This article first appeared on Malta Today
I did not manage to watch the whole EU debate where the Prime Minister was questioned by MEPs about the Panama Papers and the rule of law in Malta, so I can only base my impressions on parts of what I saw, news reports and online reactions from the public.
What is clear is that the deep rift caused in the country, between those who believe Muscat is not in any way incriminated, and those who believe that by re-appointing Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, he has simply condoned their behaviour in opening up secret offshore companies, is set to deepen even further. From what I have read, the debate brought up all the issues and allegations we have heard throughout the campaign and indeed, since the actual leak of the Panama Papers last year. The integrity of Maltese institutions and independent authorities also came under question during the debate.
As always happens, the comments online reflect how everyone interpreted Muscat’s performance from their own particular viewpoint. For those who have elevated the PM into almost god-like status (surpassing even their previous diety, Mintoff), Muscat can do no wrong, and his ability to “stand up” to the EU is hugely admired. In fact, when watching his speech, what comes through is that he speaks to his fellow colleagues as an equal rather than someone who feels in any way “less” than other European Prime Ministers. This, in the eyes of many Maltese people, raises their estimation of him considerably.
Similarly, this camp is also completely horrified and disgusted by what it sees as the “treacherous” behaviour of PN MEPs who, they claim, go running to the EU simply to “speak against Malta”.
On their part, Roberta Metsola and David Casa were adamant in stating that it was precisely because they love their country that they were speaking out against corruption. There is no reason to doubt their sincerity about this, because I think if there is one thing we all agree on is that we want the best for Malta. In fact, many have applauded their stance, seeing it as the only way to stop Muscat in his tracks and make him answer all the unanswered questions which the election could not possibly solve. So in the eyes of those who just take one look at Muscat and think “insufferably cocky”, he comes across as someone who has utter disdain for any institution. It didn’t help matters when he was, according to reports, seen chuckling to himself, and the chair of the committee rebuked him, “you can laugh all you want, but we will keep asking questions.”
However, I’m not so sure that this continued strategy by the PN MEPs of taking this controversy into an international arena is the best idea: not because they should not keep challenging Muscat (they should definitely keep up the pressure here in Malta which is their duty as the Opposition) but because it invariably reminds me of two children running to the grown-ups to “tell on” the mischievous boy in the schoolyard. But we need to realise once and for all that the EU is not our nanny, for the simple reason that we are equal EU members. In fact, according to The Times’ “Several MEPs argued that the European Parliament should not even be debating the internal politics of a country.”
If my reading of public opinion is correct, all that Casa and Metsola have succeeded in doing is further alienating the public from the PN and confirming the perception that the PN is patriotic in name only.
That was obviously not their intention, but as well-meaning as their intentions may be, and as genuinely concerned they may be about the rule of law in Malta, what comes across to the average person is the belief that “they are smearing the name of our country.”
Now this could simply be a Mediterranean culture type of thing that we don’t like “airing our dirty linen in public”, but it has to be acknowledged and taken into real consideration because ultimately MEPs have been elected by the people to represent Malta’s voice in the EU. After all, if Malta gets a bad name, we all go down with it. This definitely does not mean we should sweep things under the carpet or let Muscat get a free pass without being answerable to anyone – far from it. When it comes to Egrant, especially we all want the real truth to emerge after all.
However, I think the only real way forward for our country is not going to be achieved by this “I’m going to tell on you at the EU” approach. We desperately need real bi-partisan agreement to ensure that our institutions are strengthened and completely autonomous to provide much needed checks and balances. The best proposals from both the PN and PL manifestos on this issue need to be used in order for this to be achieved. And we need to stop running to “Mummy” every time the country faces a crisis.
In short, we just really need to grow up.