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Mirror, mirror, on the wall

These days, it seems the Maltese public is doing the equivalent of driving and texting. It just can’t take away its attention from the entertaining series of texts reporting on the Nationalist Party’s meltdown. But reading these texts is taking attention away from the road, where a truck is approaching head-on.

Pieter Omtzigt has a near unpronounceable name, and he has written a report on the rule of law in Malta which might seem largely irrelevant bar for some temporary negative publicity. Isn’t the Council of Europe (CoE), on behalf of which Omtzigt wrote his report, just some talking shop? And can he have said anything about rule of law that hasn’t been said already?

Well, consider this. He has written that what is happening in Malta should worry the whole of Europe and – the real punch – if Malta doesn’t mend its ways, European institutions should intervene.

Let’s repeat that slowly. A Dutch MP has urged international intervention – which can only mean pressure and sanctions – on our country if it doesn’t mend its ways.

That’s practically saying we’re two weaves away from being a basket case. It is also directly saying we are a security threat to the rest of Europe. The last time that kind of thing was said about us was back in the 1980s, when Libyan terrorism was said to be using Malta as a base.

Finally, it is urging European intervention. That’s another way of saying that Malta should be looked at less as an international partner, and more as an associate that the rest of Europe should, at least for the moment, look at with some ambivalence.

Whatever your political stripe, this is a recommendation of the utmost gravity. It should make all Maltese indignant. Why? That’s where the sea parts. If you’re Taghna Lkoll, then your blood should boil at the “neo-colonialist” suggestion. If you’re a government critic, then you should be livid at how Labour’s abuse of power has brought the country to the point where others, using their own security for justification, feel they may need to treat us like some kid brother (or sister) needing discipline and, if necessary, rehabilitation.

Either way, Omtzigt’s report needs full debate in Malta. It could have a discernible impact on our economy, national reputation and, consequently, our everyday lives.

European politicians should be interviewed on how seriously they will take it. The gamut should take account of both the result of the European Parliament elections – where the voice of a government critic like Sven Giegold is going to become more influential as a result of the Green’s success – and of the EP campaign, which saw Omtzigt’s fellow Dutch politician, Frans Timmermans, endorse Joseph Muscat.

This isn’t a report by some “holier-than-thou” MP. This is a report that has been endorsed, at CoE committee level, despite the Maltese government throwing all its firepower at it, seeking to amend its wording in a zillion passages. All turned down. The original report went through with some cosmetic changes.

It’s no longer one Dutch MP’s report. It’s no longer possible to dismiss the accusations within it – of a system that permits concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister, of a government administration that is abusing of that system to make the State a partisan weapon – as the fantasies of single politicians like Ana Gomes or Omtzigt himself.

The CoE is a big forum but the report will have repercussions beyond it. Up till now, Labour ministers have reacted to criticisms of their record on the rule of law by claiming to have done many things on its behalf: court reforms, the Whistleblower Act, and so on. Omtzigt takes some of those claims and blows them out of the water.

He says the Whistleblower Act exists on paper but is undermined in practice by State institutions. Court reforms fall short of the Venice Commission’s recommendations and show contempt for the courts. Rest assured that the next time a Labour minister tries those kind of arguments, this report will be cited and an answer to these specific arguments demanded.

Any reply based on attacking Omtzigt’s credentials – his bias or unreliability have been part of Labour spin – will be not only ineffective but counterproductive. Ineffective because it’s no longer just his report. The CoE’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has made the report its own.

As for counterproductive: Dissing a report’s author for his sinister hidden agenda or blaming international bodies for being dupes might go down well with Labour’s core vote. But those same international bodies have heard it all before – from disreputable governments such as those of Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Poland.

So here’s the funny thing. The more Labour tries that line, the more it will confirm its audience’s feeling that the Omtzigt report is right.

It should be dismaying for any Maltese to see the country brought to this state in its diplomatic relations within a body, the CoE, that we joined soon after Independence with our first Prime Minister declaring that it felt like a homecoming.

Now we’re being told we’re threatening the security of that home.

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