I would like first to thank you for putting the situation of the rule of law in Malta on today's agenda. It is essential that all EU institutions contribute within their respective roles to upholding the rule of law in the EU. In this regard, the recent visit of the European Parliament's delegation in Malta and today's debate are of great importance.
As President von der Leyen made clear, she is concerned by recent developments in Malta. The Commission has been following the developments in Malta very closely.
The Commission condemns the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Her murder was an attack on the free media and is a grave concern to Europe as a whole.
Media freedom is the foundation of our free and democratic society. Journalists must feel safe to work in Europe. If not, democracy as we know it will be under threat.
It is not the Commission's role to comment on ongoing national investigations.
But we have said it very clearly many times that we expect a thorough and independent investigation, free from any political interference. I repeated this message directly to the Maltese ministers I spoke to recently.
Europol is in Malta and has supported the investigations in Malta as a top priority case with experts on the spot and from Europol Headquarters. The support activities are ongoing and will continue. It is crucial that all those responsible are brought to justice as soon as possible.
The people of Malta - and first and foremost the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia - demand truth and justice. And we stand with them.
I also made this very clear during my visit to Malta in June 2018, as I did in Slovakia following the murder of Jan Kuciak.
Our role, the role of the Commission is to address more structural and systemic issues, in particular in the area of judiciary and the fight against corruption and money laundering. And we have done just that. The Commission has already been clear on the issue: there are a number of structural reforms that Malta is undertaking or needs to undertake. This was clearly stated in the European Semester Country Specific Recommendations, which were adopted by the Council on 9 July 2019. The Commission also brought infringement procedures regarding the incomplete transposition of the anti-money laundering directive and adopted an opinion on measures to be taken by the anti-money laundering supervisor following the adoption of a finding of breach of union law by the European Banking Authority.
We are not the only ones, on whose advice Malta can rely. In its Opinion of December 2018, the Venice Commission and in its evaluation report on Malta in April 2019, the Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe also raise a number of concerns in line with those of the Commission.
The Commission is in regular contact with the Maltese authorities and will continue working with the authorities to accelerate these reforms.
I will in particular highlight the following priorities for urgent action.
− One of the top priorities for Malta is to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, in particular the safeguards for judicial appointments and dismissals, and to establish a separate and fully independent prosecution service.
− There is also a need to strengthen efforts to detect and prosecute corruption and the enforcement of the anti-money-laundering framework.
I am aware that the Maltese authorities have at several occasions expressed their intention to proceed with the necessary reforms in the areas of concern I have mentioned. But, there is a lack of significant progress. The latest developments show that no further time should be lost.
The Commission has underlined that any reform must comply with EU law and European standards relating to the rule of law. We have strongly encouraged Malta to properly consult the Venice Commission..
As regards the prosecution services, Malta adopted the “State Advocate Act” in July 2019 and appointed its first State Advocate. However, concerns remain as regards, among others, the lack of checks and balances in the appointment procedure of the Attorney General, which in practice is still under the power of the Prime Minister.
The Commission expects the Maltese authorities to implement in full the recommendations of the Venice Commission and to follow-up on the findings and recommendations of the European Commission. We are in contact with the authorities - Commissioner Reynders and I both talked with Justice Minister Bonnici last week, and we will continue to insist on the need to accelerate the reforms. Just yesterday, Commissioner Reynders sent a letter to the Maltese authorities outlining the concerns and need for speedier reforming.
Let me emphasise that the rule of law issues are European issues. The EU is built on mutual trust among its members. And each European citizen deserves justice. This is why we will continue to closely follow the situation. We stand ready to work with the Maltese authorities on all these aspects and to provide support where necessary.
More generally, we will soon put in place a new rule of law mechanism covering all Member States, including Malta, to improve prevention, dialogue and monitoring. This will cover judicial independence, as well as anti-corruption and aspects of media pluralism relevant to the rule of law.
Honorable Members, I can assure you that the Commission will not hesitate to take measures as necessary.