More harm than good

By threatening Malta’s banking system in its totality, Giegold has betrayed the fact that his interest does not lie in genuine reforms but rather, with ‘punishing’ an entire country for the perceived corruption of its government

Green MEP Sven Giegold said he would campaign for HSBC to pull out of Malta
Green MEP Sven Giegold said he would campaign for HSBC to pull out of Malta

Sven Giegold’s recent threat to launch a damaging publicity campaign against HSBC’s presence in Malta has done considerably more harm than good to the broader campaign in favour of good governance.

The Green MEP from Germany told the Sunday Telegraph that he would campaign for HSBC to pull out of Malta – with dire consequences for the country’s economic stability – if the government didn’t take steps in line with his own recommendations.

This latest intervention by Giegold was technically a big tactical blunder. The MEP must have known that HSBC is the only international bank in Malta, and that by striking in this direction he would inflict maximum damage on the country as a whole. But he should also keep in mind that he himself is only an MEP – one of 750 – and that, as such, he should not expect Malta, and even private institutions present in Malta, to simply bow to his demands.

In one fell swoop, Giegold has managed to alienate all of Malta with his overreach in this case. He has drawn criticism from Nationalist MEPs who sit on the same committees, and who otherwise share his general views. He has even succeeded in antagonising the leader of Malta’s Green Party, his own local political ally.

Worse still, Giegold’s behaviour only serves to confirm what Labour MEPs such as Miriam Dalli and Alfred Sant have been arguing all along: i.e., that certain MEPs believe they have the authority to dictate to individual member states – especially the smaller, more vulnerable ones – how they should conduct their own affairs.

To call his attitude ‘arrogant’ would be an understatement. It would be more appropriate to describe it as ‘bullying’. His guns-blazing attack on the banking sector in Malta further highlights the belief of numerous MEPs – including Giegold – who believe that the European Parliament is the ultimate representative of the people within the EU, and that it should therefore be obeyed without question.

What Giegold doesn’t see, however, is that he himself is becoming increasing more strident and overzealous in his obsession with a single member state. Besides, his latest line of attack can only lead to local myopic nationalism – which is about the last thing Malta needs more of at the present time. This sort of criticism goes beyond our usual partisan paradigms, which tend to limit their targets only to the realm of politics. This is an open, full-frontal attack on Malta’s economic well-being, and as such it cannot possibly be supported by any local political party.

What one expects from MEPs is to scrutinise a way that is conducive to dialogue. Malta does not play with deficits to make up for structural imbalances in the EU, but has sought competitive advantages in areas which are bound to raise justified criticism.

Giegold and others are fully within their rights to criticise those decisions; but taking the criticism beyond those parameters can only undermine its legitimacy. By threatening Malta’s banking system in its totality, Giegold has betrayed the fact that his interest does not lie in genuine reforms – which have to be gradual and the result of dialogue – but rather, with ‘punishing’ an entire country for the perceived corruption of its government.

It is, in a way, symptomatic of how Mediterranean realities are perceived up north, even in so-called progressive circles. Giegold’s tactics are strongly indicative of an underlying prejudice against southern member states in general: conforming to the lazy stereotype whereby northern countries are all clean and above board, while their southern counterparts are all festering in corruption.

This is unfortunate, as until this point there was much to commend about the concerns raised by the European Parliament vis-a-vis governance in Malta. There is plainly some truth to the assertion that our institutions are not always up to the task of properly scrutinising the financial sector. But unless such concerns are limited only to where the problems really lie, they are bound to be counterproductive. Those who are genuinely worried about such issues are not likely to associate themselves with such a blatantly jaundiced view of this country. The result is likely to further fragment an already tenuous coalition against corruption.

There are lessons to be learnt also for local politicians. Unfortunately, we have seen a tendency to export our local political tribalism to the international stage – little realising that international institutions such as the European Parliament do not share Malta’s intrinsic partisan polarisation, and as such do not necessarily distinguish between ‘Nationalist’ and ‘Labour’-led administrations.

It was, essentially, a mistake for Nationalist MEPs to jump on Giegold’s bandwagon, on the false assumption that any attack on Muscat’s government would automatically bolster their own party’s cause. This latest development has put paid to that idea: it has actually had the opposite effect, causing both parties to converge on a common defence of their country.

Above all, it has illustrated that there are forces at work to destabilise and undermine Malta, and they care little for our petty political differences. It is high time Malta’s politicians understood that we are under attack, and gave some thought to defending the national interest for a change.

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