As the dust settles from days of negotiations to select the top posts in the European Union, Malta’s attention will start to turn to who exactly will be the country’s next EU Commissioner and what that would mean at home in terms of a Cabinet reshuffle.
This time around, it seems all Member States are being encouraged to nominate two candidates – one of each gender – so that the European Commission President can then select a gender-balanced team.
Currently occupied by Karmenu Vella, who sits as the Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, sources who spoke to Lovin Malta identified some of the leading candidates for the job:
1. Minister for European Affairs and Equality Helena Dalli
Dalli is the front runner. She has already made her intentions to occupy the position clear, and it’s easy to see why. Dalli, who is currently the Minister for European Affairs and Equality, led Malta during the country’s presidency of the EU council, using the platform to establish critical relationships.
She also was able to lead Malta, a still staunchly Roman Catholic country, to becoming a progressive leader on the European stage when it comes to LGBTIQ+ issues.
Dalli has also been a crucial figure in Muscat’s administration from the very beginning and has maintained her favour within the Cabinet. In fact, she was even touted as a ‘Muscat’ candidate in her unsuccessful bid to be the Labour Party’s deputy leader.
2. Minister for Education and Employment Evarist Bartolo
Once linked to Malta’s Presidency until George Vella was selected for the role, Bartolo’s long experience may be what’s needed for the position. Having been a Member of Parliament since 1992, he has at times worked on European Affairs beyond his usual remit of Education.
Bartolo, has at times, been an outspoken member of the Labour Party, a rarity in Muscat’s administration, even calling for Konrad Mizzi to step down following the Panama Papers revelation. This may work against him, however it could also be argued that the ruling party may feel more comfortable with Bartolo focused on work in Brussels.
3. Minister for Finance Edward Scicluna
A former MEP himself, Scicluna could also be in the running. However, it is believed that he does not have an interest in the role. Standing him in good stead is his long-term experience in both local and European politics, and the brains behind the economic boom that has allowed Muscat to grow his majority consistently.
Scicluna has said he will not serve another term beyond this legislature, potentially opening the door for a final political send-off within the EU.
4. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Although it has been said that the Prime Minister would want to avoid a grilling by the European Parliament, Joseph Muscat could well nominate himself for the role of Commissioner given that his ambition to become European Council President failed last night.
If Muscat were to promote himself to the role, Muscat would automatically become a Vice President of the Commission as a former Head of State and would most likely occupy one of the most important portfolios.
It will also give him the chance to do more significant work on the European stage and forge crucial connections that may lead him to one of the roles he desperately wants.
Stopping Muscat, sources explain, is the perceived step-down for a leader who enjoyed unrivalled success at home. Rumours are currently suggesting that Muscat may now put his focus on becoming the next Secretary General at the Commonwealth next year.