Since its origins in 1951, the European Union has promoted a set of principles and beliefs, which are loosely termed as ‘European values’. These values were influenced by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was adopted in 1948 and the European Convention of Human Rights which was adopted in 1950. This is why European values are considered as universal values, and not exclusively linked to the EU. The Lisbon Treaty refers to the European Values highlighting how they are the foundation of the European Project:

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

The Lisbon Treaty reaffirmed the importance of the European values and their place at the core of the European Union. These European Values are made up of several principles including human rights, solidarity, equality, and justice. With the development of the European Union and the multi challenges it has faced in the last two decades, including the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Syrian Migration Crisis and Brexit, many have argued whether there is a role for these values in the European Union and whether these values are succeeding in holding the EU and its member states together. Values are bound to be a source of confrontation due to the looseness of the terms and the different meanings attached to them. Malta can be an example of this. Malta is the smallest member state in the European Union. It joined the EU in 2004, after a political divisive referendum and an election which favoured the Nationalist Party and its vision of making Malta a member of the European Union. From the 1990s onwards, the main political parties have promoted different elements of these values. Still, questions remained whether these values have been embedded in the political parties itself and the Maltese society. The European values are important especially in the safeguarding of human rights, rule of law and freedom of press. Yet several events in Malta including the Panama Papers leaks, assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and murder of migrant Lassana Cisse have revealed that these European values are often side-lined and not fully embraced by the smallest member state of the EU.

This chapter will evaluate Malta’s approach towards rule of law, press freedom and migration. It will outline how Malta faced similar problems as other EU member states in promoting and respecting such values at the national level. The case of Malta will also show how the EU institutions have often struggled to enforce such values and that, often, it was the Council of Europe, rather than the European Union which intervened to make sure that the basic rules of democracy and human rights are respected by the country.

The European Union and its values
Each member state in the European Union has its values and principles that are often promoted at the national level as well as within the international system. These values are traditionally a representation of identities, norms, ideas, and beliefs and which shape the way individuals behave within their society. Foret and Calligaro believe that values are produced by social convention and promoted by institutions. In addition, values represent collective representations and vary across time and space. Values are important to unite states which share similar visions and ideas within the national and international spheres. Values, alongside laws guide individuals and entities as they interact with each other.

European values are constantly in evolution as the European Union develops and becomes more influential. European values are multi-faceted and open to interpretations. This is because the European Union is a complex organisation which affects all segments of society within and outside its borders. European values have often been used by the European Union to provide a sense of unity within its borders. These values are also important for the EU to promote a ‘European Identity’ and the attempt by the European Union to provide an ideological foundation which would bring it closer to the European citizens. European values are also included in the acquis Communautaire. The means that these European values have a legal dimension. In fact, the acquis Communautaire requires the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, liberty, democracy, and the rule of law from candidate states in order for them to join the EU. Rule of law is at the core of these European values it is seen as a prerequisite to promote and apply other values such as democracy, freedom, and equality. The reason for this is that it ensures that all citizens are subject to the same laws and that these laws are applied fairly and impartially. Rule of law is also important as it is a requirement for the achievement of all other values. Another important value that is as important as rule of law is democracy. This principle is rooted in the notion that citizens have the right to participate in the decision-making process that affects their lives. Like rule of law, democracy is still as essential for the application of other European values including civil liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.

As these values are part of the acquis Communautaire, candidate states must abide by these rules to join the European organisation. These shared values, or “common legal principles,” have been codified in the treaties since Maastricht, specifically in Article 6 EU. However, the treaties traditionally refer to “principles” rather than “values” even though the EU uses terms interchangeably as it tries to create more awareness on them.

Yet, one the problem with European values is whether European citizens are aware of such values and the way they are interpreted by the governments within the member states. The debate concerning European values has often taken into consideration whether such values are enforced by the European Union. The European Union has tried to tackle the problem of enforcing the harmonisation of these European values within member states, in particular the fundamental values including rule of law and democracy which are a requirement for states to join it. Various reports revealed that values including rule of law can be enforced by using the procedures established in Articles 258 and 260 of TFEU. The European Union can procced against a member state for violating their obligations established by the Treaties of the European Union. The European Commission has the right to refer to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) so that measures can be taken against those member states who do not abide by the EU laws. This means that the European Court of Justice has repeatedly been called to provide a legal interpretation of these values with the Court exerting considerable influence on both the EU and member states.

In 2022, the European Court of Justice has strengthened the powers of the European Commission to preserve democracy and rule of law within the member states. In a ruling over a legal challenge from Poland and Hungary on whether the European Commission had the right to withhold funds, the ECJ ruled that the European Commission could block European Funds if countries to those states who are undermining EU rules and regulations as well and its values which include democracy, rule of law, and press freedom. The ‘conditionality mechanism’ empowers the European Commission to withhold funds from countries who are at risk of democratic backsliding. The decision by the European Court of Justice also adds further pressure on the European Institutions to act decisively to safeguard its fundamental values including democracy and rule of law and to make sure that they are respected by all member states.

Still debates concerning the EU and its values have also dealt with the question on whether the European Union is governed on the values which it promotes. A case in point being the principle of subsidiarity within the EU. Whilst the European Union has given more responsibility to the European Parliament, most of its decisions are being taken by the European Commission, European Council and Council of Ministers. The is due to the EU’s institutional design. This design makes the EU dependant on the member states in the daily running of the European institutions. Several Eurosceptic political parties have often used this to highlight the fact that the decision-making process within the EU is not really based on the principle of subsidiarity. Within organisations such as the European Union, the principle of subsidiarity should help institutions and member states in the creation of a dialogue or a debate which would lead to the introduction of a legislation or directive. The balance of power between the EU institutions which tends to favour the Commission and Council is making it difficult for the organisation to defend itself from its critics. These critics have often highlighted how the European Parliament is the weakest institution within the EU and that decisions are ultimately taken not by the institution which is closest to the European citizens, but by non-elected technocrats (the Commission) and national politicians (the European Council).

It is impossible to have democracy without having press freedom. Press freedom is one of the fundamental principles and a requirement for any successful democracy. In the last few years, the European Union has witnessed several journalists being killed across Europe. The Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015 revealed the need to protect freedom of the press. The assassination of various journalists including Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in 2017, Ján Kuciak in Slovakia in 2018, Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece and Peter de Vries in the Netherlands in 2021 outlines the need for the EU and member states to do more to protect journalists across the region.

In 2015, a briefing from the European Parliament highlighted why press freedom is fundamental for democracy. Press freedom has two distinct aspects. On one hand, it grants individuals who work in journalism the freedom to inform and voice their viewpoints without the fear of persecution. On the other hand, press freedom provides the media with protections befitting an institution that is fundamental to the democratic process. Article 11 of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the EU establishes the freedoms of expression, information, and the press as fundamental rights for the EU and its member states.

The period of rapid expansion of new sources of information and of new ways to access information, coincided with a growing threat against journalists and media pluralism. Whilst many believed that the new access of information would allow the freedom of speech and critical thinking to flourish, the opponents of press freedom have grown more powerful, with journalists under intense scrutiny across Europe especially with the use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which many deem them to be abusive against journalists.

The European Commission have often been criticised by the members of the European Parliament for not doing enough to safeguard these principles within the member states. In the last few years, the European Union has been working to introduce the Media Freedom Act. The proposed Regulation seeks to protect journalists and press freedom against political meddling and surveillance. It seeks to strengthen the autonomy of public service media, as well as the openness of media ownership and the distribution of government advertising. The Media Freedom Act seeks to safeguard editors’ independence and their role in reporting conflicts of interest and potential corruption allegations. In April 2022, the European Commission proposed a set of directives to protect journalists from what it considers as abusive proceedings against journalists (SLAPPs). The directives are also targeting the protection of journalists and press freedom in Europe.

Whilst the European Commission is preparing several directives and legislations on the matter, the European Parliament has often been demanded that the Commission acts decisively so that these values and pillars of democracy are respected by all member states. Press freedom is important because it allows journalists to report on issues and events without fear of censorship, repression, or retaliation. A free press acts as a watchdog over those in power, exposing corruption, injustice, and human rights abuses, and promoting transparency and accountability. Which is why critics of the EU argue that more should be done to make sure that states respect such rules and principles before and after they join the European Union and use all the tools that it had acquired across the decades and through its treaties to uphold such values and principles.

The European Union has often been criticised by human rights activists for its approach towards irregular migration. One of the values promoted by the European Union is human dignity. Human dignity became an even more important value when the European Union decided to approach it as a standalone right within Article 1 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Human Rights. Article 1 dictates that “Human dignity – everyone has the right to be treated with dignity”. The problem is that this value was undermined during the various migration crises which plagued Europe and the Mediterranean. On this issue, Woolard and General declared that:

“Human dignity is clearly absent in the conditions in which refugees and migrants find themselves in Europe and in the countries in which they are stuck as a result of European action”.

Southern European states including Malta, Italy and Spain have been consistent in their pressure to force the European Union to reform the European Union Asylum System (CEAS) since the Dublin Regulation places the burden of processing the asylum applications on the country of arrival. Rather than dealing with the problem and the need to preserve the human dignity of these migrants, the EU has been accused of endorsing punitive measures against ‘irregular migrants’ which might deter them from leaving their countries.

Whilst the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights does not make any reference to the human dignity of migrants, Article 1 dictates that human dignity is a universal right and not an exclusive right for EU citizens. Reference to the human dignity of irregular migrations is made in Title V of the TFEU on border controls, asylum procedures, and immigration law. The TFEU emphasises the need for member states to guarantee the full respect of non-EU individuals’ human dignity. Reference towards the treatment of migrants is also made in the Schengen Borders Code, Frontex Regulation, European Border and Coast Guard Regulation, Asylum Procedures Directive and Return Directive. The ECJ have had to intervene various times to force member states to abide on EU regulations on migration and safeguard the human dignity of migrants. The Syrian Migration Crisis and the multiple incidents surrounding migrants in the Mediterranean have highlighted the inability of the European Union to make sure that the basic human rights of migrants are respected. In addition, when it comes to human dignity and the need to safeguard the basic human rights of migrants, it is often the European Court of Human Rights which has often intervened to force its member states to abide by European Convention on Human Rights.

This section discussed the importance of the European Values and the limitations of the European Union in safeguarding such values at a time when they are being threatened in various states. With the European Union opening several infringement proceedings against Poland and Hungary, the EU has been pressured to act decisively to make sure that such values are respected and guaranteed. Whilst Poland and Hungary are often at the centre of the media storm concerning the upholding of these values, the next section will show how Malta, faced similar challenges.

Malta and the European Values
In the last two decades, debates have emerged in Malta on whether the country has really embraced European values. The Nationalist Party have traditionally promoted values such as democracy, rule of law and solidarity during the debate concerning Malta’s membership application. On the other hand, the Labour Party has in the last decade promoted the liberal values including equality and the right of persons belonging to minorities. As stated in the previous section, various debates emerged on the state of rule of law in Malta and press freedom after the revelations of the Panama Papers and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. For decades, the main political parties have promoted different elements of these European values, but critics argue that awareness on these values is still low with the value of ‘money’ overshadowing any other value in the country .

Journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia had long been critical on the situation regarding rule of law in Malta. She was critical of the collision between the political class and lobby groups and the lack of transparency and accountability within the political system. Her blog exposed various corruption allegations against the main political parties. These included the politically exposed persons within the Panama paper leaks, with one of them, Konrad Mizzi, being a cabinet member of the Muscat administration.

The Panama Papers leaks were not only a concern for Malta but also for various countries across the globe. The documents produced by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were handed to German journalist Bastian Obermayer of the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2015 by a whistleblower. The amount of data required a team of over 370 journalists from 76 different nations to analyse before it could be made public. On April 3, 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) started disclosing information about 214,488 hidden offshore accounts. The files, which were analysed and published by the ICIJ, contained 11.5 million documents in the form of data emails, records, and personal information of people, including politicians, artists, drug smugglers, criminal organizations, corporations, billionaires and millionaires, and professional athletes from more than 200 countries.

On 22 February 2016, Daphne Caruana Galizia hinted that Minister Konrad Mizzi, a close ally of the prime minister and a leading candidate in the 2013 national election, might have some offshore companies in New Zealand. In Europe, the Panama Papers led to the resignation of the Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. In Malta, there was hardly any reaction. The Prime Minister of Malta was criticised for failing to act against Mizzi. In fact, Daphne Caruana Galizia published information regarding the accounts of Mizzi and other exposed individuals close to the Prime Minister including Keith Schembri, who was the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister and Brian Tonna, co-owner of Nexia BT company, an audit and tax firm company very close to the Labour Party.

Minister Konrad Mizzi did acknowledge the existence of a family trust in New Zealand because of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s revelations. He declared that as part of his asset declarations, he intended to present information to parliament regarding it. The timing is particularly important given the responsibility which was handed the responsibility over the privatisation of three hospitals in Malta and Gozo and the LNG Plant. Both these privatisations would be a source of great controversy in the country. When it comes the LNG plant, a consortium made up of several national and international groups winning the tender. These groups included Maltese business group GEM (Gasan and Tumas Groups), the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR, and Siemens. Gasol plc, formerly a 25% shareholder, left the consortium in 2015. Yorgen Fenech, one of the directors of Tumas Group would end up standing accused of behind the mastermind behind the assassination of Caruana Galizia. His arrest and further revelations would lead to various resignations within the Cabinet. The Prime Minister would also resign at the end of 2019.

With more revelations surrounding these off-shore accounts being published, the party-in-opposition demanded an inquiry to establish whether these accounts were being used for money-laundering activities. At the same, the party-in-opposition was critical of the government and the main institutions given that in three years, the country had five different police commissioners. For them, this highlighted the fact that some institutions were not working as they should.

However, Prime Minister Muscat and the Labour administration kept defending Mizzi and Keith Schembri and the functions of the main institutions in Malta. Further leaks including the Mossack Fonseca documents showed that Nexia BT acquired several Panamanian companies from Mossack Fonseca-related firm ATC Administrators Inc, respectively. Hearnville Inc was found to be owned by the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister Keith Schembri), Tillgate Inc was found to be owned by Minister Konrad Mizzi).The owner of the third company Egrant Inc was never confirmed even though the allegations behind this ownership would lead to the early election of 2017.

Between 2016 and 2017, various controversies emerged between the main political parties over alleged corruption practices. Pilatus Bank would become embroiled in these controversies with the bank being accused of failing to follow anti-money laundering rules. Pilatus Bank received a Category 2 license from the Malta Financial Authority and opened a branch in Ta’ Xbiex in 2013. The category 2 Licence authorised the bank to provide Investment Services, and to hold Clients’ Money and Customers’ Assets. It was determined that Brian Tonna, a co-owner of Nexia BT, controlled Willerby Inc., which had an account with Pilatus Bank. Several civil society groups including Repubblika initiated proceedings against the attorney general and police for failing to prosecute Ali Sadr and other bank officials for money-laundering activities. The case is still ongoing with the decision taken in 2023, not to hold the proceedings in public. The bank would close in 2018 after the European Central Bank withdrew its licence. The bank would also be fined by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unity (FIAU) €4,975,500 for a “serious and systemic failure” to abide by anti-money laundering regulations.

The leader of opposition Simon Busuttil kept the pressure in the fight against rule of law and corruption. He was critical of the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and alleged that Schembri was collecting bribes from the contentious Malta Investment Program (IIP) . The opposition leader stated that Brian Tonna was the owner of a Pilatus Bank account into which funds from the passport program were being transferred to Schembri and shifted his fight to the courts to force an investigation on Schembri and Tonna. Schembri denied the allegations, claiming that they were fabricated by Simon Busuttil as part of his pursuit for power (De Marco, Times of Malta, 27 April 2017). The debate regarding the rule of Malta got more polarised as during Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, Caruana Galizia had alleged that the owner of Egrant was the wife of the prime minister Michelle Muscat. However, the Prime Minister denied this and called for an early election. A magisterial inquiry would refute such allegation finding no evidence of the link between Michelle Muscat and the Egrant Inc.

The 2017 national election became a contest between safeguard the rule of law versus the growing economic development of the country. Whilst the Nationalist Party promoted the need to safeguard rule of law, the Labour Party believed that this was not an issue, as rule of law was guaranteed in the country. This is why it opted to promote its economic policies. The election took place in a very polarised environment with over five investigations going on. These included (1) an investigation into allegations made by Daphne Caruana Galizia that the Prime Minister’s wife owned the Panama-registered company “Egrant”; (2) an investigation into allegations that a Prime Minister’s chief of staff received kickbacks in connection with the Malta’s Passport Scheme; two inquiries by the FIAU to find the individuals who leaked documents concerning the Pilatus Bank (4) a libel filed by the former managing director of Allied Group (publishers of the Times of Malta) and the chief of staff to the prime minister over claims that they received kickback payments in offshore accounts; and (5) An investigation into whether the politically exposed persons linked to the Panama Papers violated Maltese and European law.

For the opposition, the election was required to restore the reputation of Malta in Europe. For the party-in-government, the election had to safeguard the economic development of the country and the civil liberties which were being introduced. However, the Labour Party won the election and extended its dominance over the political system. The election was important as the Prime Minister declared that Konrad Mizzi would be judged by the electorate. However, whilst the electorate has the right to elect the most suitable party to govern the country, and the best candidates to represent them in the national parliament, the vote should not stop other institutions include the Police and Judiciary in making sure that the laws are respected by everyone.

The Panama Papers leaks led to various visits by the PANA committee in Malta. Yet, cooperation from the people exposed was rather limited given the approach taken, and that no offence was committed, and the accounts were not being used for money-laundering. Still, given that there were various political exposed persons linked with the Office of the Prime Minister, the investigations kept going. However, another event would raise further debates surrounding the rule of law in Malta, and the respect which existed towards speech freedom. This would be the assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana Galizia was assassinated on the 16th of October 2017 by a car bomb, only a few metres from her house in Bidnija. Her last statement published on her blog, “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate” became synonymous with the fight against corruption and rule of law in the country. The assassination of Caruana Galizia was a stark reminder of the dangers which journalists face in their line of duty. For some, her assassination brought reminiscence to Malta’s Black Monday, one of the darkest episodes in Malta’s political history. On 15th October 1979, a group of Labour supporters attacked the headquarters of the Progress Press, the home of the Times of Malta and ransacked the house of the Leader of the Opposition Fenech Adami, after rumours spread of a potential assassination attack against Prime Minister Mintoff.

The assassination of Caruana Galizia increased the scrutiny by the European Union and Council of Europe on the state of rule of law and freedom of speech in Malta. It also led to a wider European debate on the state of the media in Europe after several journalists ended up being within the region. Numerous statements have been made by the Council of Europe and the European Union on the state of the rule of law and press freedom in Malta.

On 30 November 2017, the PANA and LIBE committees of the European Parliament would pay a special visit to Malta to investigate the Panama Papers and assassination of Caruana Galizia. During their visits to Malta, the PANA and LIBE committees emphasized the value of the rule of law and declared that the country needed to do more to fight money laundering and corruption. They also stressed the need to find the minds behind the assassination of Caruana Galiza. The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia led to numerous discussions on media pluralism and press freedom in Malta. In 2018, a report on media pluralism in Europe highlighted the problem of the Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation in Malta and the challenges which Maltese journalists faced in investigating corruption and rule of law.

Still, beyond the discussions taken place within the EU institutions, it was the Council of Europe which pressured Malta to safeguard rule of law and seek justice for the assassination of Caruana Galizia. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe had insisted on Malta’s need for legal reforms for decades. Several civil society organizations, including Repubblika, Occupy Justice, and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, which were established after the assassination of Caruana Galizia to fight for rule of law and justice, demanded a public inquiry into the journalist’s assassination. Due to the ongoing police investigation that resulted in the arrest of the Degorgio brothers, Vince Muscat, and ultimately Yorgen Fenech, one of the most powerful business tycoons in Malta, the Muscat administration had justified its decision not to request a public inquiry.

The Council of Europe decided that a public inquiry should indeed take place. The Council of Europe’s Resolution 2293 was critical of the various corruption allegations against the Maltese government as well as the various failings of the country’s primary institutions. It was also critical of the polarisation which existed in the country and the lack of cooperation between the Maltese institutions with Europol and the German Police in the investigation surrounding the assassination of Caruana Galizia. The resolution called for a public inquiry to ensure that justice would be served. It also urged Malta to fully implement the reform proposals put forth by the Venice Commission and Greco to strengthen the fight against corruption in the country.

The public inquiry would be important as it showcases the problems surrounding rule of law and press freedom in Malta and the failure of the Maltese institutions in safeguarding these two important values of democracy. The arrest of various individuals for the murder of Caruana Galizia, including Melvin Theuma, DeGiorgio brothers and Vince Muscat placed further pressure to find the masterminds. The statements made by Melvin Theuma, who was given a presidential pardon, let to the arrest of Yorgen Fenech. Fenech was a close associate of Keith Schembri, the chief of staff of the prime minister. This led to various protests in November and December 2019, for the resignation of the Prime Minister. This political turmoil and testimony of Melvin Theuma led to various resignations. These included that of Minister Konrad Mizzi, one of the individuals involved in the Panama papers leaks. It also led to the suspension of Chris Cardona from the cabinet as well as the resignation of Keith Schembri from the post of Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister. All of them denied any wrongdoing. Prime Minister Muscat would announce his resignation on 1 December 2019 after weeks of protests. Whilst again, denying any wrongdoing, he declared that he was doing this in respect for political stability and would resign once the Labour Party elected a new party leader.

Even though the Prime Minister, announced his resignation, the European Parliament still decided to debate the political unrest in Malta following the arrest of Yorgen Fenech. This debate took place on 18 December 2019. The vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourova stated that the Commission was worried about the unfolding events in the country and stressed the need for rule of law and media freedom to be respected in Malta and the other EU member states. Following the debate , the European Parliament passed a resolution with 581 votes in favor and 26 against that expressed a number of reservations regarding the objectivity and legitimacy of the inquiries into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The resolution questioned the government of Malta’s efforts to combat tax evasion and money laundering. Additionally, the European Parliament’s revealed its scepticism for the approach taken by the European Commission towards Malta. The European Parliament believed that the Commission had the required tools to pressure Malta to introduce the required reforms and safeguard its values and principles by using the procedure within Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union.

On 20 March 2021, Keith Schembri alongside Brian Tonna amongst others, were arrested for money laundering, criminal conspiracy, fraud, and forgery. Whilst the investigations are still ongoing in 2023, the case showed again the need to safeguard rule of law in Malta. The arrests of these politically exposed individuals would come few months before the publication of report surrounding the public enquiry on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The report pointed out the multiple institutional failings which led to the assassination of the Maltese journalist. These led to the undermining of rule of law in Malta:

At this stage, what remains relevant for this Board is the fact itself that during the hearing of the witnesses before it, these incidents kept on being disclosed, because this strengthens the conviction which it reached of a style of governance and a flawed system of conduct which effectively, as everyone accepts, led to the breakdown in the institutions and the erosion of the rule of law.

The report revealed that the threats which the press was exposed to in Malta and the need to protect journalists in their line of duty:

There is an increasing awareness of the vital role that free and independent journalism has in a democratic state, supported by the rule of law and by the necessity that journalists, in particular those who are dedicating their activities to investigating the behaviour of State entities entrusted with public administration, would be adequately protected. There not only ought to be structures which guarantee adequate protection of the physical person but also by the State creating a favourable environment which allows them to exercise their profession in a secure and effective manner.

This was a very serious issue given the responsibility for journalists like Caruana Galizia to expose the problem of impunity which existed in the country with the main institutions failing to tackle various problems including corruption and money-laundering. Ultimately, the report found the state responsible for the assassination of Caruana Galizia and provided a series of recommendations to make sure that the press is protected in the country.

Reactions for the publication of the report were different. Civil society groups including Repubblika kept their pressure on the government to pursue the reforms recommended by the public inquiry. The Maltese government did introduce various institutional reforms to safeguard rule of law Malta and as recommended by the Greco and the Venice Commissions. These include the introduction of the Anti-Fraud and Corruption Policy, the Police Code of Ethics, the Police Force Transformation Strategy, the Horizontal Movement Policy, and the Policy on Business Interests and Additional Occupations.

Whilst the Council of Europe praised these reforms, it requested additional changes. These include an update to the Whistleblower Act (Cap 527) of 2013, which the government acted upon to introduce the “Protection of the Whistleblower (Amendment) Act 2021”. This was necessary to implement EU Directive 209/1937. The law became effective on December 24, 2021, a few days beyond the deadline for transposing EU legislation, which was December 17, 2021.

In 2021, Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, visited Malta to evaluate the situation concerning human rights, rule of law and press freedom. In her report, she was positive of the institutional reforms including the decriminalisation of defamation in 2018. Still, the commissioner was critical of the numerous lawsuits being brought against journalists and publications. She advocated for the reversal of the burden of proof in libel lawsuits involving journalists. The Commissioner recommended that the government introduces the required reforms for the protection of journalists. She also recommended that Malta ratifies the Council of Europe Troms Convention on Access to Official Records and to make provisions for journalists’ access to data and information.

Even though various reforms were introduced by the Maltese government, there is still scepticism by the EU Institutions and the Council of Europe towards accountability and rule of law in Malta. The 2022 European Commission annual report on rule of law revealed that the absence of convictions in high-profile corruption cases, the denial of access to official records, and the lack of independence of public service media are still significant problems. Regarding public service media, the Commission argued that because members of the board of directors and editorial board are both directly selected by the State, the industry is particularly susceptible to political interference. The report also shows how the European Parliament has often been critical of the European Commission’s actions in safeguarding the EU values, principles, and regulations. Whilst the European Parliament has often been at the forefront in promoting a tougher stance against those who infringe these principles, the European Commission has traditionally taken a cautious approach even though it does initiate multiple infringement proceedings against EU member states who fail to abide by its rules.

Beyond the state of public broadcasting, the recommendations by the European Commission and Council of Europe are particularly important given that Malta is the only EU member state which gives the right for political parties to have their own media organisations. This led to the Nationalist Party and Labour Party to establish their own organisations which include television and radio stations and online and printed media organisations. This not only allows these political parties to compete with the Independent Media, but more often have been used to neutralise their critics.

In 2022, the Maltese government did propose to elevate the freedom of the press and the media’s role as a public watchdog as the fourth pillars of democracy. The Constitutional changes proposed by the Abela administration were widely criticised by the Institute for Maltese Journalists (IĠM). The reason for this is that the recommendations provided by the Institute for Maltese Journalists including the lack of public consultation and the fact that the reforms recommended by the government did not provide the required protection for Maltese journalists. The opposition was also critical of the legislation for the fact that the proposed 41 (1) would incorporate Article 10 of the European Convention by declaring that freedom of expression is guaranteed within the framework established by the article. The article failed to include the collective of rights which make freedom of expression. The Opposition was also critical for the failure to include Bill 259 of 2022 which the party-in-opposition had recommended to establish Article 41 (3) which would safeguard free and independent journalism and restricts the actions of public authority in the exercise of freedom of expression. A similar opinion was that of the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media who declared that there were a series of shortcomings in the bill proposed by the Abela Administration. The bill was withdrawn in 2022 with the Abela administration pledging more public consultation before it is re-proposed.

The Panama Papers revelations and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia have revealed how at times, values which are essential for democracy such as rule of law and press freedom are often taken for granted by European societies. Whilst the investigations concerning the Panama Papers and assassination of Caruana Galizia are still ongoing, debates are still taking place at the national and European levels to make sure that European values are safeguarded and protected in the country. Whilst these two cases were based on rule and law and press freedom, there is another issue in Malta which has often been highly politicised, and that is the challenge coming from irregular migration. The murder of Lassana Cisse a migration has exposed the problem of racism in the country. Whilst many believe the murder does not represent the approach of Malta’s society towards irregular migration, it does highlight the dangers of racism and intolerance and lack of protection which irregular migrants face in Europe.

The influx of irregular migration is a challenge which most of the Maltese governments had to deal with. The problem is not made easier by the EU regulations, which restrict states from deporting these migrants before processing their asylum applications. Irregular migration is not simply a challenge for Malta but for many other Mediterranean states which struggle with the growing influx of migrants from North Africa. The European Union has traditionally approached irregular migration using three different strategies: discouraging irregular migrants from leaving their countries, controlling the inflow of migrants through its regulations, and encouraging the integration of irregular migrants to prevent isolation and possible radicalization. Yet, the European Union has often been criticised by humanitarian organisations for not promoting solidarity with these migrants and for struggling to safeguard their human rights.

One of the main problems linked with the irregular migration problem is Malta’s Search and Rescue Area. Malta’s Search and Rescue area covers 250,000 km2, roughly equating to the size of Great Britain. Given the small size of the island, it means that with the Dublin Regulation, Malta would be responsible for all the migrants rescued within this area. Irregular migration has been a problem given that it is seen as the main security problem for the country. In fact, migrants are often labelled as ‘illegal’ and ‘clandestines’ to highlight the ‘threat’ which they pose to the country. According to a 2002 study one of the main newspapers in the country, the Times of Malta, than 69% of Maltese people thought that Malta should treat illegal immigrants like criminals who breach the law. In addition, only 57.3% of the population understood the distinction between a refugee and an irregular migrant. The major political parties have been successful in containing the emergence of far right-wing parties in the nation by frequently adopting populist measures to irregular migration.

Malta’s approach towards irregular migration has often led to a direct confrontation with the Council of Europe. This confrontation has often been caused by Malta’s detainment of these migrants. The reason for this is that migrants are regarded as unlawful immigrants and should be separated from society. They are detained in detention facilities, and separated from the community while their asylum petitions are being processed. The duration of this detention ranges from twelve to eighteen months.

The European Court of Human Rights have often intervened against Malta for failing to respect the human dignity and human rights of irregular migrants. The European Court of Human Rights criticized Malta in 2013 in its rulings concerning the “Suso Musa versus Malta” and “Aden Ahmed versus Malta” for the length of their detention and the conditions in which they were held. The Court ruled that Malta had violated several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the first case, these included Article 5 (1) (relating to liberty and security) and Article 5(4) (the authorities’ failure to ensure that the right to lawful detention is decided by a court in a timely manner). In the second case, the court ruled that Malta violated Article 3 (relating to the treatment of these migrants), Article 5(1), and Article 5(4). The European Court of Human Rights ruled again against Malta in the case of “Abdullahi Elmi and Aweys Abubakar v. Malta”. The court ruled that the prolonged detention of two kids, violated both Article 3 of the Convention of Human Rights due to the treatment these kids received and Article 5(4) of the Convention due to the slow processing of their applications and the futility of the legal challenges to their detention. In December 2022, the ECtHR once again was critical of the way Malta was handling irregular migration and the asylum process. In the case of “S.H. v. Malta,” the court concluded in December 2022 that Malta had violated Articles 3 (risk assessment of asylum seekers) and 13 (Asylum Procedures).

There have been various attempts by the Maltese governments to improve the situation of irregular migrants in Malta. These include a new Migration Strategy which reduced detention to 9 months, and a Migration Integration Action Plan which would allow these migrants to learn Maltese and English and be able to better integrate within the Maltese society. Still, the assassination of Lassana Cisse in 2019 reveals that more must be done to protect migrants. Lassana Cisse was killed on 6 April 2019 in Ħal-Far. This racially motivated attack led to the arrest of Lorin Scicluna and Francesco Fenech. These two army officials are standing trial for the murder of Lassana Cisse and attempted murder of two others. Both were also accused of another attempted murder of another migrant May Malimi, a Chadian migrant, in the same area. All these crimes were thought to be racially motivated. The murder of Lassana Cisse highlights the growing need of tackling racism not just within society, but also within the country’s institutions. The assassination of Lassana Cisse has again pushed various NGOs including the aditus foundation and Malta’s Moviment Graffiti ( a left wing movement) to raise more awareness on the problem of racism in the country. With the court case against the alleged killers of Lassana Cisse, still ongoing, it might take years before justice can prevail for Lassana and the other migrants who were targeted in these unprovoked attacks.

Whilst the main political parties have condemned the murder of Lassana Cisse and the racial motivated attacks which took place in 2019, these political parties are often the ones politicising the issue and use it to gain political mileage. Irregular migration is indeed a problem for the country, and the European Union has repeatedly failed to provide solidarity and find a long-term solution. However, this does not mean that the human rights of these migrants should be ignored. This was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, which led Malta and Italy amongst other Mediterranean states to close their ports and failing to provide aide to irregular migrants which found themselves in difficulty during their attempt to reach the European shores.

The irregular migration problem and the approach taken by Malta over the decades, showcase the fact that the European Union has repeatedly struggled to act on the matter, even though human rights and human dignity are core values of the EU. The EU has often provided financial incentives to the countries, as a short-term solution for the matter. Yet on irregular migration, NGOs and human rights activists have criticised the EU for failing to reform its regulations on the matter and failing to find a long-term solution to deal with the problem. On the other hand, it is often the Council of Europe which is left with the responsibility of admonishing states for failing to safeguard the rights of these migrants.

Malta, the European Union, and European Values
This chapter has given an insight into the harmonisation of European values in Malta. The Panama Papers leaks, assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Malta’s approach towards irregular migration show that member states and their institutions often struggle to act in respect of the European Values. However, as most literature on these European Values reveal, it is often a problem for the EU itself to enforce these values. Much of the literature on the influence of the European Union on member states showcase the way the European Union is often able to influence candidate states in abiding by its regulations for them to join the European Union. However, once they join, the European Union has limited tools which it can use against member states. In addition, whilst the European Union has often based its external action on these European values, EU member states and the EU itself have struggled to raise awareness on such values and to put them at the core of the decision-making process.

When it comes to Malta, Pace argues that the country has embraced rule of parties rather than rule of law. Within the two-party system, these two political parties that is the Nationalist Party and Labour Party promote their interests and these interests can sometimes go against the values they promote. Whilst various civil society organisations have been established to challenge the main political parties in safeguarding democracy, rule of law, press freedom, human rights and human dignity amongst others, these political parties still dominate Malta’s society. Due to several institutional failings, the country witnessed the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the murder of Lassana Cisse. Few people have taken responsibility over these murders, and whilst many condemned the acts against these individuals, more action is required to fully protect journalists and provide the basic rights of migrants, which are still seen as a threat towards Malta’s society and culture.

The case of Malta highlights the fact that more needs to be done so that member states respect the basic values of democracy and human rights. It also shows that the EU needs to be more present in raising awareness of these values within and outside its borders. The European Parliament has often been critical of the actions taken by the European Commission to preserve such values. Whilst the European Parliament has often been vocal on the need for the EU institutions to uphold the European values, the Commission has often taken a cautious approach and has mostly relied on the European Court of Justice to enforce these values. Still, there have been various debates on whether values can be enforced or simply accepted and promoted by the member states. This means that the EU needs to find another strategy to address the various shortcomings linked with the application of these values. This strategy should also consider take into account the need to raise awareness on these values so that they are not taken for granted. This is especially important as these values are considered as universal values and have often been promoted and enforced by other organisations including the Council of Europe and the United Nations. Whilst these will always be multiple interpretations on how to uphold these values, and multiple institutions which promote them as their own, they are essential for the development and growth of European societies, strengthening of democratic institutions and protection of human rights.



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