Barroso spokesman cushions John Dalli’s Libya commentary

Despite breaking ranks with European Commission boss on Muammar Gaddafi, Dalli’s off-key comments quickly find the rationalisation of Barroso’s spokesperson.

A spokesperson for European Commission president José Manuel Barroso told Agence France Presse today that John Dalli’s comments on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s “conciliatory” attempts should not be confused with his core beliefs.

Dalli broke ranks with his boss on Friday when he told a Maltese business audience that he “didn’t think [he] had the right, or anyone else, to make a statement on whether he should step down.”

Dalli, who has long-standing business links with Libya since 1987 as a government minister and then in his private capacity, struck an apologetic tone over whether Gaddafi should resign: “I think Gaddafi should make his own decisions. He has the assessment of the people, as he has said on TV… I think Gaddafi has made the first attempt towards conciliation – but now he is feeling himself on uneasy ground and is looking for a way out.”

His comments came just 24 hours after Barroso had said it was time for Gaddafi “to go and give the country back to the people of Libya.”

Spokesman Frederic Vincent told AFP he had been in contact with Dalli this morning, and argued that “personal commentaries” on a country he knows well, “that’s no secret,” should not be confused with his core beliefs.

“He said a solution that respects human rights had to be found,” Vincent insisted – referring to comments by Dalli whosaid he was “in no way a defender of Gaddafi…  I abhor and condemn the violence completely.”

“That is totally in line with the democratic values that guide the commission,” Vincent told AFP. “And in making some additional personal commentaries to a Maltese business audience – close neighbours remember – he was only doing what millions of people around the world are doing.”

But Dalli also claimed the media reportage on the issue was not completely reliable. Asked if he felt the media reports are ‘staged’ by foreigners, Dalli replied: “sometimes doubt creeps into one’s head when seeing people speaking perfect English and hoisted up by a group of people made to look like a crowd. I wonder if they might be shots ‘created’ for journalists.”

Of these claims, Vincent told AFP: “I have spoken to the commissioner, and he was talking about images on both sides, pro-regime demonstrations as well.”

Earlier in the day, Alternattiva Demokratika sent out a call to political parties to come clean over any financial dealings with the Gaddafi family.

Dalli’s comments yesterday reached the attention of and Foreign Policy magazine, which instantly picked up on the off-key message the Commissioner gave on Gaddafi – contrary to his boss’s message of support to Arab youth.

FP’s associate editor Joshua Keating said in his blog that Malta was in a “somewhat awkward position” as an EU member with long-standing political and commercial ties to Libya.

“This was highlighted vividly by comments made by EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, a former Maltese cabinet minister. Dalli didn’t quite voice support for Qaddafi [Gaddafi], but certainly gave him the benefit of the doubt and came awfully close to suggesting that the demonstrations have been staged by outside forces.”

“Dalli’s comments are not all that surprising – he used to run a consulting firm which specialized in helping Maltese companies set up shop in Libya – but they differ sharply from the EU’s official line and won’t be welcomed by his boss, EU President José Manuel Barroso, or by EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton. Then again, when coordinating a common foreign policy for 27 countries, not everyone is going to be on the same page.”

Even the Guardian noted, in a piece on how British prime minister David Cameron and French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy would not see eye to eye on north African developments, that statements like Dalli’s show how not everyone in the higher echelons of the EU are on the same plane.

While Dalli has sounded out of step with the statements of Barroso and those of the Maltese and EU governments, the Commissioner has made no secret of his strong links with Libya – an indication that he was not

His firm John Dalli & Associates, which he handed over to his daughters, has its own offices in Tripoli. From 1987 to 1996 and then again from 1998 to 2004, as parliamentary secretary and then finance minister he was the joint chairman of the Libya-Malta joint commission – a position that allowed him to sow his seeds in the Libyan business world during which Libya lived under United Nations sanctions.

His bio on his website reads: ‘John Dalli sought to assist in all possible ways to ensure that appropriate services will continue to be enjoyed by Libya through Malta. Levels of economic activities between the two countries increased and the political relationship was reorganised.

‘Through this long serving function he has acquired a deep knowledge and understanding of Libya and has established a strong network at the political and executive levels of that country. He has followed the political and economic developments in Libya over the years and has kept himself current on the present developments in Libya. John Dalli is considered to be an expert on Libya and is being asked to speak about Libya in business meetings organised in Malta and abroad.’

The difference between the PM's comments and those made by a Maltese EU commissioner is very clear. The former stood by his own principles in the face of aggression from a dictatorial regime whilst the latter chose the business interests of this country motivate his approach. In reality what has happened these past years is that most countries on this planet adopted the business interests approach. An approach which is short sighted and one which will have grave consequences on us and other countries all over the world.
My dear Watson, i presume you meant Gonzi ACOLYTES rather than accolades; the former referring to servile assistants or assorted lackeys, while the latter means the awarding of praise or acknowledgement of merit (could also refer to the knighting of someone). Well, having clarified this not-so-insignificant issue, allow me to inform you that you are wrong. I know this might not sound too convincing to you (are you actively involved with local political parties?) but it is the truth. All else is mere waffle. Elementary really , dear Watson. Andy Farrugia alias
There we go again. Agreeing or not with John Dalli, and perhaps many of us don't on these comments, it is very clear that the comments re the article by michaeloo1 and Afar have been penned Gonzi accolades. They still cannot swallow it that DAlli still enjoys so much support despite their efforts to hunt him down
Albert Zammit
Dear Barroso, no amount of damage-softening will sway the public opinion being held in Malta that Mr Dalli is now a liability both to the Commission as well as to our country and he should be requested to voluntarily relinquish his seat in the Commission. He is no longer fit to serve the EU and no amount of PR will change that.
Dear Barroso, no amount of spin or political expediency will mask the fact that that guy next to you should be kicked out and sent back to sender, much to our embarrassment. Andy Farrugia