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Malta spotlights justice & culture ahead of EU presidency

Interview - September 16, 2016

For the first time since its accession in 2004, Malta will assume the EU presidency from January to June 2017, coinciding with the EU’s 60th anniversary. This is a unique opportunity for Malta to be at the center of the international attention and to influence regional policy with its open and progressive approach. Malta’s Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Dr Owen Bonnici discusses their aims for both Malta and the EU next year.



What are the main aims that Malta’s government is targeting during its tenure at the helm of the European Union?   

We have identified four key priorities for Malta’s presidency:

  1. A smart Europe: making the most of the opportunities in the EU. Here, the Mediterranean dimension and maritime policy are of significant importance to Malta. Other areas fitting within this priority include the digital single market strategy.
  2. Solidarity in Europe: our aim is to enhance cooperation to mitigate the issues of irregular migration. In this area we will also be giving importance to security and the fight against terrorism.
  3. A dynamic Europe: our aim is to increase competitiveness through investment in areas such as education, training and sustainable energy. Of significant importance for Malta in this area will be the single market files.
  4. An inclusive Europe: Malta wants an EU that does not stand still when faced with issues such as poverty and social exclusion. However, we will keep in mind that the EU must remain flexible and cater for the different needs of its member states.


What are the expectations of Malta’s presidency in general?

At the end of the presidency, we want to be able to provide answers. We will work hard to be a presidency that addresses the deficit in citizens’ faith. To be able to do so, Malta’s actions need to be timely and effective to avoid situations similar to the ones we’ve faced during the financial and migration crisis.

Malta is doing its utmost to be best prepared, although it is aware that there is a significant element of work that is unforeseeable. Malta is pooling all the information it receives, assessing it and feeding it into its planning exercises.


And what are the expectations of Malta in relation to justice and culture specifically?

From both justice and culture points of view, during its presidency, Malta’s main priority will be to achieve as much progress as possible on any pending legislative proposals and to follow any upcoming legislative proposals, especially those which will start being discussed during our presidency.

Pending legislative proposals include:

  • Proposal for a Council regulation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office;
  • Proposal for a regulation of the EP and of Council on the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust);
  • Proposal for a directive of the EP and Council on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law;
  • Audiovisual media services directive;
  • Proposal for a Council regulation on jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of decisions in matrimonial matters and matters of parental responsibility and on international child abduction (recast) - Brussels IIa.

Upcoming legislative proposals include:

  • Proposed directive on combating fraud and counterfeiting on non-cash means of payment, as part of the Commission’s Action Plan for strengthening the fight against terrorist financing as part of the EU’s agenda to fight terrorism;
  • A legislative proposal harmonizing money laundering criminal offences and sanctions, which is also part of the action plan for strengthening the fight against terrorist financing;
  • Legislative proposals on business insolvency.


Could you give some examples of upcoming events you have planned for next year?

Among several events that will be organized during Malta’s presidency, the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government is planning the organization of the following meetings that will be held in Malta:

  • Informal Justice (and Home Affairs) Council of Ministers on 27 January 2017;
  • EPPO Conference on 10 February 2017;
  • Online Hate Speech Conference on 7 April 2017;
  • European Judicial Network Civil (19-21 April 2017) and Criminal (28-30 June 2017) Conferences;
  • Culture Conference on 9 March 2017.

All this involves a lot of hard work by the government, which started since the day it took office. It has included bilateral and multilateral meetings with member states and EU institutions, attended by the Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers and Ambassadors. It has also entailed meetings with local stakeholders and civil society to explain what the presidency involves and how it’s preparing for it: it’s an opportunity to engage with civil society and communicate on EU issues. The preparations have also included strengthening Malta’s human resources, in Malta and Brussels, and training working parties and presidency teams, etc.


What benefits can the EU gain from Malta’s progressive approach?

From a justice perspective, Malta has been proactive on matters such as children and drugs. The Maltese Government also has a bold strategy when it comes to justice reform, which emanates from the electoral manifesto. Our ultimate objective is to move Malta to the higher ranks of the justice scoreboard – progress has already been registered over the past three years and more progress is foreseen. This is sought after to provide all our citizens with as efficient a judicial system as possible.


The presidency gives Malta the opportunity to lead the negotiations of the UK’s future ties with the EU once it leaves the Union.

We need to respect the UK’s democratic decision, and to reflect on the impact and show resolve.

In terms of the way forward, it is too early to speculate on what the UK will ask for. Malta will be constructive but careful not to create a model for other countries to follow suit.

The EU faces three major tasks on which we must move simultaneously:

  1. We expect the UK to formulate what it wants out of its future relationship with the EU; the situation is without precedent;
  2. The EU has to evaluate the causes and effects of the UK referendum – a clear manifestation of Europe’s inner tensions and citizens’ frustrations. Tensions are not limited to the UK;
  3. Thirdly, Europe must continue moving forward, not allowing resources to get unduly diverted.

Given the current UK situation anomalous situation, where UK citizens democratically voted for their country to exit the EU, we believe our presidency needs to focus on bringing the EU closer to citizens, and avoid similar recurring situations.

Our preparations – both in terms of logistics as well as those on content and priorities, will be effected by this Brexit vote. At this stage, it is still too early to say to what extent this will impact our presidency.

Our aim is to deliver a presidency that provides a meaningful contribution to the European process. Malta is confident that with its team of dedicated people, it will be able to sail through the presidency with the best possible outcomes and results.

Malta has always had good relations with the UK, thus placing Malta in a good position to negotiate with the UK, even during the presidency. Through our PM Joseph Muscat, Malta is the current commonwealth chair in office for the coming years, thus placing it once again in an advantageous position regarding its relations with the UK.


While most of the economies in the European Union seem to be stuck with very low economic growth rates, Malta managed to record an impressive 6.3% in 2015. Malta is positioning itself as an alternative for companies willing to enter the EU market, even more now with Brexit. What judicial benefits can Malta offer international companies and investors?

Future investors can count on an accessible and robust legal framework inspired by British laws and compliant with EU requirements.

The diverse historical backdrop of the Maltese Islands has left its imprint/effects upon our legal system. Malta's legal system was for many centuries based on Roman law. This was intensified with the coming of the Order of the Knights of St John to Malta. However the cession of the Maltese people to British rule also left significant effects on our legal system.

Our legal system is of a hybrid nature – a meeting point and melting pot of both continental law as well as the common law legal principles bridging the two legal systems. This hybrid nature has made it easier for companies from all over the globe to establish themselves and/or to relocate to our shores, helping investors feel welcome on our islands, providing them with a similar legal experience to the one in their home countries.

The fact that our commercial law, as well as our financial services legislation (especially after the 1995 amendment package), is largely based on the common law legal system and tradition gives investors who are currently considering a possible move away from the UK (due to the effects of Brexit) an opportunity to relocate their going concern to Malta with more ease.

Malta’s commercial law and financial services legislation provide a strong legal framework conducive to legal certainty – and one that is based on the principles of democracy, fundamental human rights and the rule of law.


The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Malta 48th out of 140 countries in its competitiveness rankings. What other advantages does the country have to offer?  

The fact that English is Malta’s official language, alongside the Maltese language, can be deemed to be another factor that helps to make investors feel more at ease in doing their business in Malta.

Our strategic geographical positioning (which just like our language and legal system is a meeting point of two continents) also encourages investors to base themselves in Malta.

Malta has been on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) white list for a number of years, further proof of Malta’s strong legal system.

Business legislation here is fully compliant with EU directives to attract quality rather quantity business to Malta. Our legal framework aims to attract quality and businesses with a good reputation, rather than merely attracting numerous businesses.

To be in line with EU regulations and to have this high quality of legal framework, Malta has implemented strict money laundering, insider dealing and professional secrecy laws in line with international and EU standards.

This results in great confidence in the Maltese legal system, especially due to the fact that Malta has a single regulator for financial services (MFSA), which regulates and provides on-going supervision of all licensed activity falling under its authority, including financial and credit institutions, investment, trust and insurance business.

This authority boasts a pro-business approach, which together with its high level of accessibility of its management and a compact decision-making structure, allows Malta to offer bespoke yet robust solutions within what is a dynamic and rapidly evolving sector.

Since the MFSA also houses the Company Registry and the International Tax Unit, it provides a one-stop shop, making it more efficient for companies who are given a straightforward and rapid service.

All this grants the Maltese islands an added competitive edge.