European Parliament president Martin Schulz does not believe the Panama Papers scandal has cast doubt on Malta’s ability to push through the EU anti-money laundering laws.
Mr Schulz was fielding questions at a joint conference with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat during his visit to the island before Malta assumes the EU presidency.
The EU’s anti-money laundering directive was enacted in June 2015, and with a two-year window for implementation, all member states must be compliant with the new mandates by June 2017.
Mr Schulz noted it was common for European institutions to have separate opinions to those of national governments. Malta was no exception, and was cooperating with the European institutions when it came to questions about the fight against tax evasion.
“This was not an item of tension between the European institutions and the Maltese government,” he said.
Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri were earlier this year found to have set up secret companies in Panama sheltered by trusts in New Zealand.
This was not an item of tension between the European institutions and the Maltese government
Dr Muscat insisted that Malta will welcome the parliamentary committee probing the issue, and had absolutely nothing to hide.
Earlier, Dr Muscat said it was time for Europe to stand up and be counted, not by stamping its feet, but by standing by its principles.
Mr Schulz noted Europe was a community of nations that cooperated across borders, with equal footing, irrespective of size.
He was very optimistic about Malta’s presidency for which the island was well prepared, he added.
As he had witnessed during the migration summit held last year in Malta, the island was a bridge-building country between north Africa and south Europe.
Referring to migration, he noted that Malta has been confronted with the issue for two decades and the island was not only experienced on ways to manage high numbers of migrants arriving to the country, but the government also had meaningful and concrete proposals.
Referring to Britain’s looming departure from the EU, and with the so-called Article 50 expected to be triggered by end of March, Dr Muscat said Malta stood in unison with other member states and while there would be no negotiations without notification, the agreement reached would not give Britain the same rights as other member states.
Establishment? What establishment, asks Schulz
Commenting about the wake of populism around Europe and the world, Mr Schulz said the rhetoric of those harping on against the establishment is often anti-democratic and racist.
Mr Schulz said he wanted to clarify the meaning of the so-called establishment.
“What is an establishment?… We established democracy, the rule of law, dignity and the protection of individual civil rights, the fight against anti-Semitism, racism, and hate speech in the EU.”
If it meant that he belonged to those who established this, then he was proud to be a part of the establishment, he insisted.
“Those who claim they are fighting against that establishment if I listen to their speeches, there’s racism, anti-democratic speeches, putting in doubt the rights of minorities, scapegoat policy for everything,” he told reporters.
Dr Muscat said his government’s attitude was to challenge the status quo.
Referring to the latest legislation banning gender therapy, he noted that someone who was part of the establishment would have resisted it.
“We have turned tables and said that that change has to happen. That is what makes us not part of some political elite that rests on its laurels, but an agent of change.”