The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial - Metsola and Muscat: Spot the difference

Wednesday, 18 November 2020, 08:25 Last update: about 16 days ago

One of the most iconic photos is that which shows Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola refusing to shake hands with then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

It happened last year, two days after Muscat had announced that he was to resign after his chief of staff was arrested in connection with allegations made against him on the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder.

A delegation from the European Parliament had come to Malta to investigate developments in the investigations on the murder. A few days before, Yorgen Fenech had been arrested and charged with masterminding the murder. Keith Schembri had resigned from the post of chief of staff at the OPM after he had been questioned in connection with the assassination.

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Metsola had been part of that EP delegation. As Muscat walked into the room and approached her to shake hands before the meeting started, Metsola refused to take it.

Almost a year has passed since that particular moment. Since then, Muscat resigned in shame and has been replaced at the helm of the Labour Party and government by Robert Abela. He has also resigned from being a Member of Parliament. His political career is over.

Conversely, Metsola’s political career is going higher and higher. Last week, she became first vice-president of the European Parliament, the first Maltese to ever occupy that position. She had been nominated by her political group, the European People’s Party.

In her new role, Metsola will support and replace the President of the European Parliament should he be absent or unavailable to carry out his duties, including chairing plenary sessions or representing Parliament at specific ceremonies. It is an institutional role, not a partisan one, and the vice-presidency is enshrined within the EU law.

It is a prestigious appointment for Metsola who, over the years, has made a name for herself – in a positive way – through her various initiatives on a European level. Her detractors accuse her of working against Malta’s interests, but she has undoubtedly served the country well. Working in favour of the rule of law and using one’s position to draw attention to the country’s institutional problems cannot be described as treachery.

Metsola’s appointment came out of the blue and, until it was first reported, few people knew about it.

Rewind to the middle part of last year, and one finds reports about the possibility of Joseph Muscat landing a top European job. There were stories that he was aiming to replace Donald Tusk as president of the European Council. There were others speaking about a wish to take over from Federica Mogherini as High Representatives of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

But he got neither job. And, when he did not, we were told that he was “close” to getting it but European leaders had chosen otherwise. With hindsight, the European Union probably heaved a collective sigh of relief, knowing what came later and what forced Muscat’s resignation from head of government.

Metsola’s appointment is of a lower category than the one that was being sought by Muscat. But it was a big step up for the Nationalist MEP whereas, for Muscat, the non-appointment was the continuation of the downhill slide that eventually led to his shameful exit from politics.

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