‘PL criticism not justified’
House Foreign and European Affairs Committee chairman Francis Zammit Dimech said opposition criticism that the government was ignoring and ill-treating Parliament – levelled by George Vella and Alfred Sant – was not justified.
Speaking during the debate in second reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, Dr Zammit Dimech said the opposition was contradicting itself saying that Parliament needed to be more involved when in fact the government was providing mechanisms for the scrutiny of treaties through the proposed amendments to the legislation.
The government had always discussed such treaties before ratifying them and the Bill in question would now make such a discussion the rule. Only trivial subjects would not be discussed – and this if there was agreement by both parties.
With regard to decisions taken by the EU Council and other important treaties, the procedure had always been that the government would present these for the scrutiny and authorisation of Parliament which would approve or disapprove ratification. He did not agree with Dr Sant that Parliament should re-discuss a treaty after there was agreement to proceed to ratification in the House Foreign and European Affairs Committee as nothing would change from the previous discussion.
Inter-governmental conferences were not a feasible option due to time constraints. The opposition needed to update its policies on such issues.
Introducing the Bill, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg said it featured a small but important amendment that had become necessary after the Attorney General had noticed a loophole in the original legislation defining the EU Treaty.
The Lisbon Treaty had introduced new methods of changing treaties simply, and signature of any treaty showed a country’s intention of abiding by that treaty. After it was ratified, the country became internationally bound. There were different legal systems of ratification, but Malta had followed the British way of parliamentary ratification.
Malta’s 2003 Adhesion Treaty and any subsequent treaty ratified automatically became part of Maltese law, making European law supreme over other ordinary laws. But any country could veto any amendment that could inflict constitutional problems. The Maltese Parliament had failed to agree on entrenching such supremacy into the Constitution.
Malta has followed the British way of ratification
Dr Borg said the EU Act regulated how changes could become part of a treaty which must be ratified by Parliament. Changes were discussed by the standing committee on Foreign and European Affairs and, if agreed on, the House would take a vote in plenary session without a debate. But there had been a number of instances where, in spite of this proviso, the House had still debated the issue.
The minister said that in view of this, in committee stage he would move an amendment that even if agreement was reached in the standing committee, the House could still debate in plenary unless otherwise decided by both sides. This would be giving a legal dress to eight years of practice and increasing parliamentary scrutiny of any decisions amending the EU Treaty.
Besides the current Bill, in the near future the House would be expected to debate three major aspects: the Fiscal Compact Treaty, the European Stability Mechanism Treaty and the constitutional amendment for balanced budgets.
Dr Borg said that before the Lisbon Treaty, any change to the EU Treaty had to be subject to a full European Convention with recommendations to an Inter-Governmental Conference. Now there was an ordinary or simplified procedure which in certain cases would continue to be the only method of revision of treaties. But it could not be used to ratify any change to widen the EU’s competences.
The simplified method could only be used when treaty amendments would influence policies and internal EU actions. Any method would still need the unanimous ratification of all member states.