MEPs deplore serious shortcomings in the rule of law in Malta and Slovakia, also warning of rising threats for journalists throughout the EU.

Parliament passed on Thursday, with 398 votes to 85 and 69 abstentions, a resolution summarising the conclusions of the working group set up within the Civil Liberties Committee to monitor the situation of rule of law in the EU, particularly in Malta and Slovakia, following the murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.

The House condemns the “continuous efforts of a growing number of EU member state governments to weaken the rule of law, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary”. The text underlines that the assassinations of Caruana Galizia in Malta and of Kuciak and Kušnírová in Slovakia, and the murder of journalist Viktoria Marinova in Bulgaria, had “a chilling effect on journalists” across the EU. It recalls that a strong democracy based on the rule of law cannot function without strong and independent media.

Malta must terminate its investor citizenship and residence schemes

MEPs call on the EU institutions and the member states to initiate an independent international public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the alleged cases of corruption, financial crimes, money laundering, fraud and tax evasion reported by her, which involve Maltese high-ranking current and former public officials.

The text insists that all libel cases brought by members of the Government against her and her family be withdrawn.

It also demands an investigation into the Panama Papers revelations and the links between the Dubai-based company ‘17 Black’ and the Minister for Tourism, former Minister for Energy and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.

Parliament wants the investor citizenship and residence schemes, which allow foreigners to gain residence or citizenship rights in Malta in exchange for a high investment, terminated immediately, as these programmes pose “serious risks” to the fight against money laundering and “result in the actual sale of EU citizenship”.

Following the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, MEPs of the Civil Liberties Committee and the Special committee on the Panama Papers travelled to Malta on 30 November-1 December 2017.

“European pressure and cooperation can certainly lead to results. There is evidence of this: thanks to the cooperation with Europol, the Slovaks could arrest the suspects in the murder of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová and due to the EU’s pressure, the Maltese government is now slowly gearing into action to modernise problematic laws,” said Sophie in ‘t Veld (ALDE, NL), Chair of the Rule of Law Monitoring Group.

Corruption, conflicts of interest, impunity in Slovakia

MEPs welcome the charges brought by the Slovak authorities against the alleged instigator of the murders of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová and urge the investigation to continue at both national and international level, by all means available. All aspects of the case should be fully investigated, including any possible political links to the crimes, they add.

The resolution voices concern about the allegations of corruption, conflicts of interest, impunity and revolving doors in Slovakia’s circles of power. It also warns over the politicisation and lack of transparency in selection and appointment processes, such as for the position of Chief of Police.

Civil Liberties and Budgetary Control Committee MEPs also visited Slovakia in March 2018, in the wake of the assassination of Mr Kuciak and Ms Kušnírová.

The rule of law monitoring group headed by Ms Sophie in ‘t Veld (ALDE, NL) made a follow-up visit to both countries in November 2018.

EPP: journalists must be better protected

The assassination of investigative journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak over the past two years shocked Europe, but in the European Parliament, shock has given way to a grim determination to do our utmost to prevent such horrific crimes from ever happening again, according to a EPP Group press release.

Europeans expect authorities to act, to ensure that journalists across Europe are protected, and that the rule of law is safeguarded in all the Union’s Member States. Roberta Metsola MEP, who formed part of the Working Group that visited Malta and Slovakia prior to drafting the Resolution, said that the recommendations in the Resolution are all based on European values.

“Europeans are defined according to their values: the rule of law, the fight against corruption and the protection of journalists are all European values which we should be proud of. This is what today’s Resolution is all about: making sure that all EU Member States protect our values”, said Metsola.

“From our visits to Malta and Slovakia, it is clear that important changes are needed, and they should be adopted quickly”, she continued. Examples of such changes pushed forward by MEPs include that the Maltese Government implements all the recommendations of the Venice Commission, such as ending the sales of passports scheme. These should be accompanied by a full, immediate public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. In Malta, the masterminds behind the murder of the journalist are still at large, and the European Parliament wants all resources put into identifying and bringing the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible.

Slovakia’s Head of Delegation in the EPP Group Ivan Štefanec MEP spoke about the situation in Slovakia.

“We welcome the latest updates on the arraignment of the suspected mastermind behind the murders of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. But authorities shouldn’t stop. We want to know the outcome of what Kuciak was working on, because his murder shouldn’t mean that his stories are not investigated. That is what the masterminds behind his murder want, and we want to make sure that this does not happen”, he said. This is indeed one of the recommendations put forward by the Resolution, as well as that transparent and objective rules and procedure for the selection of the new Slovak Police President are swiftly adopted. This should ensure independence and neutrality at the office.