If there are countries that want to proceed forward with further integration, no one should block them from doing so, Malta’s opposition leader told euractiv.com.
Simon Busuttil is a Maltese center-right politician and leader of the main opposition Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista, PN).
He spoke with euractiv.com’s Sarantis Michalopoulos on the sidelines of the European People’s Party pre-summit.
What did you discuss at the pre-summit?
The re-election of Tusk was the main topic of the discussion. It took most of the time of our meeting today, but there was a clear and almost unanimous voice behind Tusk, and I’m sure that today he will be confirmed as president of the European Council.
There have been concerns from Hungary, of course, but this was already known in advance. We’ll have to see about that. Orbàn expressed concerns, but everything is still fluid at this stage as far as Hungary is concerned. As to the rest, complete and overwhelming strong support for Tusk, as it should be.
Today, Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat stressed the fact that the EPP holds most of the top positions of the EU institutions was “not sustainable”. What’s your opinion?
I believe that the prime minister of Malta ought to be careful which shoes he’s filling. He is not there as the Socialist president of the Council of Ministers—he is there as the president of the Council of Ministers, period. That means he should be there for everyone and he should avoid getting into partisan politics at this level.
So, I don’t think he should make overtly political or politicised statements in that respect. I think the reality on the ground is clear: there will be overwhelming support for Mr Tusk to continue the excellent work he has been doing, and statements which are politicised at this stage are not helpful at all, nor are they based on substance.
What is your opinion about a multi-speed Europe proposal?
First of all, the EPP congress in Malta is the perfect opportunity from a timing point of view for us to be discussing the future of Europe. In fact, the theme of the congress is “Securing Europe’s Future.” Now, you can hardly secure Europe’s future if you are thinking about a disjointed Europe.
It is the clear that the EPP’s position is for a stronger Europe, so that is very clear. I think it is also very good in terms of timing because it comes at the time when the United Kingdom’s going to present the letter that will lead to Brexit. So it’s good for the rest of the EU member states to sit down and discuss the future. The future not just for the Union itself, but the Union for its citizens. There is no point in having the European Union unless that makes sense for the citizens and improves the quality of life.
Yes, but do you agree with the multi-speed scenario?
We already have a multi-speed scenario, and we’ve already had it for a very long time. The euro is a case-in-point as well as the Schengen. I don’t think we ought to exclude other possibilities in that respect, but if there are countries that want to proceed forward with further integration, I don’t think that anyone should block them from doing that.
Are you supportive of a closer cooperation among the Mediterranean countries? An initiative has been recently launched.
Of course I am, but I have to express some frustration because I do not see the Mediterranean policy of the European Union as strong as it ought to be considering the clear geographical proximity and a shared interest in the Mediterranean basin. I also think the Mediterranean EU member states themselves can do a lot more in working together as a team, supporting each other, supporting common positions and putting items on the EU political agenda further up. I think there are cases of other member states of the European Union that should set for us a better example in terms of cooperation, such as the Northern countries, for instance; such as the Visegrad countries.
Corruption has taken centre stage in Maltese politics. What is the current state-of-play?
The number one issue in our country from a political point of view at the moment is going to be governance, and specifically corruption. This has been the number one issue I would say for at least the last year, if not longer. But last year something dramatic happened: two people sitting in the office of the prime minister, and very high ranks, a minister and the chief of staff of the prime minister himself, were caught with a secret company in Panama, in which they…would put commissions up to the tune of 1 million euro a year. Now, this rocks the system completely.
The response of the party in government and the prime minister has often been to try to “reveal,” or try to reveal, scandals about the opposition, but that’s not how it works. It might be effective one day, but not forever. I think people need the system to be different. People need a true commitment to good governance. It’s not enough to make your political adversary look as dirty as you are so that people say, “Oh, they’re all dirty, so let’s stick with the current prime minister.” I think that a red line has been crossed, and that red line is that you cannot, you simply cannot, have people so close to the prime minister be caught with secret companies in Panama. In any other EU country, this would have led to the resignation not just of the two individuals concerned, but also of the third person involved.
It seems to me that we have the only sitting minister whose name was found on [the Panama Papers]. Just one final word on this Panama thing: recently, a European Parliament committee known as the Panama Committee, which is investigating also the Panama scandal, was in my country for a mission to discuss what is happening on this issue. And one phrase that the chairman of this committee said in the final press conference stuck to everyone’s mind, and he said, “This is a textbook case of money laundering enough said”. I don’t need to say more.
You also focused on the political developments in the Western Balkans.
I have seen enlargement being one of the most powerful foreign policy tools of the European Union because I have followed the accession of my country and therefore seen how the peer pressure but also the pressure of the acquis communautaire that you have to adopt, has changed our country legislatively, from a regulatory point of view, from an institutional point of view—but let’s also say from a mentality point of view in the way of doing things.
So I think that it would be so, so sad if the European Union lost this powerful tool that it still holds in its hands. Am I saying that the Balkan countries should join tomorrow? No, they should only join once and if they comply with the criteria that are obviously established. But I think that, rather than treat them as external relations, the European Union should be seen to be doing much more to show that it is truly interested in getting them closer to the European Union. And if it doesn’t, then we should not be surprised, should we, that other countries will jump in. And I have Russia in mind, for instance.
Are there concerns about Russia’s involvement in the region?
Well clearly, by default, if we do not act, others will. Isn’t that clear?