The Malta Independent 23 April 2019, Tuesday

New EP president stresses he cannot divulge personal opinion on Panama Papers due to new role

Helena Grech Saturday, 21 January 2017, 10:14 Last update: about 3 years ago

Newly elected EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani has indirectly rejected claims that he backtracked on his position about the Panama Papers scandal in Malta from almost a year ago, saying that his new position as EP President precludes him from divulging his personal opinion on the matter.

He also claimed that he will be willing to speak about the Panama Papers scandal after the inquiry committee concludes its investigations.

The Malta Independent had asked Mr Tajani earlier this week at a press conference about comments he made on Twitter regarding the Panama Papers scandal last year, when he asked “what’s going on with Malta?”

At the time he was an MEP and vice-chair the European People’s Party group, the European Party aligned with Malta’s opposing party, the Nationalist Party. In view of this, he had said:

“My position has changed, before I was a member of the EPP. Now I am independent and free, and my position is the position of the European Parliament.”

Responding to claims that he backtracked on his position, Mr Tajani further commented:

“My personal position is my personal position, I do not change ideas every three days but I promise to the parliament I will be neutral.”

When pressed about what that personal position is, he repeated that his personal position is his. It is unclear whether last year, as an EPP member, his criticism of the Panama Papers scandal in Malta was his personal opinion or whether he was toeing the party line. It is also unclear whether currently, his personal opinion on the matter is critical or not. He repeatedly stated that in his campaign to become president of the EP, he spoke of the need for a speaker to lead the institution and not a politician, claiming that it would make the EP stronger.

“We need to change in the European Parliament; we need a speaker not a prime minister. Now I am not president of EPP I am president of the parliament, I want to do this and respect my promise.

“For this my official speech will be a speech as president of the parliament not as a member of EPP. Also on Panama Papers I will speak only as President of Parliament, my personal position is my personal position, but now I am President of the Parliament, I will respect the Parliament’s position, after the conclusion of the inquiry committee (EP committee on Panama Papers and tax evasion, avoidance and money laundering) I will explain the position with the president of the inquiry committee.

Asked by this news room whether, as president, he thinks being neutral on the issue would set a precedent that such issues are ok, he replied:

“I said during my election campaign I will be a speaker, we need a strong parliament not a strong president. We need a president working in favour or the parliament and not the parliament working in favour of the president. For this I will respect the majority as well as the minority.”

Panama Papers refers to the discovery that the world's elite were using the secretive jurisdiction of Panama to conceal their wealth through the country's particular set of laws that do not require Panamanian companies or authorities to comply with international financial investigations.

Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister's chief of staff Keith Schembri were discovered to hold a secret company in Panama each, sheltered by trusts in New Zealand. Both claim no wrongdoing, while Dr Mizzi maintains he had the best intentions, and that the financial structures were put in place for “family planning”.

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