Malta is regressing in its fight against corruption, the lead candidate for the European People’s Party (EPP) Manfred Weber fears.

“I feel Malta is going backwards in its fight against corruption. This is a threat to democracy and impoverishes the Maltese citizens,” Mr Weber said in comments to the Times of Malta following a short visit to attend the Nationalist Party’s General Council.

“The European way of life is what we Europeans have in common, what defines us. It is our common values of democracy, freedom, freedom of the press and the respect of the rule of law. We are seeing with concern the developments in Malta. This is damaging the image of the country European-wide.

“The government should  implement the recommendations made by the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission and the European Parliament,” the EPP candidate insisted.

He also reiterated calls for the launch of a public and independent inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, stressing that it was not acceptable that those who are responsible for her assassination “are still not behind bars”. 

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More efforts need to be done in the investigation, he said, insisting on the launch of an independent investigation into the Panama Papers scandal that was also needed.

Mr Weber also urged the government to stop its cash-for-passports scheme, saying that there was no room for such programmes in the EU.

“European citizenship should never be for sale. It is the common good of all Europeans. It is our identity. It is what makes us European. It is what makes us one – we are different but the same.

“Passport-for-sale schemes do not only increase Europe’s vulnerability towards organised crime activities, corruption and money-laundering. They also put our unity at risk,” he argued.

Acknowledging that Malta was not the only country in the EU where the rule of law was at risk, Mr Weber said that if elected president of the European Commission, he would set up a “strengthened rule of law mechanism”, with an independent body composed of former judges who will be in charge of evaluating the rule of law, corruption, independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the press on a regular basis, in every member state.

On the future of the party and the EU as a whole in light of the increasing popularity of populist parties across Europe, Mr Weber said that the EPP “believes in Europe” and that such a stance would allow the party to ensure people are brought closer to-gether and not further apart.

“In the EPP we bring concrete solutions to the people’s problems,” he said.

“This is why I am proposing a Europe that is strong, smart and kind. I have put forward 12 concrete proposals, my 12 pledges to the European citizens.”