The Socialists & Democrats Group has said it will vote in favour of a resolution on Malta on Thursday which, amongst other matters, calls in no uncertain terms for the Maltese government to drop the 40 SLAPP lawsuits it has filed against The Shift.
In a statement, the S&D Group, to which Malta’s Labour Party belongs, confirmed its MEPs will be voting in favour of the resolution on Thursday “that recognises that important improvements are being made regarding the rule of law in Malta and that also suggests further reforms”.
The resolution debated in plenary on Monday – ‘The rule of law in Malta, five years after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia’ –calls directly on the Maltese government to immediately withdraw the 40 Freedom of Information (FOI) cases lodged against The Shift, stating that the appeals “could send a chilling message to media actors and citizens”.
The resolution also expresses MEPs’ concerns that obstacles to media freedom and pluralism persist, especially regarding the Maltese government’s handling of access to information, as well as potentially discriminatory funding of media outlets.
Unless major substantive changes are made to the text before Thursday, the Maltese government’s own European political group will also vote to call on the Maltese to implement all the recommendations of the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia without further delay. That work, the resolution demands, should also comply with international standards and is fully open to public scrutiny.
Malta’s fellow S&D MEPs will also vote in favour of expressing alarm over the lack of progress in the investigative and judicial proceedings against Pilatus Bank officials and the efforts to stall proceedings by the Maltese authorities. The resolution also calls for action against two Nexia BT partners – Brian Tonna and Karl Cini – and for the European Commission and Moneyval to monitor the case.
Moreover, the government’s own Socialist parliamentary grouping is expected, in line with S&D’s official statement, to endorse the EP’s further concerns about the allegations of money laundering and corruption concerning the Electrogas deal and MEPs will ask the European Commission to use all the tools at its disposal to assess whether the applicable European law was followed during the sketchy process.
S&D Group spokesperson for the debate on the rule of law in Malta, Thijs Reuten, observed how the Maltese government “listens to institutions like the European Parliament”, suggesting the belief that the Maltese government will abide by the resolution’s contents.
This would, naturally, also include dropping the 40 SLAPP lawsuits against The Shift as per the resolution’s text.
Reuten added, “For the Socialists and Democrats, this Maltese government has taken the right approach: it is open to reform, it is a constructive partner that listens to institutions like the European Parliament and it is delivering the change people need to see.”
The S&D Group, without citing where it is receiving its information, is clearly under the impression that its partners in the Maltese government are taking the bull by the horns and are wholeheartedly embracing the reform process. It also illustrates the stark contrast between what the government says in international fora and what it actually does on the ground at home.
Reuten explains, “The tragic death of Daphne Caruana Galizia five years ago led to a number of reforms in Malta relating to the rule of law. The current Maltese government took on urgent reforms that have produced meaningful change in the justice system.
“Reforms, like taking away the government’s role in appointing the police commissioner and in appointing various judicial posts have strengthened judicial independence. Tough reforms do not produce change overnight but recent developments are promising.”
He noted how last week, two further individuals were sentenced in the case of Caruana Galizia’s murder, “but for justice to be served, all perpetrators and their accomplices must be held accountable as soon as possible”.
In the lead-up to Monday’s plenary debate, Malta’s Labour MEPs managed to make some amendments to the resolution’s text, but any amendments to the call for the government to drop the SLAPP lawsuits were nowhere in sight in those amendments.
The amendments – tabled by Thijs Reuten and Birgit Sippel and Maltese Labour MEPs Cyrus Engerer, Alfred Sant, Alex Agius Saliba and Josianne Cutajar – were innocuous but clearly intended to drive home the point that Malta is in the process of reform.
One amended item notes that the EP “Regrets the deterioration of the efficiency of the Maltese justice system and calls for solutions to be found to reduce the length of proceedings”. The S&D amendment adds that the EP “takes note of the commitments made with a view to addressing this issue, among others, the appointment of additional magistrates and judges to deal with the caseload, a reform of the compilation of evidence system and changes to the pre-trial stage”.
Another amendment inserted by Malta’s Labour MEPs adds that MEPs “also welcome amendments to the Maltese Criminal Code and the Constitutional Reform” into the paragraph that welcomes “the current proposals establishing that defamation court tariffs will not be paid upon initial presentation of a reply by the defendant journalist, and the possibility for Maltese courts to deem defamation suits ‘manifestly unfounded’ and thus to dismiss them; calls on the Maltese authorities to implement the Commission Recommendation and enact effective policies for the protection of journalists; welcomes the Commission proposal for a directive to combat SLAPPs”.
No amendment from Maltese Labour MEPs was at least approved vis-à-vis the European Parliament’s clear call for the Maltese government to cease and desist with its SLAPP lawsuits against The Shift.