from today's Times of Malta :
INFRINGEMENT PROCEDURES BY EU
The government could be forced to eliminate the unpopular departure tax altogether as the EU finally initiates infringement procedures against the country, The Times has learnt. The European Commission has written to the government saying it deemed the Lm20 tax discriminatory on two counts.
The government's decision to double the departure tax in the 2004 budget was met with a chorus of disapproval as many lamented that it hindered their freedom of movement in an island where air travel is a must. In July 2005, the Federated Association of Travel and Tourism Agents lodged an official complaint with the EU, claiming, among other things, that Maltese agents were put at a competitive disadvantage should they want to team up with foreign agents.
The arguments put forward by the EU are two-fold: Firstly it deems it discriminatory that the tax is levied on anybody travelling out of Malta while those taking a "flight" to Gozo are not. The tax was found to be in breach of EC Regulation 2408/92.
The Commission also believes the tax is making it difficult for the Maltese to provide and receive services. For example, the EU deems it a disincentive that lawyers or doctors cannot easily go and see clients overseas.The EU was informed that the departure tax was introduced merely for revenue purposes and, in the circumstances, is deemed to be out of line with EU legislation.
A letter of formal notice has been sent to the government, which now has to submit its observations within two months. When contacted, Joanna Drake, the head of the EU Representation in Malta, confirmed the Commission's decision.
"The Commission has expressed reservations on two legal basis. This is the first move in infringement proceedings," Dr Drake explained. Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil was among the first to point out that the hike in the air departure tax was incompatible with EU law and would need to be revised or repealed altogether.
Apart from the Lm20 departure tax, passengers have to pay a fuel surcharge, a passenger service charge and a security charge.