The Malta Independent 2 March 2021, Tuesday

EPP, Renew MEPs call for Muscat’s immediate resignation; Labour MEPs describe resolution as ‘unjust’

Albert Galea Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 09:09 Last update: about 2 years ago

MEPs from the European People’s Party and Renew Europe amongst others called for the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in a debate at the European Parliament on a resolution on the rule of law in Malta – a resolution which the Labour Party’s MEPs all described as being “unjust” and “unfair”.

The debate centred around the topic of rule of law in Malta, with a specific focus on the recent revelations in connection with the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. It followed a fact-finding mission made up of MEPs from each political group which visited Malta two weeks ago.

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They had met the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, the Attorney General Peter Grech, and the Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar amongst others, but their concerns were not allayed and they called for Muscat to step down immediately.

Various topics emerged throughout the debate, with MEPs from the European People's Party and Renew Europe being the most vocal in calling for Muscat's immediate resignation, while MEPs from the Socialist & Democrats Group - which is the group that the Labour Party forms part of - were a lot more measured in their speeches - something which drew criticism from the EPP especially.

All six Maltese MEPs spoke during the debate. 

Labour's four MEPs all defended Muscat's decision not to resign immediately and all spoke of the government's commitment to improving rule of law in the country by adopting new measures such as those proposed by the Venice Commission.  Miriam Dalli said that passing such a resolution against Malta would be "counter-productive", while Alex Agius Saliba and Josianne Cutajar both called the resolution "unjust".  Alfred Sant was the only one out of the four who spoke of "fatal errors of judgement" in the government, but he too called the resolution "unfair" especially given how countries such as Hungary and Poland had been handled.

The speeches of the two PN's MEPs - Roberta Metsola and David Casa - meanwhile took an altogether different tone, slamming the government and saying that the true face of Malta was of those who were protesting in the streets for justice.  Casa spoke of how he was ashamed by the fact that the government had been taken over by a "criminal cabal" but is proud of the real Malta which is protesting in the streets and standing up to be counted.  Metsola meanwhile spoke of how she wanted to show the world that not all Maltese are "cut from the same cloth as Joseph Muscat and the criminals he empowers. When the world looks at Malta, they should see our true face: A proud people standing up".  Both spoke of the need for Muscat to stop "clinging to power" and to resign immediately.

For a more in-depth read into how the debate proceeded, readers may catch up with The Malta Independent's live commentary from the debate by starting at the bottom of this page.

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11:40: Reynders' speech closes off this debate.  A vote on the resolution will take place tomorrow.

11:32: Justice Commisioner Didier Reynders closes off the debate with a five-minute speech. In it he reminds of how the commission has sent a clear message to both the Prime Minister and Justice Minister for investigations to be done without political interference and speaks of the progress seen in the investigations as a result of Europol's involvement.

He emphasised the need for the independence of the judiciary in appointments and dismissals, and encouraged Maltese authorities to consult the Venice Commission on all draft legislation that they come up with.  He spoke of the controversial citizen by investment scheme which Malta and other EU countries have, saying that while awarding citizenship is the prerogative of member states, they must keep EU laws in mind when exerting their powers.

He said that there is the need to enhance the culture of rule of law in all member states in the EU, noting that if they want to speak about the rule of law outside the EU, they must "do the job" at home first. "For this reason, the Commission will organise and set up a new mechanism with the publication of an annual report on rule of law in all member states without discrimination", he said before noting that the commission will still pursue infringement proceedings and organise dialogues on rule of law when needed.

11:22: A British MEP attacked the chairman of the Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture festival, speaking of how a British theatre company invited to participate in Valletta18 was censored and asked to change their script when it became clear that it would include references to Daphne Caruana Galizia and her murder.

Jason Micallef had been the person chairing the Valletta 2018 festival.  The Malta Independent on Sunday last weekend reported that his rants against the use of the Great Siege monument as a memorial for Caruana Galizia, and his ridiculing and twisting of the journalist's last words on her blog and using them with photos of the St. Patrick's Day celebrations in St. Julian's drew controversy which a recent report issued by the European Commission had "caused considerable damage" to the European Capital of Culture's international reputation.

11:15: A critical speech by EPP MEP Balázs Hidveghi - who is Hungarian - attracts the anger of Agius Saliba, who speaks of how contradictory it is for an MEP from Hungary to attack Malta when Malta is implementing recommendations from the Venice Commission while Hungary is changing its laws to undermine rule of law.

Hidveghi brushes the criticism off; "This Prime Minister needs to go right away - there was a murder of a journalist in Malta and the links go back to the Prime Minister’s office.  He should simply resign.  In Hungary we may have a debate in Europe at times, very well, but it doesn’t event compare to what happened in Malta.  The hypocrisy of the left is outstanding in this matter."

11:07: The last Maltese MEP to speak, Alfred Sant, starts off his speech by saying that it is clear that Malta faces "serious problems" in governance and that there were "fatal judgements" even at the top level.  He decried certain "sensational" allegations which had been mentioned throughout the debate namely for "political jockeying".

He said that such resolutions must be objective, and noted that the resolution before the Parliament is not wholely objective and is hence unfair, before noting that a new Prime Minister will be committing to eradicating the fatal error of the past.

"The current transition should be given the chance to develop; making premature judgements is not fair.  To be fair – these things must be applied equally to other countries such as Hungary and Poland.  The direction of this debate is not the right way; not for Malta and not for Europe. We must find the right way", he said.

11:03: EPP MEP Paulo Rangel speaks of how he is ashamed of both the council and the commission but especially for the S&D "for having the courage to say what they would say if a journalist in Russia, Turkey or China is murdered". 

"Muscat would do a service to democracy and transparency for a clean and serious investigations to resign immediately.  That is the claim I hope the S&D can follow now – if you have courage, please say that Joseph Muscat must resign and save the courage and honour of the Maltese people and European Union", he said.

10:58: S&D MEP Katarina Barley from Germany says that there are three ways of ensuring that all is done for Caruana Galizia's memory; making sure that those who are guilty and complicit in the murder are brought to justice; making sure that journalists can do their work without being put in danger; and attacking the evil that Caruana Galizia was murdered for at its root - "we cannot look away when rule of law is violated, we must stand up to money laundering, corruption, and for the independence of the judiciary", she said before noting that the granting of golden passports must be looked at in detail.

10:50: Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar says that she acknowledges the revelations of the last week and is shocked as much as the rest of the country. "We want justice but it wouldn’t be just if the bad actions of some individuals affects the whole government; we shouldn't take a position based on partisan allegiance", she says.

She notes that the European Parliament's own delegation had confirmed the good work of the Maltese police together with Europol and - like her Labour MEP colleagues - speaks of the institutional reforms taking place.

She says that voting in favour of adopting the resolution as proposed would not be "just" or "beneficial".

10:47: Dutch EPP MEP Jeroen Lenders also calls for Muscat's resignation: "can we really expect the same people clearing memorials daily to lead the investigations.  How naive can we be?" he says.  He ends his speech with, he says, the only Maltese word he knows: "Prime Minister - Barra". 

10:38: A number of speeches follow.  Fabienne Keller from Renew laments how nobody from the EU Council was in attendance and questioned whether they were even interested in seeing justice be done in this case.  British Greens MEP Molly Scott Cato says that "we cannot allow EU member states to operate as a mafia state", and notes that money creates impunity and corrupts democracy; "to honour Daphne Caruana Galizia's memory we must take all necessary action to uphold rule of law in Malta".

Croatian ECR MEP Ruza Tomasic says that "lip service" speaking of the need for transparency and rule of law will not work alone, and calls for the Maltese govenrment and EU institutions to do everything to solve the case as soon as possible.

10:29: David Casa comes after a few more MEPs also speaking in Maltese, starting off with an apology: "allow me to start off by apologising. Apologising for the Maltese government’s failings over the past years, and its insistence on continuing to do this to this day", he says.

He speaks of how he is ashamed by the government, by how a "criminal cabal" hijacked the government, how institutions had failed and how Caruana Galizia was murdered because of all this.  He says however that he is proud of the real Malta which is protesting in the streets and standing up to be counted.

"Now we demand EU action. We are not interested in vague expressions of concern or promises of monitoring. Now we demand that the Council and the Commission do their duty, and we demand that they stand up for the Maltese people. We demand no less. We deserve no less", he says.

10:24: EPP Lefteris Christoforou questions Agius Saliba: "Malta is suffering – how can you feel proud when the head of the Prime Minister’s office looks as if he is involved in this and just as the Prime Minister is staying in office and has not taken responsibility and has not allowed investigation of this terrible crime to proceed smoothly?"

Agius Saliba replies that he is surprised at the amount of energy that the EPP has invested in this debate and others surrounding Malta when compared to how much is invested in debates about Hungary. "I am very proud that our institutions are not being prejudiced to anyone and are working as they should. We want to see justice done, and that is what is being done", he says.

10:20: Labour's Alex Agius Saliba is the next Maltese MEP to step onto the plate, starting his speech of by saying that he is proud to be Maltese. Unlike Dalli and Metsola before him, he is speaking in Maltese. He speaks of how the government has made all the resources available to investigators from the first day and that that decision had reaped results, noting that the killers and alleged mastermind are now facing justice.

"The serious manner in which the police work is being done was confirmed by the European Parliament's delegation and is a clear signal that our institutions are functioning well and are not prejudiced by any individuals", he says.

Agius Saliba called the resolution in front of the parliament "very unjust" and reverts to speaking about how Malta is implementing recommendations such as those of the Venice Commission - citing the recent implementation of the State Advocate Act as one such example.

10:16: EPP MEP Vladimir Bilcik from Slovakia speaks of how it is important for the European Parliament to exert political pressure on Malta for justice to be done. "Our voice is not enough – we need member states and commission to support people of Malta who deserve to know the truth", he says.  

10:10: Over 30 MEPs are still to speak during this sitting - including all the remaining Maltese MEPs - Labour Party MEPs Alfred Sant, Alex Agius Saliba, Josianne Cutajar, and the Nationalist Party's David Casa.

10:06: Romanian MEP Ramona Strugariu from Renew also calls for Muscat to resign immediately, ending her speech in Maltese saying "Poplu Malti, aħna magħkom; rridu ġustizzja għal-Daphne" - Maltese people, we are with you; we want justice for Daphne.

10:02: The S&D's Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar speaks of how investigators should let investigators do their job, but also stresses how golden passport schemes such as that in Malta should be put to an end.

He is questioned by the EPP's Manfred Weber, who notes that all in the chamber share the idea of having faith in authorities and not having pre-conceived ideas, the political appraisal has already been taken in the Prime Minister's resignation. "The Prime Minister has already offered his resignation, so I cannot understand why the S&D is still sticking with Muscat; he needs to leave now so not to hinder the investigation – why are you not prepared to support that demand", Weber asks.

"All member states of the EU have their own mechanism for the allotment of responsility and its up to Malta to do that vis a vis its own Prime Minister", Aguilar replies before noting that political responsibility has been taken at the highest level and calling for a mechanism for rule of law which makes sure that all countries comply with the rule of law.

09:55: Former EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani does not mince his words: "Joseph Muscat should resign as soon as the vote in this house takes place; it is a European vote of no confidence in how his government has performed", he said.

09:52: Interventions from various MEPs follow, with Malta's passport selling practice and the need for rule of law to be returned to Malta being a common factor through most of the speeches.  Slovak ECR MEP Lucia Duris Nicholsonova in particular also lamented that price it takes to kill a journalist; €70,000 for Jan Kuciak's murder and €150,000 for Caruana Galizia's murder. "EU states have been dismantled by mafia governments", she said.

09:45: Dalli is questioned by MEP Javier Zarzalejos who points out that one of the government's own ministers had said how protestors were purposely provoking people and is asked whether she finds this acceptable.

"I do not find myself comfortable condemning peaceful protests", Dalli replies before noting that protestors had even been carried out in the Prime Minister's office so there was all the due respect to the process.

09:43: Metsola's Maltese S&D counterpart Miriam Dalli takes a sentence out Owen Bonnici's speech notes, saying that justice must be done and must be seen to be done, while noting that the assistance of the FBI and Europol had been received from the first day and were leading to results.

She said that recommendations were being addressed in a constructive manner and said that Malta remains "comitted to ensure that reforms in the country continue at a speedier pace so that no doubts are cast on impartiality of our institutions." 

She said that it would be "counter-productive" if the European Parliament were to rush to pre-judgements which could also prejudice investigations, and joined Metsola in calling for a rule of law mechanism for all of Europe. 

09:40: Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola speaks of how Malta has been forced to stand up to face down a criminal network that has seized control and chipped away at the pillars of our Republic - protected by a Prime Minister who refuses to resign immediately. She says that this is not hyperbole and that the Prime Minister and his paid envoys had conducted a "taxpayer-funded disinformation campaign of vitriol, targeting anyone and everyone who dared stand up to them" for years.

"We want the world to know that we are not all cut from the same cloth as Joseph Muscat and the criminals he empowers. When the world looks at Malta, they should see our true face: A proud people standing up", she said.

"We are closer to justice than ever before but we are not there yet. Muscat is still trying to cling to power for at least another 30 days of chaos: interfering, influencing and contaminating the investigation. He must resign immediately if my country stands any chance of moving forward", she said. She called for a rule of law mechanism that looks at the situation in every member state.

09:37: The Brexit Party's John Tennant briefly speaks of how history has taught us that whenever the EU sits in judgement of its member states it makes things worse. 

09:35: The GUE's Stelios Kouloglou says that Muscat must go now as they fear that he may put spokes in the investigations, and calls out the EPP and hopes that their stance will be similar when it comes to Prime Ministers from their group such as Hungary's Viktor Orban.

09:33: The ECR's Assita Kanko, who was in Malta as well as part of the delegation, said that she had never imagined that Europe would become home to corruption, press intimidation, and a journalist's assassination. She said that serious concerns over the independence of investigations and government action could weave itself into the EU and that Europe must be the best it can be to win back and retain the trust of the people. 

09:30: ID's Marco Dreosto attacks Malta for not saving migrants and allowing them to be picked up by NGOs and brought to Italy and criticises both Matteo Renzi for his friendship with Muscat and Sandro Gozi as well.

09:28: Sven Giegold from the Greens lamented the lack of action from the previous commission despite two very important resolutions taken by the parliament. He questioned why infringement proceedings could not be open of the sale of passports, over public procurement corruption, and corruption on planning rights which is destroying the environment.

09:24: Sophie In 't Veld, who led the MEP delegation two weeks ago, from Renew lamented the lack of urgency in the EU Council, who she said were not even present in the plenary, and said that they are dealing with cold criminals who are ready to kill and will not be impressed by a bureaucratic response. "At the end of this will we be able to look in the eyes of the Caruana Galizia family and be able to say we have done everything – yes within the confines of rule of law, but the presumption of innocence should not become the pretence of innocence", she said.

She spoke of grave concern of Muscat's continued presence in office because of the risk or even perceived risk to the investigation.

09:20: The S&D's Birgit Sippel - who was one of the MEPs who came to Malta two weeks ago - is more measured in her speech, saying that Malta is currently a symbol of corruption for many at the moment and the European Parliament should be responsible for changing that and making sure that there is a change of course so that they stick to all the rules.

09:16: Esteban Gonzalez Pons from the EPP comes out swinging, saying that Muscat must step down immediately, and that everyday that he remains in power is a "slap in the face of thousands of Maltese calling for justice and truth". "The EU cannot afford a country in economic ruin; how can we afford a government in moral ruin", he said.  

09:12: Jourova starts her speech by saying that it is important that all countries keep up with the rule of law, which is why today's debate is important.  She said that the commission has been following developments in Malta very closely and noted that while it is not their role to intervene in investigations, it must be made clear that the investigation must be independent and free from political investigations.

She said that Europol had supported the case as a top priority and still is. She said that there are priorities for urgent action in strengthening the indepence of the judiciary especially in safeguards on appointments and dismissals from the judiciary, along with measures on the detection and pursuit of corruption.

She once again called on Malta to implement the Venice Commission recommendations in full and spoke of a new rule of law mechanism which will be implemented in the European Parliament for all EU countries.

09:00: The debate kicks off - Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova will get things started.

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