Konrad Mizzi offered no new information on his involvement in the Panama Papers scandal today when he briefed a European Parliament committee on the Maltese EU presidency’s priorities for the energy sector.
Only one non-Maltese MEP, Reinhald Butikofer of the Greens, mentioned the scandal, despite several MEPs asking technical questions about Dr Mizzi’s energy portfolio.
The only other Panama Papers-related questions came from Nationalist MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola.
Dr Mizzi was speaking at a meeting of the European Parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy held in Brussels.
He said he had been advised ahead of the committee meeting to avoid discussing local issues as he was there to represent the EU Council presidency and not a particular member state.
He then qualified that by saying he would make a brief clarification about his financial affairs “out of respect” for the committee, reiterating that he had set up a family trust and underlying company to manage family assets and investments. The company was not set up after the election, he said.
The Minister Without Portfolio again whipped out the line that he had submitted himself to “unprecedented” scrutiny by opening up his affairs to a tax audit.
He made no reference to Mr Butikofer’s question as to how a minister who had been stripped of his energy portfolio in his home country could possibly chair the EU’s Energy Council.
As the meeting drew to a close, Dr Mizzi quickly made his escape as Maltese journalists chased after him for a comment, briefly breaking his stride to note that the only Panama Papers-related questions had come from PN MEPs before going on to ignore all other questions put to him.
Follow our live blog below (in reverse order).
6.02pm: The minister turns to Panama Papers issues. He says he will provide some information “out of respect”. “My financial affairs have been very clear throughout,” he says without a hint of irony.
The minister repeats his oft-used line about the “unprecedented” move of submitting himself to an audit and again says he opened a company in Panama to look after his family affairs.
And that’s it.
6.01pm: Dr Mizzi says that Malta has hit interim renewable energy targets and explains that the government has ditched plans to harness wind power and instead switched its focus to solar.
5.53pm: Lots of tired faces in the room. Looks like many MEPs skipped their afternoon tea.
5.49pm: Dr Mizzi’s turn. He tells Mr Thurmes – who had insisted energy prices were not as high as the minister said they were – that he was quoting retail statistics “but I do understand you have a valid point.” On a separate note, the minister says there could be further engagement with North African countries on energy policy.
5.43pm: The chair invites the two ministers to answer. Chris Cardona goes first. He must have been over the moon when he was told he had been paired with Dr Mizzi. Talk about having your own personal lightning rod – this is like having a fireside chat.
5.40pm: Another Panama question, this time from a non-Maltese MEP. Greens MEP Reinhald Butikofer asks how Dr Mizzi can chair the EU’s energy council when he was stripped of that portfolio back home.
5.36pm: A Polish MEP (European Conservative Zdzislaw Krasnodebski) starts off by talking about a company that used to make micrometric screws and was based in Malta. He follows up that odd aside by asking what Malta’s renewable energy plans are.
5.35pm: EPP’s Roberta Metsola is up, and she says it is “surreal” to see Dr Mizzi chairing the Energy Council. “It seems obvious to everyone but yourself that your credibility is non-existent”. She asks who the ultimate beneficiary of Egrant – the mysterious third Panama company – really is.
5.27pm: Greens MEP Claude Turmes is not so sure Dr Mizzi’s claims about EU energy prices being too high is true. “You have to differentiate,” he scolds. “You should check your numbers. We have done a lot of homework.”
5.25pm: Another Maltese MEP, this time from the opposite side of the house. S&D’s Miriam Dalli welcomes the ministers, and asks about energy security and how the Maltese presidency will ensure it is safeguarded.
5.24pm: EPP MEP David Casa starts off the round of questions. And it’s of course about the Panama Papers. “When will you give us the answers we’ve been waiting months for,” he asks.
5.23pm: Dr Mizzi wraps up, and both he and Dr Cardona are commended by chair Mr Buzek for their “excellent speeches”.
5.20pm: No more talk of air conditioners or black dust – we’re back to discussing specific bits of EU legislation. Dr Mizzi says Malta is all for the EU’s clean energy package, and says ministers will convene on February 27 to discuss it.
5.14pm: Dr Mizzi strikes a populist note, saying that the average Joe is more interested in running their ACs at affordable prices than talk of interconnectors and pipelines. It makes for a change from the technocratic lingo these committees often get tangled in.
5.12pm: Malta has put energy at the “very very top” of its agenda, he tells MEPs. He says Malta’s energy reform is perfectly in line with EU priorities, as it will bring about cheaper energy, security of supply and, oddly, a renewable supply. Malta “does not have any delusions of grandeur,” he says.
5.09pm: The Minister Without Portfolio tells MEPs that Europe’s power prices remain high and that concerns about energy security remain. He talks about “decarbonising our economies”. Perhaps he missed the Eurostat memo about Malta having the EU’s second-lowest percentage of renewable energy production.
5.05pm: Dr Mizzi is up next. A Maltese cameraman surges forward and into position.
5.02pm: Chris Cardona goes first, and he’s out to charm ITRE chairman Jerzy Buzek, inviting him to Malta for not one, but two conferences.
Mr Buzek might well take him up on the invitation – “We usually go to Malta on holiday, but now it will be for hard work,” he had joked to Chris Agius earlier.
5pm: Ministers Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi have taken their seats at the top of the ITRE committee meeting room.
They follow Chris Agius and Emmanuel Mallia, who will be sleeping easy tonight. The two men had a fairly cushy ride during their committee hearings, with MEPs wishing them well and even applauding them at the end of their opening statements. Will Dr Cardona and Dr Mizzi also emerge with smiles on their faces?