The head of an EU mission to Malta has called on the country’s embattled prime minister to step down immediately.
European lawmaker Sophie In ‘t Veld told Euronews that there were two major issues with Muscat remaining in power for another 5 weeks:
"Everybody can see that this is very problematic, as how is he going to function in a credible manner, not just leading this country but also being on the council of the European Union?" In ‘t Veld said.
"And secondly we fear that this continued period will offer too much opportunity for people to tamper with evidence and to undermine the murder investigation that is going on and it's really essential that the truth comes to light and justice is done."
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was pelted with eggs by protesters on his way to meet the fact-finding team on Tuesday.
His promise to resign in January has done little to stop demonstrators gathering each night in the capital to demand that he quits now.
The anger was sparked by the way he's handled the investigation into the 2017 car bomb killing of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The delegation chief’s comments have raised the pressure on Muscat but according to In ‘t Veld "He's stuck by his position."
"We made it crystal clear what our concerns are," she said. "We see on the one hand that the police have made progress in the murder investigation but there is still a lot of work to be done."
"But what is very worrying is that the connected corruption cases are not being investigated and this is all very close to the Prime Minister. It was his chief of staff that seems to be part of all the different stories, the murder case, the corruption case, the money laundering, etc. And there are ministers in his cabinet who have stepped down now and it turns out that he himself has been in regular contact via SMS with the man who has now been charged with commanding the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia."
"You would say there are more than enough reasons to draw your conclusions and step down."
But where does this leave relations between the EU and Malta?
"Firstly, on the one hand, we care," In ‘t Veld said. "The Maltese people are fellow Europeans and deserve better and on the other side, Malta, as a part of the EU also undermines the whole fabric of the rule of law police and justice cooperation. It threatens the stability of the union, so the union should be on top of this."
The delegation will also meet during the 1 ½-day mission with the attorney general, journalists, Europol, civil society and family members of Caruana Galizia. And once this is complete In ‘t Veld says, there is still much work to be done.
"The murder case has to be resolved, the corruption cases have to be urgently investigated the fight against corruption has to be stepped up drastically and then there are a number of constitutional changes that apply to the independence of the judiciary, the integrity, and neutrality of the police."
"There is a long list of recommendations that the parliament already adopted back in March. We also called on the European Commission to start a dialogue which may lead to an article 7 procedure."
"The previous Juncker commission has not done anything, but we get signals now that the new commission may be considering article 7 and we would call on the commission to immediately start the rule of law dialogue because it's urgent."