The government’s insistence with Leo Brincat’s nomination for a place on the European Court of Auditors makes me think that Joseph Muscat believes that his lobbying with his Brussels colleagues could lead the European Council to reverse the European Parliament’s rejection.
Whether or not Joseph Muscat succeeds in his quest to convince Merkel, Hollande et al, what happened in Strasbourg on Tuesday is a huge humiliation for Malta, its government and Brincat. No other country has ever had to face such a double shame across the whole of Europe, first with the rejection of Toni Abela by the EP’s budgetary committee, and now with the European Parliament’s ‘no’ to Leo Brincat.
That Brincat barely scraped through the first stage – the one in which Toni Abela was bundled out – was only thanks to Alfred Sant’s vote. This in itself was already a clear message to Muscat that Europe is not happy with the way he is running his kingdom.
Joseph Muscat believes that Leo Brincat could still make it, hence his resolve to keep the former minister (against his wishes?) in the running. But what he has not realised is that by doing so, he has turned his back to the whole European Parliament, at a time when Malta is only three months away from taking over the presidency of the European Union.
Between January and June, Muscat will have to work closely with the EP, and needs its support for Malta’s presidency to be deemed successful. By ignoring what the European Parliament decided and by pushing Brincat’s nomination in spite of such an overwhelming negative result, Muscat is downplaying the EP’s role in the whole European set-up. He is telling all MEPs that their opinion, for him, is not worth two cents. He is telling this institution that he is does not care about their judgment.
The EP will not take this matter lightly. Muscat’s utter disregard to such a huge majority of ‘no’ voters will work against the Maltese PM and also make it hard for Brincat to work within the EU structures, if he is eventually admitted by the European Council.
Muscat can play the PN-against-Maltese-interests card in Malta, where anything he says is taken as gospel and is repeated ad nauseam by the PL’s own media and other friendly outlets. But he knows – or should know – that the three Nationalist MEPs are not as influential as Labour portrayed them to be.
If Muscat thinks that David Casa, Roberta Metsola and Therese Comodini Cachia are powerful enough to convince the whole EPP group to capriciously vote against Brincat for reasons related to Maltese politics, then his (the PM’s) political acumen is way below average.
Then, the fact that the EPP has 28% of the EP seats and Brincat was rejected by more than double that amount is enough evidence to show that other political groups joined in expressing their disdain about Malta’s nominee, including members of the Socialist group of which the Labour Party forms part.
Their vote was not only against a minister who chose to keep Konrad Mizzi in place in spite of being the only Cabinet member of an EU country named in the Panama Papers, but against the whole Muscat government which defended him. Their vote was against Muscat’s unwillingness to kick Mizzi out of Castille along with the OPM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Whether the European Council will go against such a severe EP majority that rebuffed Brincat’s nomination remains to be seen. Some argue that in government-to-government situations, leaders tend to defend each other, while others insist that Brincat’s crushing loss makes it difficult for the European Council to overturn the EP result.
Whatever the case, Muscat under-estimated the effect of the Panama Papers scandal, and now has to live with the consequences.