The Malta Independent 19 August 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial: Joseph Muscat - A few more years to clean up your act

Thursday, 4 July 2019, 11:09 Last update: about 3 months ago

By all the signs Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had his eyes firmly on the prize this week, the particular prize being one of the European Union’s coveted top jobs.

But it seems that he was snubbed at the 11th hour despite all of Malta’s best lobbying efforts to see its Premier propelled to apex of the EU’s hierarchy.

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That clearly did not happen, despite the very palpable hype coming from government quarters in the days leading up to the big vote. 

The lobbying was decidedly powerful yet low-key because, as we know, the Prime Minister is not one to suffer defeat.  His comments yesterday in the Czech Republic, in fact, showed just how much Muscat may have had vested in his EU aspirations.

Questioned about the way forward by Czech journalists yesterday after failing to be nominated for one of the coveted posts, a somewhat visibly crestfallen Muscat said he will continue to work as Prime Minister with ‘even more vigour’.

Muscat also quipped about how some people had mentioned his name as having been on the list, but that is was not his ‘job to say who was on the list’.

It is understood that Muscat’s name had been on the shortlist before German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen was chosen as European Commission President and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was selected as head European Council.

But in actual fact, there were no flies on the walls of the European Council’s meeting room this week and few but the actual leaders will know exactly what happened during what were no doubt hard-fought negotiations.

One thing is for certain, however, and that is that Muscat had coveted a position, but one did not seem to be in the offing for him at the end of the day. He was said to have been earmarked for President of the European Commission or as Vice President of the Commission.

There are great many reasons why Muscat did not get what he wanted.  Firstly, the EU needs to strike a delicate political balance when it dispenses with its top jobs, which need to be balanced out between the EU different political groups.

But what most likely weighed most heavily against our Prime Minister is the long shadow of corruption that has been perpetrated and left unaddressed under his watch, the details of which are well documented in Malta and Europe.

Had Muscat landed the job, we would have had no small amount of political turmoil in here in Malta.  Muscat would have had to step down as Prime Minister by October, and that fits with what Muscat has been saying over recent months: that he would not be leading the Labour Party into the next election.

The Labour Party has been spared a leadership campaign, which would have been waged throughout the summer had Muscat been nominated, but now by the looks of its Muscat may very well head for a third terms after all, given that his European dream has been dashed or at least placed temporarily on the backburner.

Whatever the case, this must have been one massive wake up call for the undefeatable Joseph Muscat, who, if he still intends landing one of these jobs in the future, has now woken up and smelled the coffee and realised that there is no way a person running a government with our track record would be entrusted to run the whole of the European Union.

Muscat may win election after election in his own country, where he can pull the wool over his own people’s eye ever so easily.  But make no mistake, his EU peers who select their own leaders are not quite as gullible, they know perfectly well what’s what.

All those progressive civil liberties Muscat undertook so well were, reputation-wise, wiped clean by the financial and corruption scandals that have buffeted his administration year after year and month after month since he took office.

Do not get us wrong, we sincerely wish that our Prime Minister had landed the job, and that he had been considered material for such a position by his peers.  Perhaps if he had done what needed to be done all that time ago, sacking his chief of staff and then-energy minister after they were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, this week would have turned out a whole lot better for the Prime Minister.

The sad thing is that Dr Muscat, you have brought this on yourself by having failed to take the action you needed to take against this wayward pair of individuals.

But the good news is that our Prime Minister now has a few more years in which to clean up his and his administration’s act before he gets another shot at an EU top job.

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