Plans for an interconnector and gas pipeline between Malta and Italy will do nothing to reduce dependency on Russia, according to former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
In a Times of Malta opinion piece, Muscat says that while both projects are important, they will do nothing to diversify and reduce dependency on one source, given how Italy and other European partners depend on Russia for around 43 per cent of its energy requirements
Muscat’s assertion comes a few days after Energy Minister Miriam Dalli gave an assurance that Malta is not dependent on Russian gas.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU aims to cut its gas dependency on Russia by two-thirds this year while committing to ending it entirely by 2030.
Muscat, who is the target of a corruption probe linked to the Vitals hospitals deal, says Malta should explore an interconnector with North Africa.
A gas pipeline, similar to the ones connecting Italy to Algeria and Libya, should also be high on the agenda, Muscat says.
While in government, Muscat had courted relations on the energy front with both countries.
Just three months after being elected in 2013, he flew to Tripoli to discuss energy issues with his Libyan counterpart.
The talks eventually led to a memorandum of understanding on energy which was signed between Malta and Libya in September 2013.
In 2015, he travelled to Algeria with former energy minister Konrad Mizzi, returning with a promise from then Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal that the country would invest in Malta’s energy sector.
While we value our neutrality, we cannot take this to mean indifference- Joseph Muscat
Sellal was imprisoned in 2019 for abuse of power, receiving an additional five-year sentence last year for money-laundering.
Stabilisation of Libya important
Muscat acknowledges in his opinion piece that the significant Russian presence in Libya, alongside those of other forces, will not help with any potential efforts to strengthen energy ties with the country.
“But it is clear that the stabilisation of our neighbour has now become even more important, if that was ever possible,” Muscat continues.
He says infrastructural investments with North Africa might not have been feasible until recently, if considered solely from a short-term economic perspective.
“The strategic value of such projects for Malta and Europe, from economic and security points of view, should be reconsidered. The delicate phase we are entering calls for innovative thinking and bold action,” Muscat concludes.
The former prime minister also deplores the unjustified and illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Malta is right in standing with the international community, alongside our European partners, in taking the necessary actions. While we value our neutrality, we cannot take this to mean indifference.”
As the war broke out last month, Muscat’s successor, Robert Abela emphasised how Malta’s neutral status precludes it from taking sides in a conflict.
The government recently bowed to pressure to stop EU passport sales to rich Russians. The European Parliament has gone a step further, calling for an outright ban of the golden passport schemes.