Justin Borg-Barthet, a Maltese citizen, is a Senior Lecturer in EU law and Private International Law at the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of The Governing Law of Companies in EU Law (Bloomsbury/Hart 2012) and several papers on mutual recognition in EU law.
In the Maltese Parliament yesterday, Simon Busuttil MP appealed to the international press to keep a watchful eye on Malta. Malta, he says, needs this independent and objective scrutiny more than ever now. He’s right, of course. Freedom of the press in Malta is under grave threat. Daphne Caruana Galizia was, in many ways, the last line of defence.
Her assassination completes a process begun many years ago in which the media has been systematically intimidated, weakened and bribed to the point of effective castration. Consider, for example, the eerie silence in the press in matters concerning Pilatus Bank, the Malta-based money-laundering outfit for international Politically Exposed Persons and the failure of anyone (bar Daphne) to comment on the quiet deletion and censoring of what little they dared publish. This silence from the local media appears to be a consequence of threats from the aforementioned bank of costly (but vexatious) legal action in the United States. Reportedly, Daphne too was in receipt of such heavy handed threats but stood fast to her truths.
Malta now relies on the international press to provide a truly free account of the deterioration of the rule of law and corruption of administrative practices there.
But keeping a careful eye on Malta is not only in Malta’s interest. It is in the global interest too. This is why the Treaty on European Union enables action against Member States who persistently breach the rule of law. It is not because the EU is a safety net for the Member States, but because judicial, administrative and legislative decisions of Member States have extensive external effects. Contrary to President Juncker’s recent protestations, when Simon Busuttil pleaded with the EU to cast its eye over Malta, the rule of law in a Member State is not a purely internal matter. The EU is duty bound to keep one of its own in check, for the good of the wider bloc.
While we’re on the subject of President Juncker, let’s not forget his spine-chilling defence of Joseph Muscat in the European Parliament. It is an open secret that Joseph Muscat intends to replace Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. And here is President Juncker publicly defending and enthusiastically applauding an ambitious man, a man whose connections to Azeri and Chinese corrupt dealing – particularly in the oil, gas and solar energy markets – are, at best, at arm’s length.
But back to the rule of law in Malta: Malta is an EU Member State. The Member State remains the basic unit of EU law and policy-making. The adoption of legislation requires the consent of Member States, usually achieved on the basis of consensus. This means that compromises are made to accommodate Malta’s position. Malta sometimes has formal veto rights too. The European Council, made up of heads of government of the Member States, determines general EU policy direction.
The Member States also have powers of appointment; they nominate members of the Commission, the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors. The gravity of a Mafia State holding such sway over the largest trading bloc in the world hardly needs explanation.
But it gets worse. The EU/EEA internal market functions, primarily, on the basis of the principle of mutual recognition. Mutual recognition essentially means that that which is lawful in Malta is presumed to be lawful elsewhere. This includes gambling services, letterbox companies, and the many other services Malta has developed since 2004 to reap the benefits of EU membership. The EU has several international trade deals, some of which enable mutual recognition in the services market. In future, Malta may well be in a position to provide passporting rights to Canada, for example. In other words, laws and administrative decisions determined by a Mafia State are automatically recognised, and their effects felt, far beyond its borders.
This is true of judgments of the Maltese courts too. The Brussels I Regulation requires judgments of courts of one EU Member State to be recognised and enforced elsewhere in the EU. There are movements towards a similar global convention to further develop the Hague Choice of Court Convention. The EU, and therefore its Member States, is party to these negotiations. Decisions to weaken judicial independence in Malta have global effects.
In other words, the assault on press freedoms in Malta concerns you directly. Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated because she exposed the crooks who have come to control an important part of EU and global governance. This is not of concern only to fewer than half a million Maltese citizens, but genuinely affects the entire globe. It is that serious.
To the international media, I have this to say: Please, for your sake and ours, do not look away.