Sixth Seat Gymnastics

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The EU has paved the way for an agreement on Ireland holding a second referendum on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by October 31, 2009.

Generally speaking, this referendum will be introducing four new main guarantees for the Irish people: These consist in the following: 1. retention of one EU commissioner per member country; 2. full national autonomy in applying tax rates; 3. retention of the Irish concept of neutrality: 4. autonomy in the implementation of any laws related to the right to life, education and family values.

Nobody can foretell the outcome of next year’s Irish referendum result in October. However, if the Irish people vote in favour of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, this would have two immediate institutional repercussions on our country.

The first thing is that Malta would maintain its right to have a permanent commissioner in the EU Commission. Which means that, by January 2010, we would have a new commissioner in place of Joe Borg who has already announced that he is not interested in serving a second term.

The second institutional implication would mean that Malta would get an added sixth seat in the European Parliament, to be taken up also probably as from January 2010.

We Maltese and Gozitans shall be electing our members of the European Parliament on June 6. When we go to the vote, all Maltese citizens will know that they are voting for five MEPs who will take up their seats in July 2009 and for a possible sixth MEP who, pending the result of the referendum in Ireland, would take up the seat six months later, in January 2010.

It is obvious that all Maltese electors will be going to the vote with this frame of mind. Which is why it would be very unseemly and untoward for the Maltese government to try and disallow the citizens to elect the prospective sixth Maltese MEP, through their vote, as from June 2009. The Prime Minister’s utterances in this regard raise grave concerns as to his intentions. Following the agreement at the latest EU summit, he was asked whether this meant Malta would be voting for six MEPs next June. He immediately answered that “this would still not be the case if the treaty is not in place by June. In the current undecided scenario, it was still too early to say how the eventual sixth MEP would be chosen”.

He added: “Let’s not jump the gun”, reminding journalists that the treaty’s ratification was not a foregone conclusion. “We will decide when we get there. The most important thing is that we have been assured that our sixth MEP will be in place as soon as the treaty is ratified.”

In this first declaration to The Times, Dr Gonzi already puts in doubt the Maltese people’s right to indicate their sixth MEP preference as from the June elections.

In his declaration to The Malta Independent, the Prime Minister went a sure step further: “Dr Gonzi confirmed that, come June MEP elections, Malta will be voting for a total of five European parliamentarians while the ways and means of electing an MEP for the sixth additional seat would be decided upon at a later date”.

Here, the Prime Minister’s views are clearly exposed. He is openly stating that on June 6 the Maltese people will be called upon to indicate their preference only for five MEPs. Then, four months later, he will decide “the ways and means of electing the sixth additional seat”.

Can you imagine the scenario? Spending around €1 million of citizens’ tax money to hold elections on June 6 and then spending another considerable amount to elect another MEP in another election four months later? Or is the Prime Minister already thinking of depriving the people of their right to choose by nominating somebody directly through Parliament?

These suspicions are further strengthened when one reads what Simon Busuttil, the Prime Minister’s right hand-man, his favoured one for the PN secretary general post, has to say about the subject: “But once the Lisbon Treaty will not be in force by next June, when the next European Parliament elections are due, we will still be electing five members, not six” (The Times, December 17).

Such declarations are not said off the cuff but reveal a readiness to deprive the people of their democratic right to choose a sixth elected representative. It is obvious that, legally, if things stay as they are, the electoral office can issue a writ only for the election of five MEP seats next June. But, knowing that a few months later there is the possibility that a sixth seat comes up, this can be remedied through a resolution in the Maltese Parliament, which allows the Maltese and Gozitan electors to decide also on June 6 for the possible sixth seat, when and if this comes up.

Since we are living in a democratic country, where it is the voters who choose their representatives and not the government or the Parliament of the day, I am expecting the Prime Minister to table this resolution in the Maltese Parliament as soon as the House reconvenes in January.

Failure to do so would mean complete disrespect of the people’s will.

At this stage, the onus of re-establishing the people’s sovereignty would lie in the hands of the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Muscat, who should table the resolution himself.

I look forward to seeing whether we shall be regaled with further sixth seat gymnastics following the Christmas recess.

Dr Cassola is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party.

arnoldcassola@gmail.com, www.arnoldcassola.wordpress.com

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