there is a lack of significant progress. The most recent developments show that no more time should be lost.
We have strongly encouraged Malta to consult the Venice Commission. In July 2019, Malta adopted its State Advocate Act and appointed its first state advocate, but we are concerned about the lack of checks and balances of the Attorney General. The EC expects the Maltese government to implement in full the conclusions of the Venice Commission. We will continue to insist on the accelerated implementation of the reforms.
More generally we will introduce a new rule of law framework to improve dialogue with member states.
Matthew Vella
09:11 Here is a text of the resolution which MEPs will be pushing forward today: OPENS PDF. Matthew Vella
08:45 For a list of all the speakers to follow, go to this link here [opens PDF]. Matthew Vella
08:43 The session will start with a statement by the European Commission, from Vera Jourova. Matthew Vella
08:42 Welcome to our live-blog. MEPs will be discussing a resolution on the rule of law in Malta, after the recent revelations around the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Matthew Vella

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