“We had the impression that without external pressure the reforms would not have been made” – deputies

Since their last fact-finding mission to Malta, six MEPs on the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) have felt that without external pressure from bodies such as the European Union and the Venice Commission, nothing would have been done by the authorities to improve Malta’s situation on the rule of law.

Responding to a question from The Shift at a press conference concluding their mission on Wednesday, Italian MEP Franco Roberti said MEPs were under the impression that the reforms made in Malta were made “because Malta could not do not do it”.

“There was GRECO, and the European Commission, for example, which put pressure on Malta. We had the impression that without this pressure nothing would have been done. A cultural change is needed, not because the European Union is pushing, but because citizens are demanding it,” he said.

“We need a change of mentality, otherwise things won’t change, maybe there will be reforms on paper but they won’t be implemented,” he added.

Six MPs from the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) arrived in Malta on Monday to investigate progress in investigations, reforms and legal proceedings following the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Throughout their ‘intensive’ three-day mission, they probed specific issues such as the rule of law, judicial reform, safety of journalists, anti-corruption measures and Malta’s passport system.

Responding to questions from journalists, Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld, who heads the committee, said the mission’s “overall message” is that although a reform process has been launched, there is “a lack rhythm, lack of speed and some are lukewarm”. .” She reiterated the need to end the “culture of impunity”.

“The sense of urgency has been lost…we reiterate the urgent need to accelerate the pace of reforms and see them through,” she said, adding that politicians should take ownership and that this is not “a checkbox exercise”. This message was also reiterated by a report from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Tuesday.

In’t Veld listed other important issues raised during MEPs’ discussions with stakeholders and the government, the main “priority” being the slowness of the legal proceedings, which “shocked” MEPs, specifically mentioning the case of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed by a car bomb on October 16, 2017.

“Four and a half years have passed since Daphne’s murder and still no justice has been served and a number of defendants, including alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech, have still not been convicted,” he said. she said, highlighting the progress of the proceedings. Jan Kuciak’s court case for comparison.

Passport regime should be scrapped ‘before EU court rules’

MEPs also expressed their “continuing concerns” about the golden passport regime.

“We are a little disappointed that the government has taken note of our concerns but insists that the program is useful and will be continued,” said in’t Veld. Slovak MEP Vlado Bilčík has insisted that Malta should not wait for a decision from the European courts to end the scheme.

Elaborating on press freedom issues, in’t Veld highlighted concerns over access to information, SLAPPs and political involvement within the state broadcaster. She called on those who had taken legal action against Caruana Galizia to drop the case. “They don’t have to wait for legislation to do that, it would be the decent thing to do,” she said.

Other concerns expressed by MPs include the high debts of both political parties and the fact that parliament is not a full-time commitment.

Roberti, a former anti-Mafia judge, spoke of the need for Mafia judges to be specialized in Malta and investment in an independent judiciary.

In’t Veld said she’s noticed a lot more people pushing for reform and a “change of mentality”. Still, the committee will continue to follow developments in Malta “closely”, including through additional country visits. Bilčík added that Malta will remain a priority for monitoring.

“We will not only persevere in this specific case (of Daphne Caruana Galizia) but until fundamental changes are made to the justice system,” he said.

Shirlene J. Manley