Down the slippery slope - www.timesofmalta.com
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The contrast between the two stories on the back page of this newspaper two Sundays ago (The Sunday Times, July 1) left me dumbfounded.
On one side there was report saying that the EU had decided to investigate the alleged breach of two directives by seeking a clarification regarding the permit for the redevelopment of Ulysses Lodge, overlooking Ramla Bay in Gozo.
On the other side there was a contribution signed by Barbara Bode (European Commission lashes back) implying that the EU Commission had already officially declared that the Ulysses Lodge redevelopment permit was actually in breach of two directives. The two pieces were placed around an aerial photo of Ramla Bay that does not include the Ulysses Lodge site!
I understand Ms Bode is a senior American citizen who has retired in Gozo. As a senior citizen myself, I think she has made a very good choice. What intrigued me was the ambiguity about her piece: was it an objective journalistic report or a part of a personal campaign that she has every right to pursue?
In other words it was unclear for the average Sunday Times reader whether this was a subjective opinion piece or a journalistic report. So I tried to look for the truth, or whatever they call it nowadays.
When someone makes a formal complaint to the European Commission, the Commission, as guardian of the EC Treaty, investigates that complaint and may even send its experts to that particular member state where the alleged breach is taking place.
This procedure is therefore automatically triggered on the assumption that the formal complaint is factually correct. However, the only 'action' taken at this stage is simply the sending of a formal notice to the authorities concerned, who have to reply within a certain deadline.
This is the stage at which the Ramla complaint has arrived up to now, although the formal notice had not even been delivered officially to the Maltese government when Ms Bode wrote her piece. In the case of the Fort Cambridge development, the government has already publicly explained its case and one can surmise what its formal reply will include.
If the European Commission is satisfied with the answer, the case will stop there. If the member state fails to reply, or if the Commission considers the response of the member state to be inadequate, it will then issue a reasoned opinion.
If the member state then fails to comply with the reasoned opinion - usually within two months - the Commission can decide that the case is serious enough to warrant its referring the case to the European Court of Justice.
If the court finds that an obligation has not been fulfilled, the State must bring this failure to an end without delay. If, after a further action is brought by the Commission, the court finds that the member state concerned has not complied with its judgment, it may impose a fixed or periodic financial penalty on that member state.
That is the point in time when the EU Commission 'lashes out'! After due process, of course, not when the 'accused' party has not even been informed, let alone replied!
I have tried, for comparison purposes, to obtain statistics of environment infringement proceedings that the EU Commission has initiated against various member states. I will not bore you with the details that anyone can get from the relevant page on the EU Website (ec.europa.eu/community_law/eulaw/index_en.htm#infr...).
It is enough for me to point out that in November last year there were 1,242 open infringement proceedings. All this so-called "lashing out" at Malta should be seen in the perspective of the totality of infringement actions that the Commission is continuously pursuing.
On Monday June 25, hundreds participated in the 'Save Gozo' protest march organised by a number of environmental NGOs in Valletta, to the reported absolute delight of Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar spokesperson, Astrid Vella.
Since then, two interesting facts have appeared in the local press. The first concerns the presence of a delegation comprising the GWU's top officials in the protest march. This included Salv. Sammut, GWU president, who was later reported to have lobbied the PM's office for the approval of the MEPA application for the extension of the Mellieha Bay Danish Village complex that is managed by the GWU that, I understand, also owns a share in it.
The approved extension was for 30 units to be built on undisturbed garigue and in a "special area of conservation" next to Ghadira nature reserve - a situation that is much worse from an environmental perspective than the redevelopment of Ulysses Lodge in Gozo.
If any MEPA-approved development is in breach of the EU Habitats Directive, then this is it - not the one overlooking Ramla Bay in Xaghra, Gozo! Yet this was approved by MEPA without anyone uttering even a murmur of protest!
I have not heard any NGO say anything about it. Perhaps they are overstretched and have no time for this, although there seems to have been no problem for the hypocrisy of the GWU joining the environmental lobby and protesting about the environmentally sensitive building permits that are being given to others by MEPA!
The other story is the unbelievable situation that the MLP Xaghra mayor has found himself in. In an incredible twist that can only happen in Malta, it was revealed that the mayor, Joseph Cordina, is still listed on the official MFSA register as the secretary of the company that owns Ulysses Lodge and is redeveloping it.
It seems that he asked to be relieved of this post only some three or four months ago - much after the MEPA application for the permit was submitted by the company.
Mr Cordina, however, claims that his connections with the company were severed in 2001 - when the company was sold to new owners - but his name kept appearing "erroneously" as the company secretary; even though company law is very specific on the obligations and duties of a person who is designated as the company secretary.
Yet Mr Cordina avoided publicly taking sides in the controversy about the issue and, I understand, he did not participate in the 'Save Gozo' march... So when the names of the MEPA board members who approved the Ulysses Lodge redevelopment (as well as the GWU-owned and managed Ghadira - garigue destruction - development) were called out to be publicly booed, Mr Cordina was not present.
Among those who booed, there was a sizable presence of MLP Members of Parliament, members of the MLP executive and of the MLP youth branch. All MLP sympathisers were welcome to inflate the delightful turnout of the 'Save Gozo' march.
Sadly, the beautiful slopes around Ramla l-Hamra (that will not be touched by the approved redevelopment) have now come to symbolise the slippery slope on which genuine - albeit sometimes misguided - environmental activists are finding themselves as a result of personal and political interests trying to take a free ride on their honest concerns.
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