MEP claims Renew wants to cut Malta funds over rule of law concerns

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba on the attack over Renew proposal in committee to inquiry about EC investigation into Malta funds

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba
Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba

MEPs on the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) want the European Commission to explain if there is any ongoing investigation on the use of EU funds in Malta, over latest media reports concerning the former Muscat administration and an offshore network formed around the Electrogas.

But Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba claims the proposal, put forward by MEPs from Renew Europe and supported by the European Peoples’ Party, is an attempt to cut EU funding being allocated to Malta over rule of law concerns.

The proposal raises the question as to whether corruption allegations surrounding the more nefarious activities of former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and the former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, had involved the use of EU funds or if they were in some way related to EU policies.

Under the new EU rules, EU budget payments can be withheld from member states where it is established that rule of law breaches have compromised the proper management of the EU funds. As such, the new conditionality regime makes any disbursements of EU funds to member states conditional on the state of their respective rule of law.

European Parliament sources speaking with MaltaToday said Renew’s proposal to the CONT committee notes how it remains unclear from media reports whether any EU funds or policies had been compromised, and it suggests the Commission be officially asked for its opinion on the matter.

Although Renew’s proposal has apparently found the support of the EPP – the EP’s largest grouping and to which Malta’s two Nationalist MEPs form part – it found no quarter among the Socialists & Democrats group, to which Malta’s governing Labour Party belongs.

Source said S&D representatives dismissed the proposal and is preferring a wait-and-see approach, citing ongoing judicial proceedings in Malta, last month’s EP resolution on the state of Malta rule of law and the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, as well as the ongoing work of the EP’s Democracy and Rule of Law and Monitoring Group.

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba first raised the issue in a scathing Facebook video on Tuesday, in which he slammed the proposal and questioned what any of the corruption allegations had to do with any of the EU funding allocated to Malta.

Nationalists ‘just don’t give up’ damaging Malta – Agius Saliba

“It’s now clear that the Nationalists don’t give up,” he charged. “After the recent European Court of Justice verdict that our institutional reforms are progressing well, after the recent Moneyval positive assessment...they keep on attacking the national interest.”

Following the recent contentious EP resolution critiquing Malta, Agius Saliba accused the PN MEPs of now trying to use other EU institution to “further their damaging attacks”.

Questioning how the murder of Caruana Galizia could have had anything to do with the misuse of EU funds, Agius Saliba pointed to a number of “manoeuvres” carried out by the Renew and the EPP, whose secretary general, he notes, is Malta’s former opposition leader and Labour Party bête noir Simon Busuttil.

“Something I cannot understand is how, in just two weeks’ time, they want to have another discussion on the rule of law in Malta. Is this just a mere coincidence that the coordinators of these two particular groups are pushing for such a debate?”

At the committee meeting last week, Agius Saliba explained, S&D’s Romanian coordinator objected to the agenda item on Malta, saying it made no sense – after last month’s resolution and with the courts investigating the murder – to have another debate in another committee to discuss the murder and how the use of EU funds was affected.

Proposal ‘makes no sense’

“This,” he said, “is something that we, and even the EP Socialists, believe makes no sense at all. And in this case, the S&D is 100% behind us.”

There are two reasons Renew and the EPP want the discussion on Malta held, according to Agius Saliba. One is the fact that in few weeks there will be a related EP debate on accusations on the misuse of EU funds by the Czech government of Andrzej  Duda, which is part of renew Europe.

“And, by coincidence, renew Europe wants to hold this debate, with the obvious objective of deviating attention onto Malta and so the Czechs are not alone in being named and shamed on the misuse of EU funds.

“They are using our country for their own political mileage, to divert attention from their own government and to turn their cannons on us, when we have had no allegations whatsoever of systematic misuse of EU funds. These are simply deviation tactics.”

Worse still, Agius Saliba said, was that the EPP has “jumped on Renew’s bandwagon”. He pointed out how the EPP chairman Manfred Weber is a German Christian Democratic Union member whose country, according to a recent report cited by Agius Saliba, “has not seen corruption placed under control but, rather, it remained out of control because their institutions have not been strengthened like ours have.”

Suggesting Busuttil’s hidden hand may be at play, Agius Saliba said the former Nationalist leader “takes every opportunity to stick the knife in, and the present is a crucial time for Malta”.

Funds from EU’s €750 billion Covid recovery plan could stand at risk

EU member states are currently eying the NextGenerationEU funding programme - a €750 billion temporary recovery instrument to offset immediate economic and social damage caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Malta needs this funding to help emerge from the pandemic,” Agius Saliba underscores. “But the agenda is one: to strike now on the eve of the recovery plan.”

Referring to Busuttil – as well as to MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola – Agius Saliba said “it is shameful to use your position at the European Parliament to try to thwart Malta’s funding just before it is to granted. It’s no wonder how survey after survey shows the Maltese population just doesn’t trust the PN”.

A ‘golden opportunity’ for PN MEPs

Along those lines, Agius Saliba laid down a challenge to his Nationalist counterparts: “You now have a golden opportunity. If you truly have Malta’s social and economic wellbeing at heart, go to your committee representatives, as I did with my Socialist colleagues, and ask them to stop this discussion.

“If you truly want to defend your country from unjust attacks, stop simply crying from the podium. You now have an opportunity, with this empty vessel of a debate, to leave that spotlight for the Czechs, where there are real problems with the use of EU funds.

“Let’s not end up in the middle of this. On my part, I will continue to fight it at every chance I have.”

These articles are part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. These articles reflect only the authors’ view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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