EU Commission recognises some progress in rule of law

Updated 07:07 PM

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The European Commission has today published the first EU-wide report on the rule of law. In the chapter about Malta, the report noted that several improvements had been put in place or initiated while other areas still seemed to be stuck. Civil society organisations, noted the report, are playing an increasing role in the public debate.

‘Significant reforms’

Among those termed as ‘significant reforms’, the report noted those in the system of judicial appointments and of disciplinary proceedings aim at improving the checks and balances by limiting the role of the Prime Minister and Parliament. “These reforms aim at strengthening judicial independence and the system of separated powers and at responding to some of the Venice Commission’s December 2018 recommendations and to recommendations from the European Commission and the Council”

Deep corruption patterns have been unveiled and have raised a strong public demand for a significantly strengthened capacity to tackle corruption and wider rule of law reforms

Report on Malta

Concern about the justice system

The report noted that the efficiency of the justice system remains a source of concern “…with judicial proceedings being very long at all levels and in all categories of cases”.  The report referred to what it described as “Deep corruption patterns” which it said have been unveiled and have raised a strong public demand for a significantly strengthened capacity to tackle corruption and wider rule of law reforms. “A track record of securing convictions in high-level corruption cases is lacking. A broad reform project has been launched to address gaps and strengthen the institutional anti-corruption framework, including law enforcement and prosecution”, noted the report.

Media Freedom

On the aspects of freedom of expression and media freedom, the report said that the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia  “was widely seen as an attack on freedom of expression and triggered concerns about media freedom and the safety of journalists in Malta”. Other areas of concern, according to the report, include the effective independence of the Broadcasting Authority as well as legal and online threats to investigative journalists. “The ownership, control or management by the two main political parties represented in Parliament of multiple Maltese media outlets and broadcasters continues to have a significant bearing on the Maltese media landscape”, said the report. Civil society organisations are playing an increasing role in the public debate.

The rule of law protects people from the rule of the powerful.

EU Commission President

Background

The report includes input from every Member State and covers both positive and negative developments across the EU. It shows that many Member States have high rule of law standards, but important challenges to the rule of law exist in the EU. It also reflects relevant developments stemming from the emergency measures taken by the Member States due to the coronavirus crisis.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The rule of law and our shared values are the foundation of our societies. They are part of our common identity as Europeans. The rule of law protects people from the rule of the powerful. While we have very high rule of law standards in the EU, we also have various challenges. The European Commission will continue working with the national authorities to find solutions, to guarantee people’s everyday rights and freedoms.”

Do you agree that the Rule of law has improved? comments welcomed

A ‘positive certificate’ for historic reforms – government

In its official reaction, the government welcomed the Commission’s opinion, stating that it confirmed Malta’s ongoing reform process.

It said that it was “another positive certificate for the historic reforms implemented by this administration under the leadership of Prime Minister Robert Abela.”

The government did, however, acknowledge that the Commission highlighted that there was still work to be done, though it added that the government’s commitment to continue implementing reforms was being welcomed.

‘A certificate of failure’ – PN

The Nationalist Party, however, interpreted the findings of the report differently, stating that it was a “certificate of failure” when it came to the rule of law and good governance under the governments of Robert Abela and Joseph Muscat

In a statement signed by party leader Adrian Delia and its good governance spokesman Karol Aquilina, the PN called for “definitive and concrete” action to be taken against Muscat. The former PM, it said, “created and fostered a culture of impunity in which corruption became institutionalised and which led to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

The party noted that the Commission emphasised that Malta had failed to ensure that high-level corruption cases would be properly investigated, mentioning the Electrogas deal, the “corruption of Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and the owners of Egrant, 17 Black and Macbridge,” the kickbacks that Schembri allegedly received on the sale of passports and the hospitals concession granted to Vitals.