The op-ed by European leaders published in some of Europe’s most prominent newspapers was a necessary and timely warning on the rise of the far right and the dangers of populism. It was a rallying cry for a return to the founding values of peace, freedom, prosperity and solidarity.
It was a relief to read, until the part listing those who signed it where Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s name appeared. Its title, ‘Wake up, Europe’ then took on a whole new meaning.
The op-ed demanded “strict respect for the rule of law and for democratic institutions”. Muscat joined several high profile European leaders in warning that if the European project wasn’t strengthened, we could see a return to 1930’s fascism. You’d be forgiven for wondering if he was laughing when he put his name to that text.
European leaders drew attention to the rise of the far right ahead of the MEP elections next year. The one where Muscat’s Party is presenting Josef Caruana, also an OPM official, as a candidate – the one who wants “PN traitors thrashed” in those same elections so he can defend Malta’s name. Yes, the same one who penned an article when he was editor of Labour-leaning L-Orizzont calling for the elimination of critical journalists, and later got rewarded with a position in the Prime Minister’s office.
It’s the same Prime Minister who appointed Tony Zarb as a consultant – the former General Workers’ Union boss who has no problem receiving a salary from taxpayers for years for nobody quite knows what. Muscat retained Zarb despite his calling women activists “prostitutes,” telling the opposition to act more like Boris Titov in Russia (a planted tool of Vladimir Putin), telling Socialist MEP Ana Gomes to “go to hell”, telling BBC to keep its “Hands of(f) Malta”, calling for a law against “traitors,” and recently saying “the most important thing for our Malta is that she [Daphne Caruana Galizia] never returns”. Another bastion of European values.
It’s a recurring pattern. Muscat does not get his hands dirty, save when he must. It’s all those around him, who report to him, that do the dirty work. Whether it’s cleansing or hoarding up memorials to avoid protests, acting as administrators or moderators on hate groups, delaying or derailing investigations or court cases, spreading disinformation, or generally targeting those who criticise or try to hold the government to account, the source is one.
So how does Muscat get to preach about European values that he is betraying at home? How does he get to talk about “reclaiming the original European promise” he fought so hard against?
The government he leads is the single greatest obstacle to the Maltese wanting to live their lives based on the European values they voted for when he was too busy doing his best to keep the country out.
The op-ed stresses: “Instead of supporting calls to muzzle the justice system and political opposition, we demand strict respect for the rule of law and for democratic institutions”.
Muscat should start by cleaning up his own house first.
The government consistently issues press releases either selectively quoting or outright misquoting rating agencies as giving Malta’s rule of law a “clean bill of health”.
Moody’s actual full report for August 2018 mentions “evidence of an erosion of institutional strength, in particular in relation to the rule of law or control of corruption” as being grounds for a downgrade. There was no mention of this in the government’s press release on that report.
Malta also experienced the sharpest drop in press freedom of all 180 countries covered by the 2018 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.
The Maltese government has not meaningfully addressed any of the recommendations from the previous LIBE fact-finding mission. The Prime Minister and his closest aides openly regard these investigations with disdain, regularly refusing to meet the MEPs. What respect for democratic institutions? What respect for rule of law?
Muscat’s government has compromised the checks and balances needed in a democracy at every possible turn. The often repeated phrase, “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a stark reminder of lessons learnt over the course of thousands of years of history.
But Muscat has the gall to warn Europeans about fascism.
“Time is running out: we have eight months to get Europe to wake up,” the op-ed states or else Europe “could be suffocated by populist leaders for whom our Union is nothing”.
People in Malta have been telling Europe to wake up for the last 11 months – since one of the country’s journalists was assassinated and there is no answer on who commissioned the killing and a great deal of questions and doubts on the investigation.
People in Malta were telling Europe to wake up even before that, when the Prime Minister’s top aide and star minister were exposed in the Panama Papers and it became obvious that every supposedly-independent institution in the country was going to do zilch about it.
These are the people that the Prime Minister’s closest aides, his appointed government officials and his followers call “traitors”.
But Muscat has the gall to warn Europeans about fascism.
The op-ed was published a week after Muscat announced there was no need for a public inquiry that would look into the State’s role in Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
It is the same political leader who continues to encourage hate against the journalist by watching his MPs slander her name beyond the grave, by lording over secret and closed online groups in which his closest aides and the government officials he appointed celebrate her death and wipe away any memory of her name from the capital city.
It’s those whose candles and flowers Muscat can’t stand who are the ones still fighting to uphold European values.
It’s those people Muscat’s government has made repeated efforts to silence, to the point of blocking off public access to a public monument.
It’s those same people his Party discredits using the disinformation tactics of far right leaders – yes, those he said he was concerned about.
It’s those people who represent the struggle to “reclaim the original European promise” for Malta, the one Muscat has twisted beyond recognition.
Muscat is the problem, not the solution. Who does he think he’s fooling?