24th Jan 2020


EU values under scrutiny This WEEK

  • Suits of armour in Maltese capital: Will EU defend rule of law? (Photo:

Rule of law, environmental protection, and minority rights will feature high on the agenda in Brussels and Strasbourg as 2019 comes to a close.

MEPs meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday (17 December) will discuss whether to instigate sanctions procedures against Malta following revelations that top people in the Maltese government had links to the killing of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia two years ago.

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  • Emily O'Reilly held EU feet to the fire as ombudsman in past five years (Photo: European Parliament)

"We fear the separation of powers may be under threat, and very serious crime investigations may well remain unresolved," German Green MEP Sven Giegold said last week after visiting the island state.

"This [threat] will compromise EU police and justice cooperation, the integrity of the Schengen area [the EU's passport-free zone], the internal market and all other EU policy areas that rely on mutual trust and respect for the rule of law," he added.

EU institutions already triggered sanctions procedures against Hungary and Poland over judicial abuses in recent years.

The bloc's fractured values were also on show last week when Poland declined to join CO2 reduction targets agreed by the 27 other leaders at an EU summit.

Europe's environmental credentials will be tested once again in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday when agriculture ministers decide how much fish can be yanked out of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea by European fleets in 2020.

And environment ministers meeting on Thursday in the last EU Council event of the year will discuss how to protect biodiversity and clean air around the world.

For its part, Poland wants to log trees in its primeval forests and burns so much coal to make electricity it has some of the most polluted cities in Europe.

But rule of law and emissions aside, it is also drifting from EU values on protection of minorities.

MEPs will, on Wednesday, vote on a resolution condemning calls by right-wing Polish groups to create so-called "LGBTI-free zones" in the Roman Catholic country.

They will also debate the gender pay gap in Europe and how to improve animal welfare in debates on Tuesday.

Ombudsman vote

With MEPs keen to defend shared values in member states, good governance in the EU's own institutions will be under the spotlight earlier the same day when the EP decides who should be Europe's ombudsman for the next five years.

The appointment will complete the full set of new EU personalities after elections in May.

If they choose the incumbent, Irish former journalist Emily O'Reilly, that would be a green light for her to continue crusading against maladministration by EU officials.

But if they choose Swedish candidate, Cecilia Wikström, a controversial industry lobbyist, that might send a dodgy signal to national capitals on due process.

The EP will, on Wednesday, also award its annual human rights gong, the Sakharov Prize, to Ilham Tohti, who defends the Uyghur minority in China against state repression.

China does not like to have its sins called out by international bodies.

And the Chinese foreign minister will take the floor, among 52 others, at the so-called Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Madrid on Monday and Tuesday.

The meeting, which takes place every two years, is to be chaired by EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell, and is to tackle issues ranging from marine litter to terrorism, but human rights are not on the agenda.

Pressure mounts to grill Malta's Muscat at EU summit

The Dutch prime minister and figures from the European Parliament are both piling on pressure for leaders at the EU summit to discuss the rule of law in Malta, as the presence of the island-nation's prime minister draws protests.

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The all-powerful will meet in Davos after Berlin tries to resolve the Libyan conflict over the weekend, while MEPs will set the stage for final ratification of the Brexit deal.

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