Great: so now the EU is responsible for Daphne’s murder, too…

Last Wednesday Ursula von der Leyen evidently pissed off Robert Aquilina so much, by failing to stick to the approved ‘Repubblika script’

Repubblika president Robert Aquilina
Repubblika president Robert Aquilina

Never a dull moment in this country, is there? But let me start off with a small word of friendly advice to Repubblika’s president, Robert Aquilina.

Dear Robert: next time you decide to write an ‘open letter’ to someone of the stature of President of the European Commission – and especially if you also intend to distribute that letter to all local media (in PDF format, too: you know, so sub-editors can’t even correct any mistakes they find) – the very least you could do is… erm… run a spell-check first.

Now: I know I’ll probably end up kicking myself for this – because it is not exactly ‘good form’ to gloat over other writers’ mistakes, is it? - but this is the very first sentence of the letter Aquilina so hastily sent out to all local media on Thursday:

“Today is the 47th month since Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assasination [sic]”…

Yikes! Now: to be fair, that is what any sub-editor would immediately recognise as a ‘typo’ (as opposed to a ‘genuine mistake’: in which case, we would have to conclude that Robert Aquilina doesn’t actually know how to spell the word ‘assassination’).

But he does, you know. In fact, he gets it right in the very next sentence. So I imagine he must have typed that first sentence – and probably the whole letter – in something of a hurry. And quite possibly, with more than a touch of… ANGER (because – and here I speak from experience – that is when you are most likely to make such mistakes in the first place; and, even more so, to hit the ‘send’ button prematurely).

I am, however, less convinced that his next howler is quite so innocent. Two sentences later, Aquilina writes: ‘Last year, during the pubblication [sic] of the first EU-wide report on the rule of law…’

Oh, dear. In a sense, I suppose it’s just as well that Daphne herself is no longer around to actually react to that one. Judging by how she had once responded to a far more comprehensible misprint in The Times (‘purgery’ instead of ‘perjury’)… and also, the dim view she always took of such obvious ‘Maltese-isms’ - something tells me there wouldn’t be very much left of Robert Aquilina at all, after Daphne had finished tearing him limb from limb…

But OK, I can guess what you’re all probably thinking. I’m being quite the Grammar Nazi there, aren’t I?  And I think we can all agree (well, most of us, anyway) that ‘Nazis’ of any kind tend to be a rather unpleasant lot, when all is said and done. So… why am I attaching so much importance to a couple of (let’s face it) minor, unimportant mistakes, when there is so much else to comment about in that same letter?

Well… it’s a question that more or less answers itself. For while the typos, in themselves, may not amount to very much… the letter as a whole does amount to something rather extraordinary, when you read it all the way to the end. 

It’s not just that the President of Repubblika – an NGO which aims to ‘carry on the work of Daphne Caruana Galizia’, if you please - would write an ‘open letter’ to someone like Commission President Ursula von der Leyen… using a level of English that would be considered substandard, even coming from a dyslexic child… 

… no: it’s that the logic of the argument it contains is even more alarmingly flawed than the spelling. Let’s go over it again, shall we?

Robert Aquilina first quotes extensively from the findings of the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, published last July (important detail, that: keep it in mind).

In the interest of brevity, I will limit myself only to the main conclusion: i.e., that “the [Maltese] State must bear responsibility for the assassination […] because it created an atmosphere of impunity […] leading to a collapse in the rule of law.”

Having made this point, Aquilina adds: “The impunity […] had long been exposed and been brought to the attention of the European institutions, however it is our considered opinion that the European Union failed to sanction it in a timely manner. This failure allowed impunity to grow to such an extent that Daphne was assassinated…”

He then concludes that ‘the European Union has a responsibility to [inter alia] acknowledge its failure in allowing such a situation to take root and develop in a Member State…’

And I’ll stop there for now, because… my illogicality meter has already lost track of all the fallacies and non-sequiturs, in just those few sentences alone.

Let’s start (as we did with the typos) with the most bleedingly obvious of all. Mapped out as a syllogism, Aquilina’s logic runs as follows:

a) the Maltese State has been found ‘responsible’ for the circumstances that led to Daphne’s murder;

b) Malta is a Member State of the European Union;

c) Therefore, the European Union is just as responsible as the Maltese state for the same failure. Q.E.D…

I mean, honestly. That’s right up there with the most famous historical example of this particular logical fallacy: a quote attributed to the (deeply disturbed) French playwright/director Antonin Artaud, who ended his days as a deranged beggar on the streets of 1920s Paris:

‘Sir! The world has done me much wrong! You are part of the world, so you have wronged me! Give me five francs!”

With the difference, of course, that there is something vaguely endearing about Artaud’s tragic ramblings (I, for one, would certainly have given him ‘five francs’… even if just for the sheer ingenuity of the demand).

But coming from a supposed serious NGO, which has adopted at its battle-cry the equally serious motif, ‘Justice for Daphne’… I mean, come on. It’s nuts. And even I – not exactly the biggest fan of either the European Commission, or its current President – can easily see that.

It gets a lot worse, however, when you also realise that Robert Aquilina has got his chronology of events all muddled up.  Consider, for instance, his claim that: “the impunity […]  had long been brought to the attention of the European institutions”… which, within the context of the entire argument, can only be chronologically placed at a point BEFORE Daphne was actually murdered (otherwise, how could the EU’s ‘failure to act’ have possibly led to that assassination…?)

Um… sorry, Robert, but that’s bollocks. Not true at all. And anyone reading this can very easily confirm as much, by simply running an Internet search for ‘discussions about Malta’s rule of law situation at EU level’ (or key-words to that effect). 

I can guarantee that you will not find a single one that pre-dates October 2017…. for the very self-evident reason that it was Daphne’s murder that actually precipitated all the discussions – and condemnations – that followed. Before that happened, however… there was, quite frankly, no real reason for any European institution to even discuss the matter at all.

The very most that could have been (and was) ‘brought to the attention of European institutions’ – at any point before October 2017 – was the fact that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had refused to sack Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, after their exposure in the Panama Papers.

And yes, granted: it must have looked suspicious, to say the least. Even so, however: on one level, it merely raises the question of what the European Commission could actually have done, even if it was concerned. What did Robert Aquilina expect? That it would bring down a democratically-elected government in a member state… because it ‘didn’t agree’ with how it handled what was ultimately a domestic, internal matter?

And secondly: even if the European Commission did take some form of ‘timely’ action, over that one issue… what, are we seriously expected to believe that that sort of intervention - on its own - would have somehow helped to prevent Daphne’s murder from taking place?

That is the precisely sort of absurd reasoning that makes even Antonin Artaud look like a beacon of sanity and rationality. And that’s before we get to the part about the curious timing of this (let’s face it) childish outburst.

The date on the letter is September 16 – the day of Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to Malta, and one day after her ‘State of the Union’ address last Wednesday – but the inquiry conclusions that Aquilina quotes have actually been in the public domain since July 29.

So… why did Repubblika wait until last Thursday, precisely, to draw the Commission’s attention to its own failures? Why not at any other point over the past six weeks…?

Well… again, the question practically answers itself. Because it was only last Wednesday that Ursula von der Leyen evidently pissed off Robert Aquilina so much, by failing to stick to the approved ‘Repubblika script’. It was only last Wednesday, that the European Commission president committed the unpardonable crime of referring to the present Maltese government as anything other than ‘the scum of the earth’.

So how did Repubblika respond? Why, exactly the same way as it has always done to anyone who voices an opinion different from their own. By lashing out in anger – making all sorts of embarrassing mistakes in the process – and by shooting off wild accusations of being somehow ‘responsible for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder’

They did to me (in which case, the specific charge was ‘helping the mafia to get away with its crimes, thereby being part of it’). More recently, they did it to Shift contributor Blanche Gatt… this time, accusing her of being ‘paid by Yorgen Fenech to undermine Jason Azzopardi’ (I mean, for f***’s sake…)

And now, they’ve even gone and done it to the President of the European Commission. So… um… who’s it going to be next, Robert? Pope Francis…?