Blog AnalysisFundamental rights

Malta: there is no threat to the rule of law! says the Commission

(B2) Faced with the first revelations of our colleagues on the (catastrophic) situation of justice in Malta (the Daphne project), the European Commission remains in the background. Questioned yesterday midday by B2 and several colleagues, the Commission's chief spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, tried to convince that the European executive had turned on all the lights on the Maltese situation. But we cannot say that this situation constitutes a priority. Remarks in full… and comments

Despite a statement (statement) prepared in advance, the Commission did not really show energy and enthusiasm to act on the issue. First of all, we had to try again, several times, to get clear answers, particularly on the question of the rule of law. Most of the time, she kicked in, even when the question seemed too embarrassing, to counter-attack by finding that journalists have a way of asking bad questions.

Does the Commission believe that there is a rule of law problem in Malta?

« We do not think so. We have discussed this in the past and I think we have a number of specific questions which we approach with the clarity and strength that EU legislation gives us and which is underway". (Concretely) " If the question is that there is a violation of the rule of law. No, the answer is no ».

Comment: I had to think twice and get angry (a little) to get a clear answer. This shows the embarrassment that reigns in the Commission to see one of the countries (Malta) considered to be a 'good student' of the European Union publicly called into question.

Did Juncker or Timmermans have a discussion on the Daphne report with the Maltese authorities, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for example?

No. " The President (J.-C. Juncker) and the Vice-President (F. Timmermans) did not speak with the Prime Minister of Malta after the publication of the report [Daphne], otherwise it would have been announced ».

Comment: this shows the intensity of the Commission's political awareness. Vice President Frans Timmermans is normally responsible for the rule of law. It is he who we saw at work, particularly in Poland.

Why did you trigger procedures in other countries and not Malta?

No express answer.

Comment: the Commission sees no possible comparison with what is happening in Poland, where a procedure for non-compliance with the rule of law has been launched (read: Poland receives first warning for its justice laws). The government in Warsaw has concocted a law allowing it to intervene directly in the appointment of judges or certain investigations, I was told. In other words, in Malta, the law being apparently “ as seen here ", with only " failures » in its application, there would be no grounds for prosecution by the Commission. The European executive is, here, in a purely procedural assessment of the rule of law. As for what is happening in Romania and Bulgaria — under surveillance procedure with regular reports to bring them into compliance with justice — no response, even 'off', is given. But we could say that these are procedures resulting from enlargement. At the time, during Malta's accession procedure, we saw no problem or, at least, we let it slide.

The journalistic investigation reveals certain disturbing connections between Maltese officials and the murder of Daphné…

“The Commission expects an independent and long-term investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. We urge the responsible authorities to continue the ongoing investigation until those responsible for this crime have been found and justice is served."

Comment: the Commission is doing the minimum that can be expected of it: requesting an investigation from the Maltese government. It is true that she does not really have any express prerogative. But it has a general duty to protect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press. Normally one would have expected stronger words, targeting “the responsibility of all people regardless of their rank” and “there is no room for impunity in matters of corruption” (a provision commonly used in particular in European diplomacy).

What is the Commission doing about the ideas revealed by the Daphné report concerning money laundering?

What the Commission criticizes Malta for is the failure to comply with the transposition of the directive on money laundering. “ Infringement procedures are ongoing against [20] Member States, including Malta, and we expect them to transpose the relevant EU rules as a matter of urgency. The Commission also sent a letter asking the European Banking Authority to ensure that financial institutions established in Malta meet the requirements set out in the anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism legislation »

Comment: this procedure is sometimes very formal and was not triggered (it seems) following the revelations of the Daphné report. This is a classic procedure in the implementation of any European directive where the Commission verifies the correct transposition of the text. Almost all States are concerned (20 out of 28). Which could be worrying. NB: The Commission did not specify the nature of what it criticized Malta on this point.

On the passports of convenience issued by Malta?

The question of nationality is a matter of national sovereignty. " There was no violation on the passports ". Corn " As national citizenship is a prerequisite for EU citizenship and Treaty rights, the Commission closely monitors the application of these national schemes underlines the Commission's Justice spokesperson, Christian Wigand. " And Member States should use their citizenship prerogatives in accordance with national and European law (1). The Commission is preparing a report, which will describe […] the national laws in force and current practices in certain Member States » and which will contain « also recommendations ". Expected deadline: by the end of the year. Two other countries, in addition to Malta, are affected by passports of convenience: Cyprus and Latvia.

Comment: certainly the Commission has few resources, but it has been known to be much more legally inventive on certain issues. In particular, there is a provision in the Treaties regarding the issuance of passports (in matters of immigration control). In a word, the reaction is weak and vague.

On the revelations of the European Parliament report of January 2018?

Le European Parliament report (published in January, following an on-site fact-finding mission at the end of November and December) highlighted a certain number of problems, notably the Pilatus Bank case and the numerous unresolved cases of corruption.

« We will see in the Parliament's resolutions whether there are other areas which are not covered by the answers we have given here explains the spokesperson. " We will be delighted to give them a little later today or tomorrow. »

Comment: a fairly evasive answer, quite close to a No. It should be noted that the Commission has a representation in Malta which followed this investigation and which, normally, should have already transmitted all the information on the situation in Malta. Suffice to say that the time taken to act seems difficult to explain.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) “Passport regimes, conditions for obtaining and renunciation of national citizenship are governed by the national law of each Member State, subject to compliance with EU law. But the principles set out in international law require the existence of a genuine link between the applicant and the country or its national. »

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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