After nearly two months, parliament once again held a vote on Monday, although only on the uncontroversial issue of Croatia’s accession to the EU.
The motion had been seconded by the Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesman George Vella, and was unanimously approved by the MPs present.
It was only the second vote held by parliament this year, after a no-confidence motion which was only defeated through the Speaker’s casting vote after Nationalist MP Franco Debono opted to abstain.
The lack of votes had been cause for criticism by the Labour Party, although this criticism may not subside unless more contentious issues are put to the vote.
These votes include the Opposition’s motion on justice and home affairs, which calls for political responsibility to be assumed over problems in the sectors. The two portfolios were split in a January reshuffle, with Carm Mifsud Bonnici retaining responsibility over home affairs and Chris Said assuming responsibility over justice.
The reshuffle ultimately led to the no-confidence motion, as Dr Debono pledged to no longer support government in its wake.
Labour MP Luciano Busuttil referred to the lack of votes during Monday’s debate, noting that while there was no doubt that both the government and the Opposition agreed on Croatia joining the EU, he had to point out the lack of votes in parliament.
Former prime minister Alfred Sant, meanwhile, raised a number of procedural concerns during his contribution to the debate.
Dr Sant argued that Malta was not properly ratifying agreements revising its ties with the EU, as the Ratification of Treaties Act was being bypassed. The act should either be followed or the law revised to address this anomaly, he said.
He noted that there was otherwise no dispute on Croatia, as it had democratically chosen to join the EU and satisfied the rules of membership. This point was seized upon later on by Nationalist MPs Francis Zammit Dimech and David Agius, who noted that Dr Sant recognised the Croatian referendum on EU accession but had not recognised the Maltese referendum on the same issue.
Nevertheless, Dr Sant also noted that Malta should have properly looked into the impact of Croatia’s EU accession, particularly since it was a competing tourist destination, a point which prompted criticism by Dr Zammit Dimech.
The former PM also raised concerns on recent EU developments, however, stating that member states’ independence was being chipped away by agreements such as the fiscal pact. He said that this may be deemed acceptable, but also merited proper debate as had been the case in other countries.
The MP also said that while larger countries could get away with breaching fiscal conditions as the EU could not enforce its rules, the same could not be said for Malta, which suddenly had to cut its expenditure by €40 million.
Foreign Minister Tonio Borg, who concluded the debate, stressed that Croatia’s EU membership did not only benefit the country, but was also to the benefit of Europe. He noted, as government MP Beppe Fenech Adami had done earlier, that the region has seen violent conflict in the recent past and had caused troubles for Europe, and insisted that the EU would benefit if the area’s countries joined.
Dr Fenech Adami also spoke in favour of Turkey’s accession, as long as it satisfied the criteria for membership, in his contribution.
Dr Sant had also noted that government signed agreements before parliamentary discussion, prompting Dr Borg to point out that this was standard procedure followed by both parties in government. He noted that signing was the government’s decision, while ratification was up to parliament.