The European Commission has warned that EU member states “need to do more to uphold and enforce the rule of law.”
In its work programme for 2019, the Commission emphasised the importance of the rule of law which it described as “one of the Union’s values” which is essential for democracy and for the respect for fundamental rights.
Although it did not make any specific mention of Malta it said that while two countries, Hungary and Poland, are facing rule of law probes, “there are also mounting concerns about some other member states.”
Malta has been subject to a number of visits by European Parliament delegations investigating the rule of law. The concerns have been mainly triggered by the Panama Paprers revelations which exposed secret offshore companies owned by minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and a series of alleged cases of corruption involving the higher echelons of government.
The institutional failure to investigate these cases was amplified by the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and how authorities are handling the investigations into her murder.
If Malta, or any other member state, does not fulfil its obligations it can face the possibility of the EU opening infringement procedures against it by invoking Article 7 of the EU treaty.
In May, the Commission announced that it was in the process of launching a mechanism that will monitor the state of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in every member state by the end of the year.
The move announced by European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans came after significant pressure from the European Parliament, to act after the assassinations of investigative journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia.
In its programme for next year, the Commission said that as a consequence of these raising concerns, “there is a growing understanding that the European Union and its member states need to do more to uphold and enforce the rule of law. In this context, the Commission intends to present an initiative with a view to further strengthening the 2014 rule of law framework.”
It added that the rule of law is also an essential guarantee for the functioning of the European Union – as an internal market and an area where laws are applied uniformly and the budget is spent properly, and in which member states and their citizens can work together in a spirit of mutual trust towards common objectives.