Rule of law resolution on Daphne anniversary marked yet again by MEPs’ sparring

Casa, EPP-led resolution approved by votes • Agius Saliba and Engerer accuse EPP of ignoring rule of law shortcomings in right-wing governments

Matthew Caruana Galizia kneels in front of the banner that marks the spot where the burning car that killed his mother came to rest six years ago on 16 October 2017 (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Matthew Caruana Galizia kneels in front of the banner that marks the spot where the burning car that killed his mother came to rest six years ago on 16 October 2017 (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

The European Parliament voted yet again on another resolution on the state of rule of law in Malta, marking the sixth year from the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16 October, 2017.

The resolution was approved by 437 votes to 14, and 66 abstentions. But only two MEPs out of the Socialist and Democrats group voted against the resolution - the Labour MEPs Alex Agius Saliba and Josianne Cutajar; Cyrus Engerer left the plenary without voting, while Alfred Sant was not present for the sitting.

The resolution, moved by the EPP, the S&D, Renew, the Greens, and the Left, pays tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia six years after her assassination and to her essential work in exposing corruption; expressed concern on “limited progress” in ongoing judicial proceedings on the murder; and accused Prime Minister Robert Abela of “downplaying acts of institutionalised corruption” which continued to entrench a culture of impunity for public officials allegedly embroiled in scandals.

While the executors of the assassination have been incarcerated, the alleged mastermind, Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, has yet to stand trial.

The resolution also called for sweeping reforms on press freedoms and laws in Malta, which are still the subject of a yet-to-happen public consultation.

Casa, Agius Saliba, Engerer

Addressing the plenary, Casa denounced the state of impunity on government corruption, identified by an independent public inquiry as a direct cause of Daphne’s brutal assassination. “We have a Prime Minister who has failed to act to root out corruption and now openly admitted his failure when he said that corruption is the way things work in Malta,” Casa charged. “But this is not the way things should work in Malta. Certainly, not in my name,” he continued.

Casa also recalled recent revelations on a driving tests racket enabled by OPM customer care officers forwarding recommendations by ministers, and monthly disability benefits to people with no disabilities simply to buy their vote.

On his part, Alex Agius Saliba said it was untrue that Malta was suffering from a culture of impunity, or that it had not proceeded on press law and judicial reforms, or the trial of the people accused of murdering Caruana Galizia.

“Had the resolution stopped at remembering Daphne Caruana Galizia and called for the protection of the free press across all of the EU, I would have been the first to support it. But yet again, the same text is rolled out, replete with half-truths and attacks on Malta. It confirms to me that the EPP’s mission is not to protect the press, but attack the left-wing government of Malta,” Agius Saliba told MEPs in his intervention.

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer took a different tack, attacking the polarisation malaise in Malta and the mudslinging between “the two political tribes who have done away with critical thinking.”

Engerer referenced speeches by Renew MEP Sophie In’t Veldt and Left MEP Konstantinos Arvanitis, who said the EPP was selective in using rule of law resolutions only where ruling parties did not belong to their centre-right political family. “Where’s the debate on Bulgaria or Greece?” Engerer asked.

Engerer said it would be more fitting to remember Caruana Galizia by choosing the path of dialogue, noting how he was calling for radical changes in Malta’s electoral system and party financing. “Obviously the PN will not even agree on these points, because it has not even submitted its financials according to the law... yet what we need to move forward is dialogue and the removal of polarisation.”

Abortion reference

The rule of law resolution also called on the Maltese government to finally enshrine the right to safe and legal abortion in national law, which has previously been announced by the government in limited circumstances, but which there has been no legislative process to adopt. “On the contrary, a restrictive abortion law has been passed,” the resolution states.

The resolution also addressed the latest scandals which the Parliament said “make it evident that serious governance issues in Malta persist and that this affects people’s lives in Malta.”

Among the conclusions, MEPs once again expressed continued concern at the impunity afforded to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, as well as former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and former Minister Konrad Mizzi. They further “underlined that journalists will continue to be at risk as long as there is continued impunity for corruption”.

The Parliament called upon the Commission “to take seriously the culture of impunity in Malta and push for a prompt return to respect for democracy and the rule of law” and to use “all the relevant tools at its disposal to ensure that the law is applied equally for all”.

In comments following the vote, MEP David Casa said: “The most significant threat to journalists occurs when there is no justice for the wrongdoing they expose, when people close to power continue to be afforded impunity. It is this very culture of impunity that made the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia possible and it is still very much with us today. Our work will continue until we put a stop to it.”

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