For people who want a better representative in Europe

In Malta, some are preparing to contest the next European election under a slogan of #prijoritaMalta, or “Priority: Malta”. Their intent, as noble it is, is also wrong. Here’s why.

I

European governance is different to the structure we have in Malta. It’s only natural there would be some confusion about how the whole setup works. This isn’t a Maltese thing either. We often hear politicians in different countries blame Brussels for bad news. When electorates don’t understand the structure of the European Union, these politicians get away with false claims.

Malta doesn’t often blame Brussels for things. This is good.

It doesn’t mean our politicians don’t try to mislead us.

The Labour Party’s candidates for next year’s European elections have started campaigning. (They’re an enthusiastic lot!) They use the catch phrase and hashtag #prijoritaMalta or “Priority: Malta.”

The phrase fed into recent controversies we’ve had in Malta. For those of you not following the news, we’ve had claims of government corruption1, and corruption exposed2 in the news3. The Labour Party used its powerful media machine to push a single message: Whoever badmouths Malta is the enemy.

It’s a cheap shot at the opposition party. MEPs from the opposition ranks spoke about government corruption in the European Parliament4. The Labour Party claims these people are unpatriotic because they’re “making Malta look bad.”

It’s a classic case of shooting the messenger. It’s sad to see this work with their core audience.

This is why they’re shouting #prijoritaMalta.

It sounds catchy. If you’re Maltese you’d want your candidates to prioritise Malta, right? It doesn’t sound like it would be a bad thing, does it?

But you’d be wrong.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I can’t be a patriot if I don’t want to prioritise Malta.

The problem is not the patriotic sentiment which is a good thing.

The problem is that the Maltese government is trying to hijack the European institutions.

Let me explain.

II

As I mention in the beginning, the European Union’s governance structure is different to what we have in Malta.

In Malta we elect representatives into power. The person who commands a majority in the House forms a government. Over the past decades this has been a single party with the largest number of seats. (In recent memory there’s not been the need for coalitions but the law allows for them.)

The Maltese Parliament – Valletta, Malta

The party holding the majority in the House also runs the government. In practise this means anything the party wants to do gets done. The party can change laws and make new ones because they have a majority in the House. The party also has control over government and executive decisions. They lead the country in whichever direction they wish to lead us. It also means that if a government is corrupt, there’s very little to stop it. (You may think judges and the judiciary could stop things. Read my article on the judiciary in Malta to see why you’d be wrong.)

This is not how it works in the European Union.

The division at European level is simple:

  • The Commission: The civil service working in the interest of Europe. This is headed by different Commissioners and the Commission President. The 27 EU countries nominate a commissioner each. The Commission President is nominated by the majority grouping in Parliament. The Commissioners are the equivalent of our cabinet and the Commission itself is the equivalent of our government.
  • The Council: The governments of the EU countries. They represent the interest of each individual country.
  • The Parliament: The representatives of the people. They represent the people living in Europe. We elect these representatives into power. There is no executive power in Parliament, unlike the situation in Malta.
ASP entrance and Simone Veil esplanade of the European Parliament in Brussels

While this may seem counterintuitive it serves a single purpose. By having a clear split between the executive and the Parliament, each can act as a counterweight to the other. The EU countries are represented at Council level to oversee both of them and make sure nothing goes against the national interest.

(European experts will tell me it’s the Council and Parliament who co-decide on things. They both are a counterweight to the Commission. I’m trying to keep this explanation simple. Leave a comment below if you want to debate the details.)

This was a lengthy explanation; how does this tie into the Maltese #prijoritaMalta?

That’s my next point.

III

Let’s say the Commission decides it wants to ban 50% of traffic from urban areas to reduce pollution. It drafts the new law based upon its own research but the Commission alone cannot enact laws. Only the Parliament does this.

The Commission passes its proposal to the Council and to the Parliament.

The European Council – Brussels, Belgium
  • The Council is where the countries are represented.
  • The Parliament is where we, the people, are represented.

If either one of them objects, the Commission will have to change their recommendation. If they both agree, this becomes law.

In this example imagine if Malta, as a country, thinks the proposal makes sense in theory. We need to reduce pollution after all and this would be a great way to reach our emission targets. This would also be disastrous for us because we don’t have a proper mass transit transportation system.

Imagine if, at Council level, Malta decides to agree with this recommendation.

The only thing that can stop the proposal now is Parliament.

I’d like to think our representatives in Parliament will negotiate to, for example, get funding for a mass transit system included in the matter. That would be a vote based on what we, the people who voted for them, need.

But if our representatives are there because of #prijoritaMalta instead of #priorityThePeopleOfMalta then the Parliament will do whatever the government wants, not what we want.

That’s not good.

Plenary session week 27 2017 in Strasbourg

IV

The division at European level is simple:

  • The Commission: The civil service working in the interest of Europe.
  • The Council: The governments of the EU countries. They represent the interest of each individual country.
  • The Parliament: The representatives of the people. They represent the people living in Europe.

If we elect new Parliamentarians who want to prioritise Malta in the Parliament, they’re going to remove our voice from the mix. Malta is already represented at EU level. There already is a body with #prijoritaMalta in mind.

It’s called the government of Malta and it is a member of the Council.

I want someone to represent me at European level.

Because if my interest conflicts with the government’s, who else will fight for me?

Share this if you want your voice heard at European level.

References

  1. Delia: Muscat’s hands are tied on 17 Black; Ivan Martin; The Times of Malta; 2018-11-25
  2. The roadmap to 17 Black; Jacob Borg; The Times of Malta; 2018-11-11
  3. Exclusive: Mystery company named by murdered Maltese journalist is linked to power station developer; Stephen Grey, Tom Arnold; Reuters; 2018-11-09
  4. “Investigate FIAU’s handling of 17 Black information” David Casa tells MONEYVAL; EPP Group; 2018-09-07
  5. MALTA: the state, the government, parliament, the courts, and the public administration; Malta Government website; (Retrieved 2018-11-27)
  6. Did you know Malta lacks democracy?; Antoine P Borg; Brain, not ego; 2018-05-01

All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.


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