Putting a halt to the sale of Malta's golden passports scheme is of “utmost importance”, EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Malta on Thursday.  

Fielding questions during a press conference with Prime Minister Robert Abela, von der Leyen did not mince her words about the controversial scheme.  

She said the scheme allowed passport buyers access to 27 EU countries, and halting it was of “utmost importance”.  

The commission officially launched infringment proceedings against Malta over the scheme last year. 

Malta has since revamped the scheme in a bid to quell pressure from the EU, but the tweaks have not impressed Brussels

The EU commission president was in Malta to approve the goverment's plan to tap €316 million in EU funds as part of its COVID-19 recovery package.

She heaped praise on the government plan to use dedicate a large chunk of EU COVID-19 recovery funds to green initiatives. Von der Leyen said Malta’s plan was among the greenest of them all.  

The commission formally gave the green light to the plan on Thursday.  

Von der Leyen welcomed plans to further strengthen the independence and efficiency of the justice and prosecution systems in Malta.  

She also spoke of government plans to curb aggressive tax planning and further reforms to combat money laundering.  

Anti-SLAPP legislation on the horizon

On his part, Abela said his administration had worked constantly and consistently to introduce new measures aimed at ensuring the rule of law.  

“In less than 20 months, we enacted wide-ranging legislation, including constitutional changes,  the implementation of which is visible and tangible on the ground.”praised the EU’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also touched upon plans to make Malta carbon neutral by 2050.  He said there would be a push to shift public transport to clean electric vehicles and encourage the use of more private electric cars.  

Questioned about the EU commission president’s emphasis on the need to introduce an EU-wide military force during a state of the union speech, Abela said Malta would stick to its neutrality obligations as enshrined in the constitution. 

Abela announced plans in the coming days to unveil anti-SLAPP legislation to protect journalists from ruinous libel suits in foreign jurisdictions.  

The EU commission president acknowledged the planned introduction by the government of an anti-SLAPP bill, saying journalists are crucial to the function of democracy.  

Von der Leyen said she would be paying a visit to the site where journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated by a car bomb in October 2017.  

The short visit comes a day after the president presented her keynote State of the Union address.

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