When the Fenech Adami Administration decided to seek membership of the European Union in the late 1980s, there were mainly two groups of staunch supporters pushing for such a move.

One looked at the economic side, that is what the country could obtain in terms of money. The other group was more concerned with how membership would help raise standards in every aspect, including how we do politics.

After eight years within the EU, it can safely be said that the aspirations of both groups have been met, though some might insist that the economic gain was higher than what this country has acquired in terms of standards.

The latest sad case of John Dalli’s forced resignation from the European Commission may be cited as an example why, in the political sphere, at least, Malta has still a lot to learn from Europe, which, it must be said, is not perfect either.

Both controversy and mystery surround Mr Dalli’s resignation.

Mr Dalli speaks of a conspiracy against him. The fact that the report of the OLAF investigation that led to his resignation has not been published yet further fuels the controversy and thickens the mystery veil. Thus, the sooner the report is released the better it will be for everybody, including the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who demanded Mr Dalli’s resignation, and Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who accepted that decision.

Until that happens, sooner rather than late, one hopes, we need to focus on the one, big lesson that we should learn from this case: political accountability.

In politics, credibility and trust, jointly and separately, are crucial. A politician who is not credible or is not trusted by the people or his bosses will not work. In other words, a politician who becomes politically untenable, for whatever reason, has no option but to go.

Being politically untenable, or, one should add, behaving in a morally or ethically incorrect manner, is completely distinct from breaking the law. This is the lesson that all of us ought to learn from the case of Mr Dalli. More so, it is a lesson that political leaders and senior government members must take note of.

There have been so many instances of senior politicians behaving badly in this country with very little, if anything, happening in terms of censure, not to mention outright resignations.

In the Dalli case, Mr Barroso, as his boss, summoned him and demanded his resignation. At that point, Mr Dalli must have realised that he was no longer trusted, leaving him with no other option but to step down.

As European commissioner, Mr Dalli occupied a position of trust and once he was no longer trusted he simply had to go. The European Commission’s chief spokesman, Olivier Bailly, specified on Monday that Mr Dalli’s resignation followed a political assessment. He added: “Mr Dalli’s actions put doubt on his functions and the integrity of the decision-making process (of the Commission) and, therefore, it was politically untenable for him to remain in his function.”

Mr Bailly also emphasised that Mr Dalli’s resignation was the result of a political and not legal decision.

This clear distinction between what is politically and legally un/acceptable must prevail at all times if politicians want truly to serve society, whether on a local, national, European or international level.

Of course, a politician’s right to defend himself on legal grounds should he feel ill-treated remains sacrosanct. But moral, ethical and/or political accountability is something else completely.

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