The measure of a man is what he does with power

– Plato

Joseph Muscat and Roberta Metsola are perhaps the most prominent politicians of their generation.

Joseph Muscat was born in 1974 and at the age of 18 he joined Labour’s One (at the time Super One) Radio. In 1995 he was elected to the National Executive of the Labour Party, a position he kept until 2004. He staunchly campaigned against Malta’s membership in the European Union at the 2003 referendum. Muscat was nominated to a working group on the Labour Party’s policies on the European Union led by George Vella and Evarist Bartolo. He is remembered for the article “X’għandek tagħmel” which he penned just on the eve of the referendum on membership.

Despite his vehement opposition to Malta’s entry into the European Union, Muscat contested and was elected as MEP to the European Parliament in the 2004 European Parliament election. Apart from sitting on some committees his contribution to the European Parliament was scarce. Suffice it to say his stay there is best remembered for a scene he made when there was no Maltese translator present. Muscat stamped his feet and did not deliver his 2-minute speech.

Muscat was elected as leader of the Labour Party in March 2008 after the resignation of Alfred Sant after Labour’s defeat at the elections. Later in June he addressed a mass rally at the PL headquarters where a number of former Labour members of parliament were present, amongst them Salvu Sant, Lino Debono, Bertu Pace, Joe Brincat, Joe Micallef Stafrace, Joe Grima, Reno Calleja and Philip Muscat.

Muscat resigned from the European Parliament in September 2008 to take his place in the Maltese Parliament as Leader of the Opposition. In 2013, after a millionaire campaign, Labour was elected to power and Joseph Muscat was sworn in as prime minister. What happened during his tenure is known to all, not only in Malta.

One journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia uncovered all the sleaze that was going on publishing on her blog Running Commentary. Readers of her daily blog amounted to the hundreds of thousands. This irked Joseph and friends and they started systematic personal attacks using state-mandated, often state-funded trolls. She was followed and hounded by ‘tagħna lkollers’. Ministers and pro-government commenters joined the fray by instituting a number of libel cases against the journalist. Still she did not stop even when Chris Cardona froze her assets after she reported his “ħaqq alla kemm hu kiesaħ l-ilma” visit to the FKK Acapulco brothel in Verbelt in Germany while on official business. It was an egregious SLAPP lawsuit against a journalist in order to silence her. In October 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in a car bomb attack.

Around the 2019 European Parliament elections, Joseph Muscat was touted (or perhaps he touted himself) for a European Union post, possibly as the successor to Donald Tusk as head of the European Council. Kurt Farrugia, his communications manager was certain that he would make it. However, his bid failed miserably because Muscat’s image was ruined by the Caruana Galizia murder and the large number of reports of European institutions warning about the attrition of the rule of law in Malta.

In late November 2019, Muscat’s premiership was rocked by the arrest of prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech and the implication of Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri in relation to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Towards the end of November 2019, after a six-hour cabinet meeting Muscat informed the President of Malta George Vella that he would soon be resigning his duties as Prime Minister.

It was around this time that Joseph Muscat reached his political zenith. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project named Muscat “Man of the Year in Organized Crime and Corruption” for 2019 for the increases in criminality and lack of prosecutions during his term. That is his legacy and that is how he is going to be remembered.

Roberta (Triccas) Metsola was born in 1979. She graduated from the University of Malta and specialised in European law and politics. During her student years, she formed part of Studenti Demokristjani Maltin, the National Youth Council and the Moviment Żgħażagħ Partit Nazzjonalista. She was later elected Secretary General of the European Democrat Students (the student branch of the EPP) and held posts within the European Youth Forum. In 2002, she was elected vice-president of the Youth Convention on the Future of Europe which paved the way to her being closely involved in the negotiation and drafting of the European Constitutional Treaty and later the Lisbon Treaty.

From 2016 to 2017, Roberta Metsola was part of the Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion that investigated the Panama Papers revelations and tax avoidance schemes more broadly and more in detail. She has also chosen to be a substitute member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, the Delegation for relations with Switzerland, Norway, the EU-Iceland Joint Parliamentary Committee and the European Economic Area Joint Parliamentary Committee and the Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean.

In December 2019 a ‘fact finding’ European Parliament delegation which comprised members from Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee, was in Malta after two days of meetings. Roberta Metsola was part of the delegation. The delegation met shamed Joseph Muscat still at Castille a few days before his official resignation. When the delegation came out of the meeting all MEPs looked quite disappointed. Except for one of them – Roberta Metsola, who was representing the EPP as their rule of law spokesperson. Outside Castille she described Muscat as adamant in his refusal to respond to calls for his immediate resignation.

Photo: Ben Borg Cardona

But her words were accompanied by one defiant act – refusing to shake the shamed prime minister’s hand. As Joseph Muscat walked into the room and approached her to shake hands before the meeting started, Metsola turned her head the other way and refused to shake his hand. The photo went viral. It was one of the most iconic photos of the year.

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 Parliament. His political career is over ending in disgrace.

On the contrary Metsola’s political career is going higher and higher. She became first vice-president of the European Parliament, being the first Maltese to ever occupy that position. Last month she was chosen as the EPP’s candidate for the European Parliament’s presidential election to be held in January 2022.

EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber told the media soon after the vote, that Metsola would be the youngest president in the history of the European Parliament. She would also be the EPP’s first female candidate and MEP from a small member state in more than 20 years. Weber referred to Metsola as ‘a very convincing candidate for the other groups’. If she wins on January 17, Metsola will be the highest-ranking politician in Maltese history.