‘Who will shake hands with Muscat?’ PM silent on whether he will go to Brussels

German MEP Sven Giegold on meeting PM: “a once self-confident man now on the defensive”

Joseph Muscat at a European Council meeting, speaks to EC president Ursola von der Leyen
Joseph Muscat at a European Council meeting, speaks to EC president Ursola von der Leyen

“Who will shake the hands of the Maltese prime minister?” asks the German MEP Sven Giegold as the European Council is set to meet on 12-13 December.

This is one question from MaltaToday the Office of the Prime Minister is refusing to reply in an ensuing media blackout that has been precipitated since the resignation of chief of staff Keith Schembri: whether Muscat is going to Brussels next week.

The Green MEP was part of the rule-of-law mission by MEPs who met Joseph Muscat in Castille, now describing the meeting in a phone interview from his North-Rhine Westphalia office.

“The atmosphere was different than before,” Giegold, who has visited Malta and Muscat on various MEPs’ missions since 2016, said. “I always met him as a self-confident person who at the end of our meetings he had always shown our criticisms to be unfounded.”

This time, Giegold says, Muscat was on the defensive.

“He was on the defensive and he admitted misjudgement on his chief of staff, Keith Schembri.

“He was not able to answer convincingly on why he is not stepping back immediately,” Giegold said, referring to the national protests demanding Muscat’s resignation.

“We see the reaction of so many people to his decision to stay on for four more weeks, but this puts Malta and Europen in a difficult position. Because who wants to shake hands with the prime minister if it harms the reputation of the European Council. And how can healing start in Malta, seeing that in Malta, with its bipartisan divisions, and with the suspicion that he could use his time in office to blur any evidence of corruption?”

Giegold said that Muscat was insistent on his claim that he was not in a position to destroy any evidence on the Daphne Caruana Galizia case.

“He said that all major evidence was with the magistrate and Europol and that his influence was limited. This may be so, but there are at least a dozen of major corruption allegations against his government and the traces on such cases can also be cleared. This is why I understand citizens’ concerns.

“It is true the police has shown itself being more proactive than before, but when it comes to financial crime and corruption I couldn’t see any progress, or any competence and willingness to tackle these cases. It is highly worrying,” Giegold said.

Giegold said that although he wants to see Europe to ask systematic questions about rule in law in Malta, he is worried about the lack of prosecutions on corruption and money laundering cases, as well as on violations of environmental law.

“I’m deeply disappointed by the reaction of the new Commission president. Ursola von der Leyen has deplored the murder but announced very little action. Our delegation has called upon the EC to open a dialogue with Malta and send a fact-finding mission on rule of law. The EC is not ready to do so. This means that as with Jean-Claude Juncker, she is not ready to admit the systemic problems in Malta.

“We feared she would be very soft and we know she is extremely prudent, as has happened in Hungary and Poland.”