EU Commission vice president Věra Jourova on Tuesday slammed the lack of progress made by Malta in rule of law reforms.
Taking the floor during a three-hour debate about the rule of law in Malta, Ms Jourova said the Commission expected a thorough investigation into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death, free of political interference.
“The people of Malta first and foremost demand truth and justice. We stand by them,” Ms Jourova said.
She said the Commission's role was to address structural and systemic issues in Malta, particularly in the judiciary and the fight against money laundering.
The commissioner gave a rundown of the action already taken against Malta, including infringement procedures for a breach of the anti-money laundering directive.
She said one of the top priorities was strengthening judicial independence and establishing a fully independent prosecution service.
While the Maltese authorities have expressed a willingness to reform, there was a “lack of significant progress”.
She said Malta was expected to fully implement the Venice Commission recommendations.
“These are European issues. The EU is built on mutual trust among its members. Each citizen deserves justice. This is why we will continue to follow the situation. We will provide support where necessary”, Ms Jourova said.
PM remaining in power 'a slap in the face'
Esteban González Pons, from the European People’s Party, said Daphne Caruana Galizia fought till the very end for what she believed to be the truth.
“Something is wrong when freedom of expression is not freedom anymore, but a deadly risk. The union cannot afford a country in economic ruin. How can we afford a government in moral ruin?”
He said every day Prime Minister Joseph Muscat remained in power was a slap in the face of the thousands of Maltese asking for truth and justice.
“You must step down now prime minister. This is not about you anymore. This is about Malta. Justice will be done,” the MEP said.
Socialist MEP Birgit Sippel cautioned that investigations were still ongoing in Malta.
She said there was a need for balance between the public’s need for information and the confidentiality needed for investigators’ to carry out their job.
Ms Sippel said people had already been charged and taken into custody in relation to the murder.
The MEP said the support offered by Europol had been helpful in this regard.
She said Malta had registered positive developments in justice reforms.
Dutch MEP Sophia In’t Veld, who led a delegation to Malta earlier in December, had harsh for the European Council’s absence in the debate.
“We are dealing here with hard-nosed criminals who are literally ready to kill.
They will not be very impressed by a bureaucratic response. They are criminals.”
Even more worrying was the apparent connection between those criminals and the prime minister’s office, the MEP continued.
“Although it is not our task to call for the resignation of the Maltese prime minister, I do think we should point out that his continous presence is cause for grave concern,” she said.
Greens MEP Sven Giegold, who has for years criticised Dr Muscat and his government, said following the mission to the island earlier in December, the delegation saw "an alarming stagnation in investigating corruption".
He also criticised the previous Commission for not taking much action against Malta.
"The previous Commission just sat by idly and did very little," he said, iterating calls for infringement procedures to be initiated against Malta.
Former EP president urges Dr Muscat to resign immediately
Former EP president Antonio Tajani joined a long list of MEPs calling for Dr Muscat to resign immediately and not wait until January to step down.
Dr Muscat, he said, should regard Tuesday's debate as a vote of no confidence.
"Until we have uncovered who is behind the murder, we need to know who was in charge and Dr Muscat is not allowing that to happened.
"Malta is not that, the Maltese need the country back and this can only happen if Dr Muscat resigns," he said.
Maltese MEPs have their say
PN MEP Roberta Metsola was the first of the Maltese Euro-parliamentarians to take the floor.
For years, she said, she has known what the world now knows about the state of the Maltese government.
"We are closer to justice than ever before but we are not there yet. Dr Muscat is still clinging to power for at least 30 days. He must resign immediately if my country is to move forward," she said.
The government should also implement "a massive programme of reforms" because after Dr Muscat, "nothing can ever be the same again", Dr Metsola said.
On her part, Labour MEP Miriam Dalli admitted Malta is facing an "unprecedented situation that has choked the country".
"As the Maltese S&D delegation, we are committed to ensure that the reforms are carried out at a speedier pace. We want to make sure that checks and balances are ingrained. All alleged cases of corruption must be thoroughly investigated, and nobody is above the law.
"There are currently five ongoing cases on alleged corruption, and we want these concluded," Dr Dalli said.
Asked about ministers in Malta claiming the protests organised in recent weeks were a provocation, Dr Dalli said she has always been in favour of protests that are "peaceful and non-violent".
"I do not find myself condemning peaceful protests."
Fellow Labour MEP Alex Aguis Saliba used his time to praise the police for carrying out investigations that have led to arrests, lambasting the resolution being debated.
"Our institutions are functioning well, and they are not prejudiced and so I think the resolution we have in front of us is unjust," the MEP said.
Agreeing, Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar also described any action against Malta at this stage as "not beneficial or just".
Meanwhile, PN MEP David Casa started off by apologising for "the actions of the Maltese government".
"I never thought I would feel as ashamed of the government as I feel today.
The Maltese government is not Malta. The real Maltese and Gozitans are in the streets, protesting. The real Maltese are strong and resilient.
"The Maltese people make me proud that we do not allow anyone to bully us," he said.
Mr Casa also called on Europe to take action and not just "empty words of monitoring".
Former prime minister and Labour MEP Alfed Sant also said the Maltese want justice. But it would not be just if the "bad actions of a few" affect the entire government, he said.
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