The Council of Europe (CoE) is set to conduct a review of Malta to check whether it is honouring its democratic commitments and obligations as a member of the international organisation.

It is normal for the CoE to carry out such reviews on its 47 Member States. However, a new mechanism introduced in January allows for a more targeted approach to be taken in the selection of the countries to be reviewed – and Malta, along with Hungary and Romania, has been selected for this review.

Before, the CoE used to gradually work its way through its Member States in alphabetical order.

A source familiar with the process told The Sunday Times of Malta that the review is intended to study if Malta is living up to the Council’s stated aims, namely upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The source stressed the selection of particular countries for this review “should not be viewed as a punishment”.

Along with Malta, both Hungary and Romania have been criticised for failures in the rule of law.

Review ‘should not be viewed as a punishment’

Just last week, Romania was warned by the European Commission that it should step back from the brink and consult on any legal changes that could be seen as giving impunity to corruption.

Read: Reports galore highlighting institutional shortcomings in Malta

The CoE has been increasingly critical of Malta following the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.

In the months after her death, it committed itself to drawing up a report about the murder as well as the corruption claims involving high-level officials.

A report by the CoE’s Group of States against Corruption (Greco) in April warned that Malta’s criminal justice system risks paralysis. Greco said the lack of action against top officials facing corruption allegations conveyed a feeling in the public that senior officials are benefiting from total impunity for their actions.

Prior to the Greco report, an analysis by the Venice Commission, a consultative body to the CoE, flagged the “serious risk for the rule of law” posed by the wide powers of appointment enjoyed by the Prime Minister.

“Taking into account the Prime Minister’s powers, notably his or her influence on judicial appointments, crucial checks and balances are missing. This problem is accentuated by the weakness of civil society and independent media,” the Commission said.

Furthermore, the CoE’s anti-money laundering body is also carrying out a scheduled assessment of the island’s compliance with international standards to combat financial crime. The Sunday Times of Malta reported recently that the country had “failed” the initial review.

An index published by Reporters Without Borders this week said press freedom in Malta continued deteriorating, with the country falling 12 places in a single year.

Malta had already dropped 18 places in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index last year.

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