Robert Abela has voted with other EU leaders to bolster defence systems and expenditure, after weeks of hitting out at Roberta Metsola claiming she wanted to purchase more weapons and take Europe to war.

In a European Council summit, the Prime Minister on Thursday joined his counterparts in greenlighting plans for the EU to "increase its overall defence readiness and capabilities to match its needs and ambition in the context of rising threats and security challenges" and "substantially increase defence expenditure".

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told Times of Malta Abela only voted in favour of the plans after Malta successfully pushed for the introduction of clauses that protect the island's neutrality. 

The European Council - Europe's highest decision-making body - brings together all EU leaders to make the big decisions on how the EU should move forward.

Among other policies approved on Thursday, the leaders agreed that "the European defence technological and industrial base should be strengthened accordingly across the union".

Abela and Metsola at war over the war

Earlier this year, EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola called for the EU to increase its defence budget to strengthen Europe's defence in the wake of international political developments.

Her statement triggered weeks of criticism from Abela and government officials, who accused her of fomenting conflict by suggesting the purchase of more weapons, instead of insisting on bringing about peace.

Roberta Metsola addressing the European Council on Thursday. Photo: European ParliamentRoberta Metsola addressing the European Council on Thursday. Photo: European Parliament

Abela said Metsola wanted to escalate the ongoing war in the Middle East and insisted that unlike her, his government believed in peace, not war.

Metsola had defended her claim, saying there was a distinction between attack and defence, and that having a more robust defence package included the protection of infrastructure, prevention of cyber attacks and more financial aid to Malta's armed forces, for instance.

But Abela insisted Metsola was a warmonger and went as far as to say that "populists" from the Nationalist Party's European political grouping wanted to send children abroad to fight other people's wars.

On Thursday, however, all EU leaders - including Abela - agreed that "increasing defence readiness […] will require additional efforts […] to fulfil the shared commitment to substantially increase defence expenditure, […] improve the European defence industry’s access to public and private finance, […] incentivise development and joint procurement to address critical EU capability gaps […] as well as to make full use of the synergies between national and European defence planning processes and enhance cooperative/joint defence investment".

'Government successfully negotiated safeguard'

In a reply to questions on Friday, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said the cited paragraphs must be read in the context of two other clauses adopted during the summit, which specify that "any initiative taken by the EU must be in full respect of the security and defence policies of all member states".

It was a safeguard successfully negotiated by the Maltese Government in the process leading up to the adoption of the conclusions, the spokesperson said.

"This safeguard meant that the conclusions, backed with written legal advice by the State Advocate confirming the government’s position, adequately safeguard the principles of non-alignment and neutrality enshrined in our Constitution," he said.

Robert Abela in Brussels on Friday. Photo: Facebook/Robert AbelaRobert Abela in Brussels on Friday. Photo: Facebook/Robert Abela

"Furthermore, it must be noted that through these safeguards, it is now the European Council's Strategic Direction to the institutions working on legislative processes that implement such direction, to ensure full respect and conformity to our Constitution."

During the summit Abela also urged Metsola "to relay the message to the EU Parliament that our Constitution and parliament must also be respected on such sensitive topics, in view of the work in the coming months on such topics", he said.

Both Abela and Metsola called for ceasefire

At the EU summit, both Abela and Metsola called for a ceasefire in Gaza, albeit separately.

The Prime Minister insisted that providing humanitarian help to Gaza was simply not enough and the council of the European Union should call for an immediate, and permanent, ceasefire.

Metsola said the humanitarian situation in Gaza was desperate and the EU needed to make every effort to get more aid in.

"That is why the European Parliament will keep pushing for a ceasefire. Why we will keep demanding the return of the remaining hostages and why we underline that Hamas can no longer operate with impunity," she said. 

She said Gaza needed peace that empowers peaceful, legitimate, Palestinian leadership and that ensures lasting stability in the region.

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