“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 to speak about yet another resolution on the situation of the rule of law in Malta spearheaded by the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament (EP).
The resolution, titled ‘Rule of Law in Malta: 6 years after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the need to protect journalists’, was on the agenda of the EP’s plenary session in Strasbourg on Thursday.
“If we had, in this Parliament, a number of debates – numerous debates – about Malta, a number of strong resolutions about Malta, it seems that we never have the time or the opportunity to have a public scrutiny, in depth, on the situation of the rule of law in other countries like Greece or Bulgaria, for example: a high level of corruption, very big threats for journalists … so why is that?” the French European legislator asked.
EPP turning a blind eye
She was not a lone voice in condemning the fact that the EPP keeps pushing forward EP resolutions about Malta while refusing to follow the same path with regard to countries ruled by political parties that for part of the EPP’s political family.
As Paulo Rangel, Vice Chair of the EPP Group, was defending his group’s resolution, Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld (Renew Europe Group) couldn’t contain her exasperation and used her blue-card (the EP President may give the floor to Members who indicate, by raising a blue card, their wish to put a question to another Member, during that Member’s speech) to intervene. “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.
The harsh observation left the Portuguese MEP Rangel, a close ally of the Maltese Nationalist Party MEPs Roberta Metsola (who is also the EP President) and David Casa, visibly uncomfortable, as did another blue-card question, this time from German MEP Daniel Freund (Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance).
“The first step (of attacking journalists) … is that journalists are spied on. There are a number of governments who have used Pegasus (spyware), for example, against journalists, particularly those critical; many of them EPP-led governments. Do you condemn that with the same verve that you have just used to criticise the Maltese government?” asked Freund.
Maltese MEP Cyrus Engerer (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats – S&D) also made use of his blue card and asked Rangel: “Do you condemn what happened in Greece? How did you and your group vote, here in the European Parliament, when it came to condemning Greece, on the scandal that the EPP-led government was wiretapping a number of journalists and politicians? And how did you vote on Bulgaria, and how did your group vote on Bulgaria? Well, let’s no forget that it took you ten years to suspend and expel Fidesz (Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s party) from your group. So, I think, actions speak louder than words.”
“Enough of this mudslinging”
Meanwhile, in his own address to the plenary, Cyrus Engerer pointed out that the people of Malta are fed up of a political system based on mudslinging, where critical thinking is thrown out of the window. He said that this system has regrettably been exported out of the country into the EP, at least once a year. “How good would it be that to commemorate the assassination and work of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed because of what she was writing, we discuss, together, as one nation – even with our European friends, if need be – to propose together the way forward to strengthen our democracy,” he declared. “This is what I did this week when I was invited to a discussion to share thoughts and, as a Labour Party member, and a Socialist, keeping the party statute and my principles in mind, I put forward five proposals and strengthened others. We need to change the Maltese electoral system and we need a radical change in our party financing law.”
Engerer was the S&D Group’s negotiator on this resolution – this was the first time that the Group chose a Maltese member as negotiator on a resolution on Malta. Speaking to The Journal, he explained that, during the discussion at the political group level prior to the presentation of the resolution to the plenary, while not finding any issue with a discussion taking place, the Greens, the Renew Group, and the Left requested that a discussion is also held on the rule of law situation in other EU Member States. He said that the EPP, whose rapporteur was Maltese MEP David Casa, rushed these discussions on the 12-page resolution at political group level and, in violation of the EP’s regulations, failed to acknowledge most of the changes that were endorsed by the majority. In fact, when the resolution was tabled in the plenary, the EPP had only taken into consideration 20 per cent of the changes that had been agreed upon at the political group level.
“EP turned into a farce”
Two other Maltese MEPs members of the S&D Group spoke about the motion. Alex Agius Saliba accused the EPP of turning the EP into a farce. He described the resolution as one which was full of half-truths and senseless attacks on Malta. He asserted that it confirms that the EPP’s intention is not to protect Press freedom but to attack the Maltese government for no other reason than that it is a leftist government. “It’s a lie that in Malta there is any form of impunity. Every allegation of corruption is being investigated and taken before the courts of justice, even when it concerns people who were associated with the present Government. It is a lie that the reforms requested by the Venice Commission are not being undertaken, so much so that the European Commission itself spoke repetatedly about the work carried out by the Labour goverment to strengthen the courts and the institutions. It is a lie that the necessary commitment was not there for full justice to be done following the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galzia, and the judicial process of those accused with the murder is ongoing. If the European Parliament really believes in the rule of law, we should never try to influence the judicial process with such resolutions,” he told the plenary.
“Another round of speculation and inaccuracies”
MEP Josianne Cutajar said that, in the case of such barbaric acts like the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and other journalists, it is important that justice be served. “This is why the ongoing Maltese court proceedings against those who were involved or might have been involved in the killing are so important,” she said. “Protecting journalists is a question of protecting European values and the democratic life we all enjoy. This is why the position we took as a Parliament on the European Media Freedom Act is so essential.” She then warned against what she referred to as “another round of speculation and inaccuracies in this Resolution with the aim of scoring political points,” which she described as unacceptable. “We are aware that Malta has more work to do, just as other countries differently governed have too.However, let us also take stock of what has improved, as was clearly pointed in the European Commission’s Annual Rule of Law Report as well as by Commissioner Jurova today in plenary.Let’s set the facts straight. Only by doing this can we ever truly have an objective and fair discussion on this topic.”
The Head of the Maltese Labour Party’s delegation at the EP, former Prime Minister Alfred Sant, was indisposed and could not attend the plenary.