Muscat wants MEPs’ immunity, says Peter Agius as Facebook post whets grassroots’ appetite

Joseph Muscat for MEP? A Facebook post stirs a hornet’s nest and PN MEP candidate Peter Agius accuses the former Labour PM of seeking immunity in Brussels

Joseph Muscat addresses MEPs in 2017 as prime minister, during the Maltese presidency of the Council
Joseph Muscat addresses MEPs in 2017 as prime minister, during the Maltese presidency of the Council

Joseph Muscat for MEP?

Labour’s grassroots have salivated at the prospect that the former prime minister – who resigned in disgrace in 2019 after the fall of his chief of staff Keith Schembri following the arrest of magnate Yorgen Fenech for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia – could be mulling a European candidature.

The hornet’s nest was stirred on Thursday morning when Labour stalwart Manuel Cuschieri posted a laudatory Facbeook post on Muscat, asking his followers whether they agreed that Muscat should return to the Labour fore as an MEP.

Perhaps more enigmatically, Cuschieri hinted at “a decision yet to be taken” – the kind that seems to fall in concert with Labour leader Robert Abela’s recent overtures to former Labour ministers and MPs who were forced to resign over ethical breaches.

But while Cuschieri might be kite-flying a prospect for the former leader, it was PN candidate Peter Agius, who is contesting the European elections in June, who called out Muscat.

“My appeal to Muscat is that if he wants to wash himself clean, he can buy himself a washing machine. Don’t use the electorate to get political immunity in the European Parliament,” Agius said in a Facebook video.

“I think everyone has the right to run for MEP, but should we trust someone who faces allegations of corruption and criminal liability?” Agius said.

Muscat has never been charged, but his role in the privatisation of three state hospitals is the subject of a magisterial inquiry on alleged corruption. But Muscat has accused the magistrate of running an inquiry that was leaking like a sieve, declaring that he has no trust in Magistrate Gabriella Vella, having petitioned for her recusal on the case.

“Should we send to the EP, the winner of the OCCRP’s 2019 corrupt person of the year award?” Agius asked. “We should be looking to the future, not opening up old wounds and taking three steps back.”

Whether or not Muscat chooses to run for MEP, the option opens a Pandora’s box for Labour, allowing the party to shore up a waning grassroots support, but denting Abela’s stature as the party’s uncontested leader.

The Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba reacted to Agius’s post, saying that MEPs could lose their parliamentary immunity “over a single traffic citation”.

“I can’t understand the frenzy that Muscat elicits in Nationalists.... Peter Agius, after years as a librarian at the EP, should know that parliamentary immunity is easily removed... the decision whether to contest or not should be left in Muscat’s hands. As he has always done, his will be a decision in the best interest of the country. If he should, I would be proud of having my name on that same list.”

What is parliamentary immunity?

Parliamentary immunity is a guarantee that an MEP can freely exercise his or her mandate without exposure to arbitrary political persecution. That means MEPs cannot be subject to any form of inquiry, detention or legal proceedings because of opinions expressed or votes cast in their capacity as MEP.

Immunity cannot be claimed when an MEP is caught in the act of committing an offence.

When a competent national authority requests the European Parliament to waive the immunity of an MEP – or a request by an MEP or former MEP themselves that their immunity is defended – the Parliament’s President will announce the request to the plenary and refer it to the parliamentary committee for legal affairs.

The committee may ask for any information or explanation that it deems necessary. The MEP concerned will be given an opportunity to be heard, and may present any documents or other written evidence.

The committee adopts a recommendation in camera that it puts before the whole Parliament whether to approve or reject the request to lift or defend the Member’s immunity, by a simple majority.

The MEP keeps their seat even if their immunity is waived. The lifting of an MEP’s immunity is not a “guilty” verdict. It merely enables national judicial authorities to proceed with an investigation or trial.

As MEPs are elected under national electoral law, if they are found guilty of a criminal offence, it is for the member state’s authorities to decide whether his or her mandate is therefore voided.

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