Malta remains on a likely collision course with Brussels over its cash-for-passports scheme, as European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said the commission is “not convinced” about recent reforms.

The commission in October opened what are known as infringement proceedings against Malta and Cyprus over their citizenship schemes, arguing that the sale of European citizenship breaches EU treaties.

In an interview with Times of Malta ahead of a virtual rule of law tour in Malta, Reynders said the commission’s message on citizenship sale had been very clear.

“We do not want to have [European] values for sale, and certainly not citizenship,” Reynders said.

Asked if this meant that not even the reformed scheme was to Brussels’ liking, Reynders said such a process went against the principles the commission is trying to promote.

“It is nice to see that there are some new safeguards and exchanges of information with European authorities,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, we are analysing the situation to see whether it is normal to organise such a process, even with those safeguards.

We do not want to have European values for sale and certainly not citizenship

“It is nice to see some additional safeguards, but at the end of the day, it seems to be the same process”.

Reynders said the Commission is analysing the feedback given by Malta about the reformed scheme. He said a decision will be taken in the coming weeks whether it is possible to agree on citizenship sale or not, even with these additional safeguards in place.

Reynders said the matter could well end up being decided in the EU Court of Justice.

The justice commissioner has been carrying out virtual tours of all EU member states as a follow up to the first ever rule of law reports launched by the EU’s executive body last September.

Malta’s report had identified “deep corruption patterns” within the country.

Weeks after the November 2019 political crisis sparked by Yorgen Fenech arrest in connection with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, Reynders had warned in the European Parliament that the Commission was ready to use the full “toolbox” at its disposal to address rule of law concerns in Malta.

Reynders acknowledged that since the change in government leadership in January 2020, Malta had begun to embark on a series of reforms.

“We see that things are moving. It’s too early, of course, to say everything is moving in the right direction within a year, but we have seen things are moving after the political crisis, with real proposals about different reforms, and real progress in the investigations into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia”.

He said the commission was now seeking to verify the correct implementation of reforms suggested by bodies like the Council of Europe and Venice Commission, and others, particularly when it comes to appointments to the judiciary and the separation of powers between the functions of the attorney general and state advocate.

He said the European Commission wanted to engage in a discussion with all member states to exchange best practices on these points.

Reynders said the commission also had concerns about the length of judicial proceedings.

“It is too long in Malta. We need to see a more rapid process, a more efficient justice system.”

He also flagged the need for Malta to continue working on reforms to combat high-level corruption and secure more convictions.

Reynders acknowledged changes to the way the police commissioner is appointed and the transfer of certain prosecution responsibilities to the attorney general, among others.

On media pluralism, Reynders said the control and management of media outlets by the two main political parties continued to have a bearing on the media landscape in Malta.

He said the influence the two parties have on the media is a “real problem”.

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