Speaking points by Commissioner Jourová, in charge of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, on the occasion of her visit to Malta from 14 to 15 June 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank Minister Owen Bonnici, Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, and Minister Helena Dalli for their warm welcome today.
I came to Malta for many important reasons that are of concern for the whole European Union.
Malta is an economic success story, with strong growth, low unemployment and rising living standards.
But there are also some issues in Malta that recently focused attention of the whole of Europe and are really worrying.
My role, as European Justice Commissioner, is to sometimes ask difficult and honest questions, especially on the issues that affect all of us.
And some of the developments in Malta have impact way beyond your borders.
Let me start with an issue that deeply shocked Europe - the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia last October.
Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident. I was in Slovakia last week to honour another journalist who was also murdered a few months ago: Jan Kuciak.
I will meet tomorrow with officials overseeing the investigation in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The Commission expects an independent and thorough investigation to uncover who is really responsible for Daphne's murder, we want the full truth. The mastermind of this murder cannot go unpunished. There is no place in the EU for the murder of journalists.
This is not only a Maltese issue. Freedom of press is at stake in these two cases. The work of journalists is crucial for our democracies.
I think these two murders are a scar on our collective democratic consciousness and as politicians we have a special responsibility.
We have to create an environment where the journalists can do their job safely, even if we don't always like what they write.
If the journalists become afraid of writing some stories, we will all be in deep trouble.
Another topic that is important for each and every EU country is anti-money laundering measures. Following the panama papers and the series of terrorist attacks in Europe, we have to step up the fight against money laundering and financing of terrorism.
I fear there are gaps in the Maltese system.
I already met the Financial Intelligence Unit, in charge of ensuring that the anti-money laundering rules are respected.
Tomorrow I will also meet with Edward Scicluna, Minister for Finance and the Malta Financial Services Authority. We will discuss two things:
First, the transposition of the EU's 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, which Malta – like a number of other Member States – still needs to transpose fully.
Secondly, I am also very worried about all events surrounding the Pilatus Bank, and what this showed more generally about the challenges Malta faces in applying the existing anti-money laundering rules.
That is why I urged the European Banking Authority to investigate possible breaches by the Financial Intelligence Unit. I encourage the Maltese authorities to cooperate with the European Banking Authority and to follow their recommendations.
The fight against money laundering is not just about protecting our financial systems; and the gaps in one Member State have impact on all others. The money laundered in one country, can and often does support crime in another country.
And Malta is not the only country, where we see problems. Until the end of my mandate, I will focus on putting pressure everywhere, where we identified gaps.
We don't want any EU country to become a safe haven for criminals or corrupt people to launder money.
We owe it to Maltese citizens, and to all EU citizens.
Another area the Commission is closely following is the Maltese Individual Investor Programme.
Becoming a Maltese citizen also means becoming an EU citizen with all its rights, including of free movement.
The Commission's role is to guarantee that EU citizenship is delivered to people who actually have links to the country in which they apply for citizenship.
The Commission required in 2014 the Maltese authorities to only give Maltese citizenship to people who have a real link with the country and actually reside in the country for at least one year. I want to be reassured that this link is effectively respected.
My teams are now working on a report looking into national schemes granting EU citizenship to investors. It will be based on an in-depth fact-finding study, which will look in detail at legislation and practice in all Member States concerned, including Malta. This report will be published at the end of 2018.
Finally, I would like to confirm some very good news
Malta has decided to join the new European Public Prosecutor's Office. Minister Bonnici gave me the letter confirming it this morning.
I'm happy that Malta joins the 20 other Member States already part of it, and the Netherlands. The more countries participate the more efficient it will be to fight fraud against the EU budget and cross-border VAT fraud.
We are now setting up the EPPO. We are currently finalising the choice of the seat and starting to select its team. We hope to have it up and running at the end of 2020.
For me the visit to Malta is important. I think the murder of a journalist was a wake-up call for many of us that many things are related to one another. Money laundering, citizenship for sale, risk to pose a threat to security, the rule of law and democracy as such.
And I want to stress that the issues in Malta go beyond this island, they concern the whole of the EU.
Journalists will uncover issues that are not comfortable to all, but they need to be protected everywhere in the EU. They are one of the watchdogs of our democracies.
A problem in one EU country regarding the anti-money laundering might create a weak link for criminals in the EU. We cannot allow this to happen.
Finally, in a similar way, granting citizenship to investors in one EU country has an impact on all other countries. These new citizens will benefit from freedom of movement.
My message to everyone in Malta is that you're not alone. The European Commission is here to have a serious discussion and offer help. You are an important part of the European Union and we face common challenges of a historical dimension.
Only united we can face them and address concerns of our citizens, also of Maltese citizens.
But being in the Union also means to have trust in one another.
I believe we can address all these issues with the Malta authorities in the shortest delays.