The public shaming of Malta
Tonio Borg has made it. He has signed the declaration requested of him by the European Parliament and has obtained the necessary majority of votes in Parliament to be nominated European Commissioner.
Yet, his nomination process has left some serious scars on Malta’s image in Europe.
In the space of five weeks, Malta has established two sad records in Europe.
First it was John Dalli who became the only European Commissioner to have been individually dismissed in the over 50-year history of the EU.
Then it was Borg who was humiliated, together with all us Maltese, by being made to sign a hitherto unprecedented written declaration as if he were a primary schoolboy.
This humiliation on the part of Europe has been also noted by Malta’s Auxiliary Bishop, Mgr Charles Scicluna, who stated that Borg “is being required to do things which are not demanded of representatives of bigger countries”.
The problematic consequences of a possible nomination by Malta of Borg had been pointed out to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi by Alternattiva Demokratika before the Maltese Government formally nominated him.
Malta was in the world limelight because of the unhappy Dalli affair. What we needed was to settle the new commissioner appointment as quickly as possible without creating further ripples with regard to our country’s image.
We therefore asked Gonzi to consult with Joseph Muscat and other actors and nominate a non-controversial person backed by all political actors in Malta, on the understanding that the new commissioner would be nominated for the remaining 20 months of Dalli’s term but would then be confirmed for a second five-year period in 2014. This is what normally happens in such circumstances. Commissioners Joaquin Almunia (Spain) and Antonio Tajani (Italy) are such examples in today’s Commission.
Of course, Alternattiva’s sensible request was pooh-poohed. In Malta, the winner takes all. So who cares about what the representatives of a political party with diverging political views say, even if they are talking sense?
Therefore, egoistic party interests prevailed in both the Nationalist and the Labour parties.
With the PN being in disarray and trailing badly in the polls, Gonzi needed to create some “excitement” among the demoralised members of his party and so he decided to rope in new blood in the higher echelons of the party. By nominating Borg as commissioner he created a vacancy for a “new” young Turk as deputy leader, who was supposed to galvanise the ailing party.
The fact that the Borg nomination could be a problematic one for Europe was of no concern for Gonzi. Party interests came before the national interest.
Muscat could have opposed this nomination. But he did not. Muscat does not want a non-controversial person occupying the post for six and a half years. He wants to have a free hand so that, in 2014, he can nominate the person of his choice, possibly one of those who defied the will of the people in 2003 and took to the streets screaming hysterically “Partnership rebaħ”.
Muscat therefore struck a deal with Gonzi: a free hand for Gonzi to nominate Borg for a mere 20 months but then a free hand for Muscat in 2014 to nominate his party man for the following five years. As in the case of Gonzi, even in the case of Muscat egoistic party interests came before the national interest.
We have now all witnessed the results of this deal: four weeks under the spotlight for the whole of Malta, with our representative being subjected to humiliating treatment and our country being depicted as some sort of Ayatollah backyard, something that it definitely is not.
Borg has been forced to sign the declaration and, thus, gets the job.
However, because of the egoistic and myopic views of Gonzi and Muscat, our country’s name and reputation have been smeared in this whole affair.
It will take time and patience to restore our country’s damaged image in Europe. And in about 20 months’ time, the next Maltese commissioner designate will be subjected to the “grilling”.
Arnold Cassola is Alternattiva Demokratika’s spokesman on EU and international affairs.