Former Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil has been appointed secretary general of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which means he will now resign his seat in the Maltese parliament.
With effect from March, the former MEP will effectively be the right-hand man to Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP in the European Parliament.
Dr Busuttil told Times of Malta: “It will be a great privilege to serve at the heart of the European Parliament with the political family that represents my values. I will work tirelessly to repay the trust that is being shown in me by the EPP Group to achieve our goal of a stronger Europe at the service of the people.”
He said it would be an honour to continue the work of Martin Kamp, the outgoing EPP secretary general, who will be retiring after serving for 12 years in the post.
I will work tirelessly to repay the trust that is being shown in me
Dr Busuttil became leader of the Nationalist Party after its defeat to Joseph Muscat in the 2013 general election. He resigned as party leader after Dr Muscat’s second consecutive landslide victory in 2017.
The main thrust of Dr Busuttil’s 2017 electoral campaign was fighting corruption, restoring Malta’s international reputation and strengthening the country’s institutions and rule of law. Despite numerous allegations of corruption and the emergence of the Panama Papers, the PN still lost that election to Labour led by Joseph Muscat by the same margin as the 2013 poll, a deeply disappointing result for Dr Busuttil.
Relations between Dr Muscat and Dr Busuttil were never good and ironically it was the former prime minister who had sought a top post in Brussels. That ambition was severely dented after the Panama Papers and lost forever after Daphne Caruana Galzia’s murder.
Soon after his resignation, Dr Busuttil was replaced as party leader by Adrian Delia. The relationship between the two was lukewarm at best, especially since Dr Delia had initially indicated that other political and economic issues should be given equal importance to the fight against corruption.
Dr Busuttil, however, remained at the forefront of his party’s efforts to fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law, particularly after the assassination of Ms Caruana Galizia in October 2017.
In a shock announcement in July 2018, Dr Delia removed Dr Busuttil as the party’s spokesman on good governance and asked him to suspend himself from the PN’s parliamentary group after the Egrant inquiry concluded that neither Joseph Muscat nor his wife Michelle were the owners of the Panama company.
The decision, taken because Dr Busuttil had used the Egrant allegation in his electoral campaign, led to anger among PN supporters and worsened relations between the two. Dr Delia then reversed his decision over Dr Busuttil’s suspension.
Recently, however, relations between Dr Delia and Dr Busuttil seemed to have improved, with the PN leader publicly thanking his predecessor – in the aftermath of the investigations into Daphne Caruana Galizia – for his fight for the rule of law.
PN congratulates Dr Busuttil
The Nationalist Party congratulated Dr Busuttil on his appointment.
Party leader Adrian Delia said that it was with joy and pride that he welcomed the news of Dr Busuttil's appointment to such a prestigious position.
"This appointment shows not only the confidence which Dr Busuttil commands, but also the respect which the Nationalist Party enjoys in Europe, " Dr Delia said.
The Nationalist Party views Simon Busuttil's appointment as an opportunity given to Malta to rebuild its reputation
"The Nationalist Party views Simon Busuttil's appointment as an opportunity given to Malta to rebuild its reputation after it was destroyed by Joseph Muscat through corruption and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. At the same time, this appointment will ensure that Europe continues to safeguard the values of democracy, justice and rule of law in Malta like never before."
The PN thanked Dr Busuttil for his service as party leader, leader of the opposition, MEP and MP.
What does the EPP stand for?
The EPP has 182 MEPs and is led by a president who is elected for a renewable period of two and a half years.
The group is supported by a staff complement of around 300 based in the European Parliament, which acts as the permanent secretariat of the group, taking care of the group’s policy-formation, organisation and communications. This secretariat is led by the secretary general of the EPP Group.
The EPP Group is the part of the European People’s Party (EPP) which is the oldest political party established at European level. The EPP brings together Christian Democrat and like-minded centre-right political parties from all over the European Union and beyond. The EPP has been instrumental in shaping the process of European integration since the establishment of the EEC in 1958 and now, the European Union.
Today, the EPP comprises some 84 political parties from 43 different European countries. Apart from being the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP also holds the positions of the president of European Commission and of the head of state or government in 10 different EU countries.
A europhile, Dr Busuttil is not new to the European Parliament, having served as an MEP between 2004 and 2013.
Before joining the European Parliament, Dr Busuttil was a prominent player in Malta’s EU accession process. He was a member of his country’s EU negotiating team and also led the public communications campaign ahead of the successful EU membership referendum in 2003.
Dr Busuttil, who is 50, is a lawyer by profession and specialised in European Union law, which he also lectures at the University of Malta.
He is the second Maltese politician to serve in such a post. Former Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola was elected Secretary General of the European Green Party in Brussels between 1999 and 2006.