Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has engaged former Italian minister Sandro Gozi as a personal consultant, in a move seen by observers as an attempt to strengthen his personal standing as a liberal European politician.
It is the European Affairs Ministry that is responsible for relations with the EU, yet Mr Gozi was hired on a position of trust basis within Dr Muscat’s office.
Last August, Mr Gozi’s work for another foreign government sparked calls within Italy’s Demo-cratic Party for his Italian citizenship to be revoked, after he was accused of betrayal for taking on a role as Europe adviser in the French Prime Minister’s office.
A spokesman for Dr Muscat confirmed to Times of Malta that Mr Gozi is serving as a consultant to the Prime Minister, where he was appointed as a “person of trust”. He has been occupying the consultancy role to the Prime Minister’s office since July 2018.
No official announcement about his consultancy position was ever made, and sources in Brussels say Mr Gozi has been quietly doing work for the Maltese government, particularly on the migration front.
'No conflict of interest'
A source within French President Emmanuel Macron’s entourage told Le Monde, which partnered up with Times of Malta for the story, that some ideas about a potential link-up between Dr Muscat and the European liberal umbrella group Renew have been explored, but there was nothing concrete yet.
Speaking to Times of Malta, Mr Gozi said he saw no conflict of interest in his role as adviser to both the Maltese and French governments.
“My advisory role in Malta is on a person-of-trust basis according to government standard procedures and does not create any conflict of interest with my policy role in France, which after all is also a European government which Malta collaborates with closely on a European level,” Mr Gozi said.
Mr Gozi denied being tasked with any image-building exercises on behalf of the Maltese government.
“I am not involved in the image of the Maltese government, which, in my opinion, is held in very high esteem as a stable and successful country especially following its fruitful EU presidency,” Mr Gozi said.
Mr Gozi was awarded the National Order of Merit by the government in 2016, and helped identify policies and priorities for Malta’s Presidency of the European Council.
He insists the French government was aware of his position with the OPM, and any other advisory positions he has held with other governments and European bodies.
Apart from the two consultancy roles with different governments, Mr Gozi is waiting to take up a seat as an MEP, having contested on Mr Macron’s République En Marche movement.
He will take up a seat in the European Parliament when Brexit takes place and the UK’s seats are re-allocated.
After receiving questions about his dual role from French daily Le Monde, Mr Gozi played down his job with the Maltese government.
“As a further clarification, I would like to add that since June the contract has ceased following my election [to the European Parliament] according to the relevant clause. So, legally I was not contracted to both Malta and France simultaneously,” Mr Gozi said.
Gozi set to take up seat as MEP after Brexit
Previous correspondence with the OPM and Mr Gozi himself clearly stated that the Italian politician is currently contracted with the Maltese government.
Attempts to reach Mr Gozi by telephone last night, tofurther elaborate on his claim that the contract is no longer in force, failed.
Officials in France are expected to declare any potential conflicts of interest to the High Authority for Transparency in Public life.
Contacted by Le Monde, the authority confirmed Mr Gozi’s role in the French government, but declined to comment when asked if he had declared his consultancy with the Maltese government.
A spokesperson for the French Prime Minister told Le Monde that it would be reviewing Mr Gozi’s activities today to see if they are compatible with his role.
“At the time of his appointment, Mr Gozi had to make all the legal declarations concerning his past and present professional activities.
“We will review with him as early as Monday to see what activities he may have been pursuing since his appointment to the Prime Minister’s office and to what extent they are compatible,” the spokesperson said.
Malta Today reported last year how Joseph Muscat pitched an alliance with President Macron for the MEP elections, as part of a failed attempt to nab a top post in the EU.
At the time, Mr Gozi had already been taken on as a consultant to Dr Muscat.
Sources in Brussels said there had been a fresh push by government officials in recent weeks to explore joining forces with Renew, the new liberal umbrella movement in the European Parliament.
Mr Gozi is one of those who will take up a seat with Renew once the UK leaves the EU.
The sources said Renew has not shown much enthusiasm about the prospect of Dr Muscat joining the alliance.
A source within President Macron’s entourage told Le Monde that there had been some ideas about a possible link-up, “but nothing tangible”.
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the Panama Papers scandal have dented the Maltese Prime Minister’s reputation in Brussels.
A spokesman for Dr Muscat said there are no plans for the Prime Minister or the Labour Party to break away from the Socialists & Democrats grouping.
Timeline of Gozi's responses
October 17 – Prime Minister’s office
“Former Italian under-secretary for European Affairs Sandro Gozi is serving as a consultant to the Office of the Prime Minister in Malta in a similar role to the one he has held, and holds, with governments and European organisations.”
October 18 – Sandro Gozi
“I have been engaged by the Office of the Prime Minister since June 2018 as an advisor on all European institutions in line with my expertise and experience”.
“My advisory role in Malta is on a person of trust basis according to government standard procedures and does not create any conflict of interest with my policy role in France, which after all is also a European government which Malta collaborates with closely on a European level.”
October 20 – Sandro Gozi
“As a further information, I would like to add that since June the contract has ceased following my election (although suspended for Brexit) according to the relevant clause. So legally I was not contracted to Malta and France simultaneously”.