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    Crooks everywhere in Malta

    Protestors in Valletta, Malta hold up a photo of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as they call for the resignation of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on 20 November, 2019. Credit: Belga

    BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES
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    With SAMUEL STOLTON

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    Crooks everywhere in Malta

    Everything remains. A cenotaph to an indomitable and resolute spirit, her words are relics of a once daring charge into hostile territory – exposing the malfeasances of the Maltese political system.

    The final remarks before her assassination strike the reader with a cold and petrifying immediacy: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”

    Indeed, Daphne Caruana Galizia did not go gently into that good night. Despite the blog on which she had bared widespread government corruption becoming frozen in time from the day she died, the spirit of her journalism persists. This week, that same spirit drew MEPs from Brussels to Malta, in order to probe the country’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, as he comes under increasing pressure to step down ahead of next week’s EU Council summit.


    Sent out every Friday afternoon, BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels.

    If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the newsletter here.


    Recent developments in Valletta have implicated senior government officials in the 2017 assassination of Caruana Galizia. The former government chief of staff Keith Schembri has faced accusations of attempting to manipulate the criminal investigation by providing regular tipoffs to Yorgen Fenech, who is suspected of complicity in the murder. Schembri had previously helped Muscat to two electoral victories.

    Both Schembri and Fenech had been accused of wrongdoing as part of the 2016 Panama Papers scandal and Caruana Galizia had been one of the most prominent journalists exposing the extent to which certain Maltese officials had a hand in tax evasion and fraud as part of the exposé.

    Though in Malta, Caruana Galizia’s penetrating style of investigative journalism may now cease to be, her words endure – to the ire of those very officials who have so desperately clung on to the reins of power. But the march of the maddening crowd is expanding, both in Malta and in Brussels.

    “Every day that Muscat is in office, he has the opportunity to investigate the investigation,” Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld, who led the delegation of Parliamentarians to Malta earlier this week, told me.

    “Other Government leaders have been silent so far, and this shows that the Council is not equipped to deal with this kind of a crisis,” she said, adding that a range of issues that has plagued the European political scene over recent years, including alleged abuses of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland as well as more widespread accusations of corruption in Malta, are never sufficiently dealt with at the level of the European Council.

    “They desperately hold on to the illusion of the European Union being just a technocratic entity dealing with the internal market,” in’t Veld said. “That’s the past. That’s clearly not the case anymore. They always go to the council in the belief that they have to defend their perceived national interest.”

    “They are not smart enough to understand that a strong European Union is in the national interest.”


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    Muscat’s reception at the European Council in Brussels next week will be telling for how other leaders are prepared to allow his governance of the country to continue. While Muscat has said that he will step down in January, there is no shortage of calls from people who would like to see him gone immediately. Thousands of protesters have recently taken to the streets in Malta to protest against Muscat’s reign, along with members of Caruana Galizia’s family. A statement from the Caruana Galizias on Sunday said that Muscat’s “continued tenure as prime minister is intolerable to anyone who cares about justice. His role in the investigation into our wife and mother’s assassination is unlawful.”

    For his part, Muscat has not been forthcoming with his condolences. in’t Veld told me that during her meeting with the Maltese Prime Minister earlier this week, he didn’t strike her as ‘apologetic.’

    “If he had been apologetic, he would have stepped down,” she said.

    Elsewhere in Brussels, new Commission President von der Leyen has raised her concerns over the ongoing enquiry, although there is still clearly a sense of trepidation in interfering in the intimate affairs of a member state. “I expect thorough and independent investigation, free from any political interference. It is crucial that all those responsible are brought to justice,” she said.

    The message prevailing from the European Parliament is that the Commission has underestimated the political imbroglio that may result from the EU not taking leadership against the accusations levelled at the highest echelons of the Maltese government. It appears that von der Leyen’s earliest political obstacle will emerge from the bloc’s smallest member state.

    Last year, one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sons received a letter through the post. Scribbled on the envelope were the words: Your Mother is a Heroine, we need more like her. The message was simply signed ‘Your Postman.’ Caruana Galizia’s spirited forays into the insidious depths of government corruption helped to extend the baton of democratic scrutiny to the Maltese people – a principle that should forever, in our Europe, endure. For journalists. her work continues to foster a generation of reporters bent on pursuing open the trap doors of widespread political malpractice. Should European leaders decide to overlook the democratic and legal crisis currently on show in Malta, they do so in complicity with the regimes of power that attempt to stifle the means by which European civilisation has budded into a wellspring of journalistic valour. They do so with Caruana Galizia’s indefatigable words resonating from beyond the grave. The situation is desperate.

     


    Sent out every Friday afternoon, BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels.

    If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the newsletter here.