The Maltese government yesterday signed the Sibiu Declaration, at a summit of EU Leaders held in Romania, promising to “protect our way of life, democracy, and the rule of law” – the very same issues his government has been accused of undermining ever since one of his Ministers and his chief of staff were caught red-handed setting up offshore companies in the Panama Papers.
The declaration lays out 10 commitments to democracy and European values and freedoms. Signed by Heads of State at the informal meeting, they also discussed strategic plans for the bloc over the coming years.
“We talked both about internal affairs as well as global challenges, bearing in mind that the world around us is becoming increasingly changeable and unpredictable,” said European Council President Donald Tusk.
Alice Stollmeyer, the Executive Director of Defending Democracy took to Twitter to remind Malta, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania to “act to ensure that ‘we will uphold our #EUvalues’”.
Now act to ensure that 'we will uphold our #EUvalues' are not empty words!
— Alice Stollmeyer (@StollmeyerEU) May 9, 2019
All of the countries listed by Stollmeyer have been identified as having issues relating to rule of law, corruption, freedom of expression, as well as broader issues with democracy. Hungary, for example, found its ruling Fidesz party suspended from the European People’s Party (EPP) following concerns over the rule of law as well as the far-right tendencies of its leader Viktor Orban.
Stollmeyer was also a signatory of a letter addressed to all of those in attendance in Sibu, calling for the nomination of European Commissioners who will “support and serve present and future generations, and prioritise environment, quality of life and decent work.”
The letter calls for measures to address air pollution, civil rights, tax evasion, disproportionate political influence, xenophobia and human rights.
It also highlighted the need to protect “freedom of expression, association, and assembly, including free media”, “freedom, equality, democracy, and the rule of law”, as well as the need to crack down on corruption and promoting greater transparency across the EU.
The letter was signed by 55 NGOs including Amnesty International, Democracy International, Greenpeace and Reporters Without Borders.
The group will meet again on 28 May to discuss the strategic agenda, which includes “empowering and protecting citizens” and “freedom, security and justice” as two of its five core elements.
In the previous five year strategic plan, EU governments including Malta promised to “provide justice, protection, and fairness with full respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law” and to “protect citizens”.
Meanwhile, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated. A year and a half later, there is still no indication of who commissioned her assassination and the government is refusing to launch a public inquiry. It is in line with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s tendency to pay lip service to international obligations, even as he signs up to new ones.
The Venice Commission published its report on the rule of law in the country, noting that it is not a functioning democracy. The Prime Minister has too much power, and the judiciary is not independent, the report notes. Muscat reacted by appointing another six members to the judiciary before the necessary reforms are implemented, saying the recommendations were only ‘a guide’.
The rule of law in Malta has also been called into question by the European Parliament, the United Nations and the Council of Europe. The recent Greco report called for action from the government to combat corruption and enforce laws among ministers and other senior government officials.
The PACE committee, headed by Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt, is also preparing a report on the murder of Caruana Galizia and the rule of law. Malta has also been selected on “substantive grounds” for a periodic review by the Council of Europe to assess whether it is honouring its human rights obligations, particularly in terms of rule of law and freedom of expression.