MEP candidate says suggestion he ‘controls’ EP office in Malta is nonsense

Peter Agius, the PN candidate for MEP, has refuted suggestions by Labour candidate Alex Saliba that he influences the EP office’s coordination of MEPs’ delegations

Peter Agius, a PN candidate, was formerly head of the EP office in Malta
Peter Agius, a PN candidate, was formerly head of the EP office in Malta

The former head of Malta’s European Parliament office has refuted suggestions of having any influence on operations in the Valletta office, since being seconded to the role of speechwriter to EP president Antonio Tajani.

Peter Agius, now a candidate for MEP for the Nationalist Party, denied suggestions made by Labour candidate for MEP Alex Saliba linking him to the MEP delegations to Malta that have been investigated alleged breaches of rule of law.

On Facebook, Saliba denied having written in his It-Torca newspaper column that Agius “controls” the EP office, but the suggestion was enough for Agius to call the allegations “nonsense”.

Saliba wrote of his doubts about the impartiality of the EP office in its role in assisting MEP delegations and said it was “an open secret” that the office was “overtaken” by people working to support the Nationalist Party’s political efforts. Saliba was referring to the visit of a LIBE delegation that was intended to focus on the European Asylum Support Office, and also a fact-finding mission on NGO vessels currently being held by Maltese authorities. "This fact-finding mission did not hear both sides of the story and that I believe that the Maltese authorities should have also provided their views."

When MaltaToday asked Agius whether he denied suggestions that he influenced the EP office’s decisions on MEPs’ missions to Malta, the PN candidate replied that the EP office has been led by someone else - currently an acting head - since August 2017. He had already left the office in February 2017 to work with Tajani.

“The office has always been led with impartiality and full professionality, now and when I was head. Saliba could have asked his colleagues, such as former MEP Joseph Muscat, as well as Miriam Dalli, Marlene Mizzi and Alfred Sant. It’s the second time Saliba is firing from the hip,” Agius said.

Saliba later told MaltaToday he stands by his comments about the European Parliament Information Office in Malta. “I believe that this Office’s role should be to primarily act as a bridge between this directly elected Institution and Malta, its citizens, its authorities and the various stakeholders. If this Office truly wanted to fulfill its obligations and act as an honest broker between this delegation of the European Parliament and the citizens, it would have advised the MEPs to meet with all concerned parties involved in this case. For the politicians to be able to make an informed judgement, the Office’s assistance to help the delegation get its facts straight is of utmost importance.

“If the delegation did not want to meet all the involved parties, then the Office should expose its sheer impartiality, after all, its prime loyalty should be towards the citizens. However, unless the Office publishes a statement to this effect, it would clearly mean that the Office did not fulfil its obligation.”

The last delegation – made up of chair Sophia in ’t Veld (ALDE), Nationalist Party MEP Roberta Metsola, and MEPs Josef Weidenholzer (S&D), Monica Macovei (ECR) and Sven Giegold (Greens) – was in Malta on 18 and 19 September to investigate the state of rule of law in Malta.

The comment also comes after Labour MEP Miriam Dalli complained that civil society NGOs selected for a recent working group of MEPs on rule of law had “a set narrative [that] was not representative of the Maltese population” and that other names put forward to the MEPs, which includes PN MEP Roberta Metsola, were discarded.

Miriam Dalli criticised the group’s visit, saying that names known for their impartial take on Malta, were discarded by the MEP organisers. “I would have expected that proposed names that could have brought some type of balance would have been included. Yet for some reason these were objected to. As far as I am concerned, a selection of people that the Working Group is speaking to is heavily skewed with a clear agenda against the Maltese government and does not allay in any way my fears that the working group is coming to Malta and base itself on facts.”

RIGHT OF REPLY

MaltaToday's article 'MEP candidate says suggestion he ‘controls’ EP office in Malta is nonsense' cites comments about the European Parliament Information Office in Malta by Mr Alex Saliba, described in this piece as a Labour candidate for MEP, expressing doubts in his It-Torċa newspaper column about the role of the EP Office in Malta in the context of the EP delegations that visited Malta last week. I'm writing to set the record straight about what the EP Office is and does.

First off, it's good to establish that the Offices represent the European Parliament as a whole, and there are European Parliament offices in all the EU Member States. Our aim is to make the EP's work visible and closer to European citizens including us Maltese. We strive to do this by providing centre stage to citizens and their elected representatives impartially and in a consistent manner throughout Europe, in fact the Offices act on the basis of a mission statement established by one the European Parliament’s decision-making bodies - the Bureau - that is made up of elected MEPs.

On the basis of this, when the European Parliament decides to send delegations of MEPs to EU Member States, all the EP's Offices also provide support to the visits of these Parliamentary delegations with a view to facilitate contacts with relevant stakeholders, on national/regional level, and to promote their visibility in the media. The EP delegations from the Civil Liberties Committee that visited Malta last week were two such official Parliamentary delegations. One of them visited Slovakia before visiting Malta, where their visit was handled in the same way. The European Parliament’s Committees have an established system in setting their programmes for such visits, in the same way that Committee agendas are set - and this is done by the coordinators of the political groups. The Offices are not involved and have no scope to be involved in establishing the visit programme as set by elected MEPs from around this European Union of ours.

Mr Saliba is reported in the MaltaToday article as saying that the Office’s role should be to primarily act as a bridge between this directly elected Institution and Malta. Indeed, and again based on the mission statement, European Parliament Offices are the European Parliament’s contact point for citizens in the Member States, with a mission to engage with the local population and increase awareness about what the European Parliament is, what it does and what it stands for. The ultimate goal being to convince and enable citizens to engage in the European democratic process.

The European Parliament Office in Malta is doing this in many different ways, just this year with public discussions ranging from the gender pay gap, to freedom of expression, to women’s participation in politics and the media, to issues faced by the Gozitan youths, and the future of Europe. This coming week we are launching a series of six events with each of our elected MEPs on legislation in the making that will impact us as part of the EU, kicking off with a public stakeholder consultation on fairness and transparency for business users of online services and following up with the emissions reductions report that will be voted in Plenary next week.

Maltese MEPs have a frontline role as rapporteurs in important pieces of legislation that will impact our lives and these discussions will help us Maltese citizens be aware of and have our say in what is decided by our representatives in Brussels. We invite Mr Saliba and all readers to come and participate in such discussions.

The EP Office in Malta will continue to work so that citizens feel truly a part of Europe and particularly the institution that is their direct voice, the European Parliament.

Anna Zammit Vella,
Acting Head, European Parliament Office in Malta

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