Updated 5.20pm with government statement

The European Commission has expressed concern about Malta’s failure to secure convictions in high-level corruption cases and flagged “deep corruption patterns” within the country as worthy of note. 

In a rule of law report, the Commission noted that the worrying patterns had led to “strong public demand” for rule of law reforms. 

The Maltese government had since embarked on a “broad reform project” to strengthen its institutional anti-corruption framework, including law enforcement and prosecution, the report noted. 

Reforms included new rules on the appointment of police commissioners, the transfer of prosecution responsibilities – including for corruption-related cases – from the police to the attorney general, a reform of the Permanent Commission Against Corruption and new provisions to allow appeals against non-prosecution by the AG. 

It noted that it was now down to the government to effectively implement these reforms to show that recommendations made by the Venice Commission and GRECO, in addition to the European Commission, had been addressed.

The Venice Commission is currently preparing an additional opinion on the legislative texts of these reforms. 

Slow justice system

But the report also flagged concern over the efficiency of the justice system, “with judicial proceedings being very long at all levels and in all categories of cases”.

The rule of law report is the first of its kind and is part of a European Commission reform aimed at providing more oversight of member states' governance issues from Brussels.  

The commission hopes the reports, which it describes as an “early detection and preventive” tool, will kickstart a rule of law culture across the EU.

Reports cover four main pillars: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media pluralism and freedom and checks and balances essential to democratic governance. 

Vice-President for values and transparency, Věra Jourová told the press on Wednesday that the report filled “an important gap” in Europe’s rule of law toolbox, identifying trends that would help prevent serious problems.

Media control

The Commission expressed concern about the effective independence of Malta’s media regulator, as well as legal and online threats to investigative journalists.

“The ownership, control or management by the two main political parties represented in parliament, of multiple Maltese media outlets and broadcasters, continues to have a significant bearing on the Maltese media landscape,” it said.

The chapter on Malta also referred to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, which it said was widely seen as an attack on freedom of expression and a murder that triggered concern about media freedom and the safety of journalists.

What’s next?

The report will feed into the wider debate on the rule of law at the European and national levels. The commission will now engage with parliament and council on rule of law issues.

It is also inviting national parliaments and authorities to discuss this report,
including its country chapters, and seek support to pursue reforms.

Based on the outcome of the dialogue around the 2020 edition and drawing on experiences gained in the first year of the functioning of the European rule of law mechanism, the commission will start preparing the 2021 report.

'Report recognises reform efforts' - government

In a reaction, the government said that it welcomed the EU report and noted how assessors within the EU Commission had recognised efforts to introduce institutional reforms and strengthen judicial independence, and had praised the raft of reforms introduced over the past months. 

"As a result of this work, today, the European Commissioner Didier Reynders described Malta as an example of best practice. This follows a letter sent by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to Prime Minister Robert Abela where she praised the reforms that Malta has undertaken to strengthen the rule of law," the government said. 

PN calls for action against Joseph Muscat

The Nationalist Party called for “concrete and definitive” action against former prime minister Joseph Muscat saying the report was a certificate of failure for the Labour government.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia reacts to the EU report. Video: PN

In a statement signed by opposition leader Adrian Delia and Good Governance spokesman Karol Aquilina, the PN said it expected Prime Minister Robert Abela to take “concrete and definitive” action against Muscat who, following the 2013 election, “created and encouraged” a culture of impunity through which corruption became institutionalised and led to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

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