This contribution is from a senior official who must remain anonymous for obvious reason. However his knowledge of EU affairs and European law provides useful insight, in particular on what the Civil Society Network could do to shake EU institutions into action they are in duty bound to take:
As a committed European, a staunch Europhile in fact, a major source of mental anguish over the past three years has been the European Union’s steadfast reluctance to even remotely challenge the Labour government over the free-fall in rule of law and good governance standards in this country.
My disappointment is compounded by the fact that when Malta negotiated its membership it was put under intense scrutiny to confirm compliance with rules on the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, all of which are still requirements for EU membership.
Such scrutiny included a thorough and persistent examination to ensure that Malta not only had the necessary legal framework in place but also that there existed the corresponding administrative capacity that would effectively afford protection and redress to all concerned. Entities such as the Commission against Corruption, the then Commission against Injustices, the Law Courts, the Police and the Public Service Commission were thoroughly scrutinised not least during visits by Commission delegations. And this even before Malta was considered worthy to embark on negotiations proper!
I have no hesitation in saying that if the current rule of law, and indeed general political, situation were to subsist in years preceding 2004, Malta’s membership aspirations would have been booted out of the window without batting an eyelid.
Moreover, as an integral part of the EU family, Member States are expected to promote and safeguard the EU’s values. Article 7 of the EU Treaty aims at ensuring that all EU countries respect the common values of the EU, including the rule of law.
The mechanism allows the Council (following a proposal by Member States, Parliament or the Commission) to give the Member State concerned a warning before a ’serious breach’ has actually materialised. The sanctioning mechanism allows the Council to suspend certain rights deriving from the application of the treaties to the EU country in question, including the voting rights in Council. It must be said that the mechanisms under Article 7 have so far never been applied, with the Commission opting to exert other forms of pressure when faced with specific rule of law problems in Member States.
The European Commission in 2014 adopted a framework for addressing systemic threats to the rule of law in any Member State. This allows the European Commission to enter into a dialogue with the EU country concerned to prevent the escalation of systemic threats to the rule of law. In the event of an impasse, resort to Article 7 remains a possibility.
Crucially, it is stated that ‘the Framework will be activated in situations where the authorities of a Member State are taking measures or are tolerating situations which are likely to systematically and adversely affecting the integrity, stability or the proper functioning of the institutions and the safeguard mechanisms established at national level to secure the rule of law.’
Clearly therefore, as eloquently explained by the ALDE MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld and others during Tuesday’s debate in Strasbourg, the European Commission does indeed have the tools at its disposal to tackle the situation in Malta (as it did in relation to the deteriorating rule of law situation in Poland).
It is utterly incomprehensible that the Commission has not bothered to lift a finger in the face of the most basic rule of law deficiencies such as the refusal by the Commissioner of Police to even begin to investigate cases where clear suspicions arose and documented evidence existed, particularly those connected with the Panama Papers and much-publicised corruption cases.
The Attorney General’s total paralysis should likewise have presented a major source of concern, as also the FIAU’s transformation from an effective money laundering watchdog to a toothless lapdog following the departure of its competent former Director. It is not enough for the Commission to say that the situation in Malta will be kept under review or that it fully expects the Government of Malta to work to bring the perpetrators of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s heinous murder to justice.
The problems now run so deep that there are conflict of interests everywhere one cares to look, not least in the police force and the judiciary.
As Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker’s spinelessness via-a-vis the Labour Government has been scandalous. Little wonder that EU citizens are feeling increasingly disconnected and alienated from the European institutions and tend to regard them as far-removed from the realities on the ground.
Building on the European Parliament’s decision to send a delegation to Malta to investigate the rule of law, corruption and money laundering, it is incumbent on us all as part of Maltese civil society to put pressure on the Commission to wake up to its responsibilities as Guardian of the Treaties and to take concrete steps to fully investigate the rule of law situation in Malta. A Europe-wide petition to call for action can be an option coupled with direct representations at the highest levels in Brussels.
If necessary, crowd funds should be organised to finance initiatives. In the absence of a credible Opposition, it falls on the fledgling Civil Society Network to move on to the next level and venture beyond Maltese shores.
Striking at the very core of all that Europe has stood for over several decades, the brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has made concerted action at the EU level all the more imperative.
This was no exceptional episode as PM Muscat would have us believe, but the culmination of a total collapse of the institutions meant to safeguard the rule of law and good governance in Malta after years of deliberately gnawing away at the foundations.
Allowing the rule of law deficit to thrive is not an option. As we are witnessing, this impinges on freedom of speech and expression, good governance, and ultimately on democracy and respect for human rights. It is up to all of us to do our bit and fight on to keep Daphne’s spirit alive in our hearts and on the ground in the pursuit of freedom and justice.