Later today, a meeting of the 178 MEPs of the European People’s Party will choose their candidate for the Presidency of the European Parliament (EP). PN MEP Roberta Metsola is a favourite to win this vote. The next vote she’d face would be for the actual Presidency of one of the major institutions of the EU – the most representative one to be exact.
Members of the European Parliament have been directly elected since 1979 and the iconic Simone Veil, the first President of the elected parliament, was the first of only two women to have ever held the position. That’s two out of thirty. Except for Ireland and Poland, Presidents of the EP tended to hail from the founding states or the UK – which would make a Maltese President an altogether extraordinary achievement.
The term of the Presidency is two and a half years, which is half a parliamentary term. An agreement dating from the eighties between the two largest formations in the EP – the European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists – has meant that they split the Presidencies between them during a parliamentary term. In simple terms, getting the EPP nomination for Presidency is almost a shoo-in to the Presidency itself.
The President performs an important role within the European Parliament, and in representing it in its interaction with other institutions. The position is not that of a simple figurehead and carries its weight among the leading figures of the institutional set up of the EU.
The work of Maltese MEPs in the European Parliament has often come under scrutiny in Malta. In recent years, the active role of MEPs Metsola and Casa on issues relating to rule of law were subject to virulent criticism by the usual suspects. The criticism betrays a clear misunderstanding of the role of MEPs as well as that of the EU legislative body as a whole.
Often the term “traitors” is bandied around liberally in the character assassination exercise. Metsola and Casa are depicted as working abroad against the interests of their own country. Such misconceptions were reinforced by Robert Abela on Tuesday when he begrudgingly declared his support for Metsola’s candidature. “If I did not support her nomination, I would be doing what she did to our country.”
Abela does not seem to have considered the self-contradictory nature of his statement. “What she did to our country” is his not-so-veiled euphemism for traitor-speak. He is telling us that firstly, Metsola is a traitor who works against the country’s interests and secondly, he will support the nomination of a traitor in order not to be a traitor.
On the one hand, Abela wants to be seen to have backed a possible winning horse in a race for a top EU institutional post (possibly trying to forget the abysmal failure of the disgraced former PM Muscat to get one of his own). On the other, he cannot resist stoking the fire of the rent-a-mob that is alerted, pitchforks at the ready, whenever the nationalistic sort of “traitor to the cause” language is resurrected.
It is not so ironic that the work by Metsola and Casa that is perceived as being treacherous by the government rabble is the kind of work that has over the past years endeavoured to bring the plight of our democracy to the attention of the European Union.
It is a democracy in tatters that only continues to function on paper. Institutional capture by the Labour party in government has “presided” over a general backsliding in the rule of law. When the likes of Metsola and Casa intervene in EP debates and work for resolutions concerning Malta, they are acting in the interest of the people of Malta who are the victims of such backsliding.
Institutional capture is clear even in the operation of our very own parliament presided over by the sans-pareil of procedural wisdom, Anġlu Farrugia. His reprimand that wasn’t directed at Rosianne Cutajar is the latest example of the complete neutering of parliamentary power. Farrugia didn’t even make it to actually reprimand Cutajar and limited himself to informing her that parliament had decided to reprimand her.
There. Our House of Representatives that supposedly works in the interests of the people is made a fool of by a mechanical and literal interpretation of the procedural laws. Speaking of betrayal…