The Malta Independent 5 June 2023, Monday
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Of Schengen, Cowboys, Pillow, and Pirates

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 19 June 2022, 09:50 Last update: about 13 months ago

Dear Editor,

This week I want to write about chaos – chaos in Malta’s application of Schengen, chaos in permits, grammatical chaos – but somehow I hesitate. Because whereas the country is run as if it were the National Amateur Governance Club, the government still pretends it’s the Best in Europe. Nay, as that foremost among our intellectuals, Aleks Farrugia, immortalised the thought, “We are not the Best in Europe: we are Europe!”


I sincerely hope Mr Farrugia gets to repeat this brilliant summing-up of our mentality in his future works. We have to savour its many levels of interpretation and shades of meaning. It’s a retort to Mitchell’s “Ambivalent Europeans” – no, Jon, we are not ambivalent Europeans, we are Europe! It’s a rejoinder to Goethe’s “Sicily is the clue to everything” – no, JW, “Malta is the clue to everything”! Or at least, the border between Sicily and Malta is, Malta’s only Schengen frontier, where Malta makes a dog’s breakfast of the principles of the Schengen Agreement.

I hesitate, as I said, dear Editor, because whereas you and your team are decent journalists not all those who call themselves journalists are decent. There are others, who – as we’ll soon discover thanks to Freedom of Information mechanisms – get government help to keep their media junk boats afloat on the Yellow Journalism Sea. These people gang up and orchestrate attacks – but about this I’ll write when the time is ripe.

Today let me start off by zeroing in on...


Schengen Malta Style

One of the EU’s main goals is to allow the free movement of people, goods and services in Europe. It’s not only a matter of procedures; it’s also a matter of mentality. The EU wants its citizens to feel part of a common market: one huge border-less economic space where goods and services are traded freely.

So, the EU has divided borders into categories: internal borders (between “Schengen Agreement” countries) and external borders (with all the other countries). There are no checks along internal borders, in order to enable free movement.

“Free” means “with the least possible harassment”. Look up the European Commission website on border controls: it’s clear that the idea is that anybody who travels from one Schengen country to another should do so without feeling they’ve crossed a border.

This applies to Schengen countries. Schengen is the framework allowing people, goods and services free movement from one country to another – not EU countries, but countries party to the Schengen Agreement. For instance, Switzerland isn’t an EU Member State but has signed the Agreement, so it allows people and goods freely to cross its borders.

Many of this paper’s readers will have crossed European borders when travelling by car. They will have noticed that – even though authorities are on the lookout for illegalities – people are not harassed.

You drive from Italy to France, France to Germany, Germany to Austria, and from Austria back to Italy, and nobody ever stops you. Not once.

(You’re stopped in Switzerland, to buy the vignette (the tax for using Swiss roads), but otherwise you aren’t stopped.)

Your identity isn’t checked, you’re not asked how much cash you’re carrying on your person, you’re not asked to justify that you aren’t carrying illegal stuff in your vehicle.

Unless there is reasonable suspicion, that is. But very, very few of the people who carry out the 1.3 billion crossings of Schengen borders each year raise reasonable suspicions – the vast, overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands who cross the Schengen Area’s internal borders each day are normal, average citizens who routinely fail to elicit the interest of either police or customs.

But not so in Malta!

I’ve had an exchange of correspondence with a number of high-ranking Customs Officials this week – I must say it was a pleasant exchange, as the officials did their best to explain the situation.

All in all, however, despite the kindness shown me by said officials, I think that the policy applied by Malta is wrong and out-of-synch with the rest of Europe. We are a Schengen country and we share one internal, Schengen border: with Italy. We have one small stretch of land which constitutes the embodiment of our internal border with that Schengen country – where the boat coming from Sicily docks.

Malta Customs believes that it is entitled to carry out non-systematic checks of people coming over from Italy. By “non-systematic” they understand that it’s okay to harass travellers as long as they don’t harass each and every traveller.

This is nonsense. The Schengen Agreement means that you don’t harass anybody unless there is reasonable suspicion (or intelligence). It doesn’t mean random checks – it means you check only when something’s fishy. And it cannot be that something’s fishy every single time a few people cross the border! Because if indeed there’s something fishy every single time a ferry boat docks at Valletta, then the Minister for the Interior has to speak up in Parliament and let the Nation know what’s going on. If the Minister has nothing to say, then it means there isn’t something fishy every single day, and what’s going on amounts to nothing short of harassment of travellers, in violation of Schengen.

Schengen means that coming over from Pozzallo should be like commuting from Gozo to Malta, or even from Ħaż-Żebbuġ to Ħal Qormi. No authority harasses you unless there is reasonable suspicion.

Instead, Malta Customs harasses, I reckon, a bit less than half all the passengers coming over from Sicily, asking for identification, for declarations as to the amount of cash being carried, for declarations as to the stuff being carried in one’s vehicle.

I ask the European Commission whether this is acceptable according to Schengen. I will ask today and will keep asking in the future.


Valletta cowboys

This week I’ve also written to the Valletta Local Council – but, unlike the case with the Customs Department, I received no answer from either Mayor or Secretary.

I wrote because at the top of Strada Forni, a restaurant has installed three tables making it impossible for people with disabilities to use the pavement (see photos).

Now, this by itself is already quite offensive. Making it more offensive is that fact that this cowboy installed the tables before obtaining a permit. His landlord then applied to sanction the encroachment.

Is this how things are done in this Wild-West country?

I ask:

(1)                        Did the Local Council or anybody else speak up for people with disabilities, who now cannot use the pavement?

(2)                        Did the Local Council speak up for the parking space gobbled up by this cowboy?

(3)                        If the business needs the three tables installed on street and pavement, how was the rent contract drawn up? Subject to encroachment permits?

(4)                        If the Planning Authority has approved the encroachment, what are the conditions? Do the conditions impact the profitability of both rent agreement and catering establishment? How could the landlord and the restaurateur know beforehand that the encroachment permit would not imperil the viability of rent and restaurant? Shouldn’t the Police actually have a look into this?

Lastly, is it true that the Nationalist minority in the Valletta Local Council have been kept in the dark about all of this?


Mr Pillow

I obviously offer my full solidarity to the Mayor of Tas-Sliema for what happened to him recently. Some moron threw a soda can at Mayor John Pillow’s face simply because Mr Pillow told the moron and his friends not to urinate in a public place.

I hope the punks are caught and make somebody’s day.

But this incident should make us reflect. It’s partly our fault that there’s such arrogance around. We’ve accepted thousands of foreigner workers and, instead of expecting them to speak to us in our language, we adapt to their (broken) English. I’m fed up of going to shops and, when I speak in Maltese – the language of this country – I’m told to switch to English.

The point is, they don’t apologise for being in a foreign country and not speaking that foreign country’s language. Which is the norm in other countries, most probably even in their home countries. Instead, they are foreigners and impose on us what language we have to speak in our own country!

There’s a lot of psychology going on in linguistic interactions. By not showing any self-respect in matters of language, we convey the message to foreigners that we have no self-respect at all.

So the punks among them urinate in public places and pelt a Mayor with a soda can when he tells them it’s not done.


L-Università: Ħa tapplika?

In Maltese, se is short for sejjer – “going to”, ħa is short for ħalli – “let’s”/“so that”.

Ħa napplika, “Let me apply”.

Mur, ħa tapplika, “Go, so that you apply” (lit.).

Ħa mmur ħa napplika, “Let me go so that I apply”.

Se tapplika?, “Are you going to apply?”

Se napplika, “I’m going to apply”.

Ħa tapplika?, gibberish popularised by Joseph Muscat, the cunning Prime Minister who knew how to use his tongue to beguile a country according to the complex rules of deception but not how to use his native tongue according to simple rules of grammar.

My Personal Video Library ()

The Depp v. Heard courtroom charade made me revisit the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

But it was also because a friend of my brother’s confided in me how his son pierced his heart when he told him that each year he ends up going to a theme park abroad only with his mother because work commitments prevent his father from joining them.

The PotC franchise is essentially about absent fathers (represented by pirate captains) who’re never at home because their work keeps them away, and how much their children miss them and desire to save them from their predicament (“part of the ship, part of the crew”).

Each PotC movie is an advertorial: it defines the problem (children longing for their fathers) and then markets the Pirates theme parks as the solution.

For decades, Disney has embraced shifty moral stances.

It manipulates children to rake in giant profits.

It’s the dark side of capitalism.

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