Updated Friday 8.10am with Sant's explanation of vote
Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola has been subjected to a torrent of abuse on Twitter and other social media about moving amendments to a resolution in the European Parliament on rule of law concerns in Bulgaria.
The Nationalist MEP acted in her capacity as coordinator of the European People's Party.
Several Bulgarian citizens accused her of siding with the Bulgarian government, which has been facing protests over corruption for months. They accused Metsola of interfering in internal politics in an attempt to water down the resolution against the Bulgarian government.
Metsola's amendments were defeated and MEPs backed the original resolution with a majority of 358 to 277.
The resolution offered "unequivocal support for the people of Bulgaria in their legitimate demands and aspirations for justice, transparency, accountability and democracy".
A majority of the MEPs rejected attempts to cut down the text of the resolution in the amendments by the EPP, to which Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's party belongs.
"I want to say particularly that Boyko Borisov leads a pro-European government. He contributed to the introduction of the euro and whatever the problems of today, he has always supported the Council's rule-of-law mechanism, which we have advocated for in this house," EPP parliamentary leader Manfred Weber said during the European Parliament debate.
"Governments should not be changed by demonstrations, but by elections... which will take place next year in March, and everybody should take part," Weber added.
Thursday's resolution specifically raised "concern that the Bulgarian Parliament is currently in the process of adopting a new electoral law, while ordinary parliamentary elections have to take place in no later than seven months’ time".
Last Monday the European Parliament approved a resolution calling for a mechanism whereby any rule of law abuses in any member state could result in sanctions such a reduction of voting rights within the EU, or a withholding of funds. All of the Maltese MEPs voted in favour except Alfred Sant, who abstained.
The resolution about Bulgaria on Thursday expressed concerns over “a significant deterioration of respect for the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights, including the independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, the fight against corruption and freedom of the media."
Contacted for his reaction, a spokesman for Metsola said that the EPP’s position was that the resolution was rushed and premature and more negotiations should have taken place.
He pointed out that Metsola had repeatedly called for a fair EU-wide mechanism to monitor rule of law in every Member State, precisely to give the rule of law the weight it deserved and to avoid turning it into a partisan political tool.
Roberta Metsola would always speak up for the protection of the rule of law, but would not support a resolution which served to damage the credibility of the Parliament when negotiations on a new all-encompassing EU rule of law mechanism were taking place, the spokesman said.
Asked about criticism that Metsola was “deleting” all questions and comments sent to her by Bulgarian citizens on Twitter and Facebook, the spokesman said it was not possible to delete tweets.
As for Facebook, the MEP's page was moderated and any threatening, misogynistic, false or unfounded accusations were not permitted.
The spokesman vehemently denied claims that Metsola had accused demonstrators of being backed by mafia groups.
"As with every vote, on every issue, there is intense lobbying on all sides of any given issue - this is normal - Roberta is always happy to debate but will not engage with anyone who threatens herself or her family or tries to bully," the spokesman added.
Labour condemns PN MEP's opposition to Bulgaria resolution
The Labour Party said it was surprised how Metsola and fellow Nationalist MEP David Casa had voted against the resolution on Bulgaria, where the government is facing accusations of corruption.
It noted that Metsola had moved 33 amendments in order to water down the resolution, seeking to remove references to the way the rule of law had deteriorated in Bulgaria, along with the erosion of democracy, the independence of the law courts and media freedom.
The amendments were, however, defeated by the European Parliament.
"Roberta Metsola and David Casa only seem to champion the rule of law when they can use it against Malta. Yet they protect other EPP governments faced with corruption allegations," the PL said.
Under Bernard Grech, the PN remained the party which said one thing in Malta and did something different abroad the PL said.
Alfred Sant abstains
Meanwhile, Labour MEP Alfred Sant said on Friday he abstained on the resolution.
Explaining his vote, he said that for the last six years he has been questioning the legitimacy of this kind of resolution, when applied to the Malta government for sure, but equally when applied to other governments.
"If a judgment is going to be applied to any government system, it has to be based on a dispassionate, objective examination. That process does not exist. What happens is in my view, a polarised, politically skewed method, both at European Parliament and at Commission level."
He said he denounced the political hypocrisy which accompanied the process.
In an obvious reference to Metsola, he said: "During this debate, we saw an esteemed member of the EPP, who has been at the forefront in blindly fomenting and promoting before this Chamber allegations, strictures and sanctions against the government of Malta, the country which she represents here, light a candle for the Bulgarian government and present now amendments in defence or mitigation of its position. This is indefensible."
Sant said his vote should in no way should this be taken as an explicit or implicit endorsement of what is happening in Bulgaria. "To the contrary," he said.
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