EU energy ministers are pushing to allow public funds to help build a gas pipeline to a power station in Malta, jointly owned by a businessman awaiting trial for the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
On Tuesday, officials and MPs will start deciding on new rules to phase out EU subsidies for fossil fuel projects.
However, on Friday EU ambassadors confirmed that Malta and Cyprus had obtained exemptions for gas pipelines that would connect them to European gas networks.
In practice, this means that the € 400m (£ 340m) Melita pipeline project, designed to transport gas from Gela in Sicily to Delimara in Malta, could be built with EU funds.
Cyprus should also benefit from a derogation from the phasing out of EU support for fossil fuel infrastructure. The € 7 billion EastMed pipeline is an even bigger undertaking than the Malta-Italy link – it will join Cyprus to the European gas network with Greece and Israel.
The move has been criticized by environmental activists because it would block Malta’s dependence on the Delimara gas plant, which is partly owned by the man accused of organizing the murder of Caruana Galizia.
Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech was previously a director of ElectroGas, the company that operates the Delimara power plant, and holds a key stake in the company with his family. He was charged this year with conspiracy in the murder of Caruana Galizia. Maltese prosecutors have recommended a life sentence, and he must stand trial. Fenech denies having played a role in the murder.
Before his arrest he was managing director of his family business, the Tumas Group, which joined forces with other Maltese families to secure a third of ElectroGas shares. He owns shares in the company through Tumas and a separate company. His uncle and president of Tumas, Raymond Fenech, said he was unaware of the EU’s proposals.
“Yorgen Fenech is a minority shareholder of the Tumas group and owns less than 4% of the shares of the company which were transferred by inheritance,” he added.
Caruana Galizia was investigating the award of the Delimara power plant contract to ElectroGas when she died in a car bomb in 2017. Maltese police said they believed she was killed for her reporting on the plant electric.
Barnaby Pace, gas activist at the corruption and environmental organization Global Witness, said: “This pipeline threatens to prevent Malta from using polluting fossil fuels and dealing with this fossil gas project. , linked to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, for decades to come. . The EU must put the interests of the Maltese and EU citizens ahead of the profits of the big polluters and refuse to get involved in a new fossil fuel deal. “
ElectroGas maintains that the gas-fired power plant marked an environmental improvement when it opened in 2017, as it replaced a power plant that runs on heavy fuel oil, which is even more polluting than gas. Malta is also supplied with electricity by an interconnection connecting it to Sicily.
Delimara is currently powered by liquefied natural gas, which is transported by ship. With the interconnection to Sicily, it meets most of the country’s energy needs. Only around 7% of electricity in Malta is produced from renewable sources, one of the lowest rates in the EU.
An EU official said Malta had the support of other EU ambassadors when the exemption was obtained on Friday. “Several delegations have spoken explicitly in favor of maintaining the waiver,” the official said.
A group of 11 countries, including Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, had initially pushed for existing fossil fuel projects to be excluded from support. But Cyprus and Malta, supported by most delegations from Eastern Europe, were able to highlight a 10-year-old European Council conclusion that “no EU member state should remain isolated from European gas networks. and electricity after 2015 ”.