In spite of continued resistance from the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament (EP) – the largest political force in the 705-strong chamber – a majority among the assembly’s political groups managed to join forces to secure a discussion about the situation of rule of law and media freedom in Greece. The Hellenic Republic is governed by New Democracy, a centre-right to right-wing party affiliated with the EPP. The discussion was held during the EP’s first plenary session of the year, which was held this week in Strasbourg.
Members of the European Parliament have many times expressed ongoing concern about the protection of core European Union values in Greece. Their specific areas of concern include the abusive use of surveillance software and allegations of political intervention in the investigations, as well as media freedom and the safety of journalists and the lack of progress in the investigation into the murder of journalist Giorgos Karaivaz in 2021.
The EPP Group – including the two MEPs representing the Maltese Nationalist Party, Roberta Metsola and David Casa – have pushed for multiple discussions and strong resolutions on countries governed by parties forming part of the Socialist and Democarats Group (S&D), such as Malta. However, the EPP Group has been exercising immense effort to thwart initiatives to scrutinise Greece and other countries governed by EPP-affiliated parties.
Only last October, the EP plenary discussed yet another resolution pushed forward by the EPP Group, titled ‘Rule of Law in Malta: 6 years after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the need to protect journalists’. “Is this (European) Parliament suffering from high sensitivity to rule of law issues only when it’s about countries that are not governed by EPP?” French MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance) asked as she took to the podium on that occasion.
The same sentiment was once again expressed this week by Maltese MEP Cyrus Engerer (S&D Group), who questioned the EPP’s eagerness to put Member States with S&D-affiliated governments under the spotlight while defending EPP-affiliated governments on rule of law matters. He recalled that, last March, the EPP – incuding EP President and EPP MEP Roberta Metsola – tried to cancel a rule of law mission scheduled by Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to Greece. The next day, an EPP delegation visited the country instead.
MEP Engerer told the plenary that Malta has no issue with discussing matters related to the rule of law. “The Maltese authorities always had an open dialogue with this chamber and took on board many recomendations to implement as many European standards as possible,” he recalled. He stressed that the Maltese S&D MEPs never shied away from discussing the rule of law in Member states, including in Malta, since their belief in the rule of law does not depend on the political affiliation of a particular country’s government.
Speaking to The Journal, Cyrus Engerer declared that Maltese S&D MEPs have consistently upheld fairness and consistency in their handling of rule of law matters, irrespective of the country concerned. If this were not the case, why would the Group choose him as its negotiator on the resolution about Malta that was discussed in plenary sessions last October? That was the first time that the S&D chose a Maltese member as negotiator on a resolution on Malta.
Engerer pointed out the contrasting modus operandi of the Maltese EPP delegation which, he said, is only interested in discussing rule of law vis-à-vis Malta and other countries led by centre-left administrations. At the same time, they actively strive to protect countries with EPP-affiliated governments, like Greece, Bulgaria, and Hungary. He noted that PN MEP David Casa, together with many of his EPP colleagues, did not even take part in the vote on whether the discussion on the situation in Greece should be placed on the plenary’s agenda. “It is true that we are talking, here, about Malta today, because the EPP did not want to have a debate on Greece … there is a sytemic problem with the rule of law in Greece,” she pointed out
Meanwhile, addressing the plenary, Dutch MEP Sophie in ’t Veld (Renew Europe Group) described the debate on Greece as long overdue. “The rule of law in Greece is in steep decline and press freedom is in dire straits,” she said. “Rule of law corrosion and political capture pervade all government sectors; independent oversight bodies are being neutered.” In October, during the debate on te resolution on Malta, in ’t Veld had said: “It is true that we are talking, here, about Malta today, because the EPP did not want to have a debate on Greece.”
A resolution on the situation of the rule of law and media freedom in Greece will be put to the vote in the next plenary session, to be held in Strasbourg between the 5th and the 8th of February.