The recovery plan and Edward Scicluna’s prickly pears

Earlier this week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, presented for the consideration of the European Parliament a recovery plan worth €750 billion but which can unleash an investment estimated at €3.1 trillion in the EU economy. Through a combination of loans and grants the EU Commission seeks to integrate the reversal of the economic downturn resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic together with the action required to implement the Green Deal.

The road to recovery will be tough. It is not the case of going back to normal but of going forward to a new normal. Integrating the recovery from the pandemic impacts with climate change action will not be easy but it is essential and cannot be postponed. As emphasised by Euroactive on Wednesday, the road to recovery has plenty of green strings attached. 25 per cent of the funding proposed by the EU Commission is in fact earmarked for climate action.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, in his first reaction to the recovery plan, voiced concern on practical climate action measures. It hurts, he says, to address air traffic emissions or shipping pollution. As an island this would impact us substantially. The proposed recovery plan is comparable to prickly pears, he stated. He prefers the status quo: all talk and little walk. Edward Scicluna is not amused by rumblings heard on corporate taxation even though he is well aware that the days of attracting corporations seeking tax havens within the EU may well be numbered.

It is correct to state that we will be impacted substantially. We can however negotiate to reduce such impacts without diminishing our commitment to addressing climate change impacts of the airline and shipping industry. This would mean significant impacts on tourism and trade. These however cannot be avoided as climate change impacts have to be internalised: that is they have to be shouldered by the industries generating them. This is what we promised in the Paris Climate Summit. Promises that we must now honour.

Operation recovery must re-design the future. It must not be just an economic recovery or an environmental rebirth. It must also be a recovery of practical solidarity all over the Union. What Edward Scicluna views as prickly pears are in fact instruments of solidarity.

Solidarity is not just what we rightly cry for when immigrants crash through our borders. Solidarity is what we ignore when Malta insists on being attractive to tax evaders: those who pay peanuts to the Maltese exchequer in order to avoid paying billions elsewhere. The issue of tax harmonisation on an EU level is the sensible response to the tax haven fiscal policies of Malta, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Ireland.

Oxfam in its 2019 report entitled “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” emphasises that “Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands are among the most significant tax havens in the world, enabling some of the biggest corporations to pay minimal amounts of tax. For example, currently, international tax rules allow Vodafone Group Plc to allocate nearly 40% of its taxable profits to Malta and Luxembourg.” We have also seen reports on BASF clearly explaining how the German chemical giant avoids paying taxes due. The European Greens report “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published in 2016 had outlined how BASF had successfully avoided close to a billion euros in tax, paying just a small amount thanks to Maltese governments blue and red.

The recovery must be primarily ethical before being economic and environmental. Regenerating our values should be a priority higher on the list than the regeneration of our coffers, currently dishing out dirty money originating from the sale of citizenship schemes. Monies collected from the likes of Russian billionaire Boris Mints, Egyptian national Mustafa Abdel Wadood, Chinese billionaire Liu Zhongtian, Russian businessman Pavel Melenikov and Israeli Anatoly Hurgin, who slipped through what is described as a rigorous due diligence process and gain Maltese citizenship only to be prosecuted in different jurisdictions for various crimes primarily fraud and money laundering.

It is indeed telling that in time of need Finance Minister Edward Scicluna is dependent on monies originating from such dubious sources! It would not be an exaggeration to state that he is dependent on the proceeds of crime.

In her reaction to the EU Commission proposals Evelyne Huytebroech co-Chair of the European Greens emphasised that the EU Commission’s proposal together with the proposals of the EU Parliament and the Franco-German initiative all foresee a mutualised debt instrument: a major breakthrough for European solidarity. Solidarity is constructed slowly and painfully, while Edward Scicluna juggles with his prickly pears.

Carmel Cacopardo
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 31 May 2020