The Maltese class of political opportunists has once again squirmed out of its usual hideout. The occasion this time is the European Commission's request for information regarding Malta's departure tax. To begin with, someone should explain the nature of a request for information - and who better than someone who deals with this kind of procedue daily? :)
So, the European Union has a set of laws that are there to be observed. One of the duties of the Commission is to see that all Member States implement the laws of the European Union and that they do not have any internal legislation that goes against or creates an obstacle to such laws. When the Commission (either through its own investigations or through a complaint) has reason to believe that a State is in any way violating European law, the first step is to request information (normally giving a deadline of two months). This is an informal phase of "discovery" where the State is given a chance to explain its situation. Importantly the request does not constitute a "decision" of the Commission nor does it mean that any violation has been proven to exist. If you like we can call it an inquisitorial phase. (FATTA please take note).
If the Commission is still not satisfied with the answer it will send a letter that starts the formal proceedings with a further deadline (lettre de mise en demeure). This letter will be a little more specific with regards to what the Commission suspects the State to have violated. Following the deadline, the Commission will send what is called an Informed Opinion (Avis motive') to the State outlining its main charges in the Infringement Proceedings. All through this, the State has time to prepare adequate defence and/or show the Commission that any violation has been remedied. If the Commission is pleased with the state's answer it will desist from any further action (desistement) while if it still feels that the State either continues to violate or that its violation could have prejudiced individuals and could give rise to individual claims it will start infringement proceedings before the European Court of Justice (recours en manquement).
The ECJ will declare whether the state of violation exists.
There. That is a rough summary of what lies ahead in proceedings like the one regarding the departure tax. In between lie an exchange of legal argumentations based on interpretation of the law, possible exceptional circumstances and more. Which is the part I cannot comment about.
What is interesting on the other hand is how suddenly everyone is on the side of the Commission. In a way it is a positive move - and a clear signal that the EU is working in our island too... in another it is sad to see that many voices have started to croak only now that the boat is set in motion and that the government has already partially given stating that a tweak to the tax might be necessary (and it is not necessarily right). It is sad that some people do not have the balls to speak and call a spade a spade when the question is still uncertain.
But they will surely be there shouting victory and I told you so when the tax is probably revised/removed. Do note that the government stance that "it might have to revise the tax" allows it to shout victory even if it is forced to reduce it to Lm1. Sic transit gloria melitae.