Malta reacts with ‘surprise’ at Di Maio’s veiled threat on energy supply

After comments of Luigi di Maio on state Italian TV, Malta says its agreement with Italy on acquisition of energy is ‘governed by the rule of law’

Italian deputy PM Luigi di Maio
Italian deputy PM Luigi di Maio

The Maltese government has reacted with ‘surprise’ at comments by the Italian deputy prime minister Luigi di Maio, who appeared to make a veiled threat at Malta over its acquisition of electricity through the Malta-Italy interconnector.

Interviewed on Rai Uno’s Porta a Porta on Tuesday evening, di Maio said the Aquarius incident revealed the EU’s “hypocrisy” in asking Italy and Malta to solve the problem.

Critical of the fact that France and Spain had closed ports for migrant rescue ships, di Maio then turned his guns on Malta.

It was at this juncture that he underscored the fact that Italy supplied Malta with electricity through an interconnector from Ragusa. “I am sorry for Malta. We supply Malta with electricity from a cable in Ragusa and they closed their ports,” he said.

He was referring to the incident involving the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was at the centre of a standoff between both countries last week.

[WATCH] Italy deputy PM mentions interconnector in veiled threat to Malta over migrant crisis

Italian deputy PM Luigi di Maio on Malta and immigration

In a statement, the Maltese government reiterated its conviction that it acted in accordance to international rules during the Aquarius incident, and expressed “surprise at the said statement”, which appeared to link recent disagreements on migration to the energy interconnector.

“Malta buys energy from the European grid via the Malta-Italy interconnector. This energy is bought at commercial rates from various European providers on the European grid. The agreement on the said interconnector is governed by European rules and specifies minimum and maximum loads, and circumstances when such loads can be reduced.” 

The government said it was confident that the competent Italian authorities will draw the Di Maio’s attention to the fact the agreement is governed by rule of law. “The Maltese government also draws attention to the fact that with its latest investment in its own power plants, Malta is self-reliant for its energy requirements. The interconnector is used as part of an energy mix in its energy policy.”

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola also weighed in the debate, reminding the Italian minister that "selling is not giving" and that Malta pays for its electricity.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Peter Agius, the former representative of the European Parliament in Malta and who now sits on EP President Antonio Tajani's cabinet.

Peter Agius's Facebook post calling for a European solution to the migration crisis
Peter Agius's Facebook post calling for a European solution to the migration crisis

Di Maio is the head of Cinque Stelle, the party that emerged the largest political force after the March elections but not strong enough to form a government on its own. His party only managed to form a coalition with the hard-line Lega after months of political talks to resolve the election impasse.

Di Maio also erroneously said that Malta refused to accept the ship despite having been in its search and rescue area (SAR). The rescue did not happen in Malta’s SAR.

The Aquarius, a ship run by SOS Mediterranee, had rescued 629 migrants deep inside the Libyan area of competence in an operation coordinated by Rome.

Malta maintained its stand that the ship should have disembarked the migrants at the nearest, safest port of call, which would have been Lampedusa.

However, Italian authorities ordered the ship to stay put in international waters – an act deemed to be illegal – some 27 nautical miles off Malta.

The standoff was resolved when Spain stepped in and accepted to receive the migrants.

With Di Maio bringing up the interconnector, the tension between Italy and Malta over the migrant crisis, sees no end in sight. The interconnector is a crucial cog in Malta's energy infrastructure, supplying up to 200MW of electricity.

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