Democracy in Malta is Fundamentally Flawed

Democracy in Malta is Fundamentally Flawed. As the European Parliament is one of the institutions towards which our country is accountable, we should understand something about its functioning. The 8th European Parliament is made up of 751 members from the 28 states. Members are not grouped by country. They are organised into ideological (party) groups. There are 12 European Parliamentary groups. Our 3 blue MEPs sit with the European People’s Party (EPP) that has 217 members. Our 3 red MEPs sit with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) that has 190 members.

MEPs are elected by universal suffrage. The turnout of voters across the EU has since 1999 been below 50%. In 2014 it was 42%. The other two major representative institutions of the EU are the Council of the European Union that is made up of the 28 ministers from the member states and the European Commission that is made up of the 28 heads of state.

It is essential to understand that as a result of the way in which the European Parliament is organised, MEPs may have a greater allegiance to the European Parliamentary group they are part of, than to their own country. The European Parliament is deliberately organised in this way in order to replace the parliaments of member states.

Image of the Auberge de Castille - democracy in Malta

The Maltese MEPs do not sit together and do not represent our country in any unified way. This undermines our democracy and places our destiny in the hands of non Maltese European MEPs who do not represent us.

There are two locations where MEPs meet. One is in Brussels, Belgium and the other in Strasbourg, France. It is mandatory to hold sessions in both places. The administration of the European Parliament is in Luxembourg City. If you are thinking that this must be a logistical nightmare, you are of course right. It also costs European taxpayers a fortune. Each MEP position costs €2.3m annually of which, as far as I could see, around €500,000 are paid to, or on behalf of, each MEP as remuneration, allowances, expenses and salaries for MEP support staff. This for the five year term – do the maths.

There are also 22 standing (permanent) and a few ad hoc committees populated by MEPs presumably specialising in various areas. For example the one on Foreign Affairs has 75 members and 74 substitute members. There are also 35 delegations which are joint committees made up of MEPs and non EU diplomats. Moreover the chairpersons of the delegations and the chairpersons of the committees form another two committees supposedly to coordinate their efforts. All this happens with the support of a veritable army of translators and administrative staff. With all the good intentions in the world this can never work and, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Biblical Tower of Babel – plenty of jobs for the boys and girls, though.

The European Parliament shares its decision making powers with the Council. Both the Council and the Parliament decide jointly on matters proposed to them by the Commission. For motions to pass and become EU law the Parliament needs at least a 50% vote and the Council needs a 55% vote representing at least 65% of EU citizens. Majority rule makes sense when applied at country level. However when this is applied at EU level, entire countries are disenfranchised.

The EU has managed to drown the democratic process in a sea of bureaucracy. The system is heavily skewed in favour of the states with the highest population numbers and the bigger representation and lobbying power within the political groupings of the European Parliament. Laws binding all the 28 member states could be passed even if 12 countries vote against them.

In the past weeks Malta was on the agenda of the European Parliament on the subjects of the ‘Rule of Law’ and the ‘Presidency of the Council of the European Union’.

At the parliamentary session on the Rule of Law in Malta, a small number of European MEPs took turns at portraying our country as a rogue state, while our Prime Minister and some of our MEPs defended our institutions. Only 46 out of 751 MEPs attended this sitting of the European Parliament and only a handful, including our own, spoke to mostly empty seats. At European level this was a non-event.

At the parliamentary session that was meant to review Malta’s EU Presidency only 30 MEPs were present. Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, addressed the small gathering and apparently was quite irate at the turnout. I expect he felt slighted by the fact that 96% of the MEPs were not interested enough to turn up to listen to him. Yes, this was another non event for Malta at the European Parliament.

Can we draw any conclusions from the fact that more turned up (apart from our own MEPs) to slander our country (40) than to praise it (24)? Not really – the truth of the matter is that our country is irrelevant at European level. It hurts our ego but we do need to get real. The tragedy is that most of us think that the EU, controlled by central European politicians, governs us better than we can govern ourselves.

Another obstacle to self government is that all our blue, red and other representatives are staunch Europhiles. They clearly see their careers in Europe as being more interesting and attractive. The EU also throws a lot of money at politics and politicians, so, can one really blame them?

Yet another complication is that we now also have the blues who are financially and ideologically bankrupt whilst the reds, having received their thirty pieces of silver from the minority groups by way of votes, are happily delivering on the deal. The fact that our representatives have this month betrayed the trust of at least 85% of the electorate with the passing of the Marriage Equality Bill means nothing to them. It is far more important to them to pander to the marginal voters and to look good with their colleagues in Europe. They are claiming to have made history on the 12th July – oh yes, history was indeed made and it will not end well.

The way our democracy works is fundamentally flawed. We are ruled by minorities. The hunting and the LGBT minority lobbies dictate government environmental and family policies. Ironic, is it not, that both these hugely important areas are ultimately controlled by those who would seek to degrade them? We also have for too many years been enduring a series of blue and red autocratic governments that rely on spin to pull the wool over the eyes of a gullible and distracted electorate. On top of all this our independence and democratic rights have been taken away from us by stealth.

Nature does not rest on its successes or failures. It persistently spins off in different directions quite randomly. Most of these directions are dead ends. A few succeed and multiply. As is nature, so are humans. Fasten your seat belt. We are in for a bumpy ride going nowhere.

Article published in the Sunday Times of Malta, 30th July 2017