Minister Without Portfolio Konrad Mizzi was chosen by the Prime Minister to chair the EU’s Energy Council during Malta’s six-month rotating presidency, the Times of Malta is informed.
Dr Mizzi lost his energy and health portfolios last May after his name surfaced in the Panama Papers leak.
In stripping Dr Mizzi of his energy and health portfolios after weeks of procrastination, Dr Muscat told journalists: “As you can see, I decide,” insisting that his changes were not cosmetic.
“While Dr Mizzi has done nothing illegal, we expect better behaviour,” he said about Dr Mizzi’s ‘demotion’.
However, Dr Mizzi still continued to oversee Enemalta, and his ministry even issued press releases every time the price of fuel and gas was changed.
He continued to attend EU Energy Council meetings on behalf of the Prime Minister. According to the Panama Papers, Dr Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, opened secret companies in Panama, a tax-haven, and a trust in New Zealand soon after Labour’s return to power in 2013.
While Dr Mizzi has done nothing illegal, we expect better behaviour
Correspondence published as part of the leaks indicated that both Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri had attempted to open bank accounts connected to their Panama trading company in eight different jurisdictions around the world, including in the Bahamas.
Despite vehement calls for their resignations, both Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri retained their political roles.
Dr Muscat said that Mr Schembri was not a political figure and he still trusted him in spite of the Panama affair.
As president of the European Council, Malta is tasked to chair all EU meetings, both at the technical and political levels, until the end of June.
On the political level, ministerial formations are normally chaired by the minister responsible for the relevant sector in the country that holds the rotating presidency.
Officially, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat holds the energy portfolio. However, he will not be presiding over the three energy councils that will be held, one in Malta and two in Brussels.
Ironically, not all the other Cabinet ministers will have the opportunity to chair EU council meetings. According to a list supplied to this newspaper by the government, Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella will not preside over any council formation.
In other EU member states, it is usually the foreign minister who chairs the General Affairs Council, together with the EU’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, but in Malta’s case, this will be done by Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech.
Two other Cabinet members, Edward Zammit Lewis (tourism) and Anton Refalo (Gozo) will also miss chairing an EU council formation during Malta’s first stint at the EU helm. However, in their case, their portfolios are not normally covered by the EU.
Questions to the Office of the Prime Minister about whether Dr Mizzi would chair the Energy Council instead of the Prime Minister remained unanswered at the time of writing.