On the border between Europe and Africa, Malta is an important fringe state. How will it fare in the May elections? By Bilquees Daud
Malta’s history goes back thousands years. The imprint of its rich civilizational heritage dating back to pre-historic times can be seen even in today times. Located in the heart of Mediterranean Sea, it was named by the Phoenicians, ‘Malta’ meaning ‘safe haven’. The state is made up of seven islands among which the three largest, Malta, Gozo and Comino are inhabited with 0.4 million people. After having experienced years of colonial rule under different colonizing powers, Malta got its independence in 1964. It declared itself as a republic in 1974, though continued to be associated with the British Commonwealth up until 1979. After Malta ended its special relationship with its former colonial master, it started developing neutral relations with other European countries. Though Malta is a European island, its strategic location places it in close proximity to the African countries such as Tunisia and Algeria. Thus, with the softening of borders within Europe after creation of the EU, Malta has witnessed a steady influx of African immigrants who see it as their springboard towards attaining the better life opportunities offered by Europe.
The political structure in Malta is based on a multi-party system. Elections take place after every five years and the competition is usually between the two major parties, the Christian Democratic Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista) and the Social Democratic Labor Party (Partit Laburista). Beside these, other small parties like Alliance for Social Justice and Green Party also exist but so far they enjoy limited support base. The country is a democratic republic that has a “parliamentary representative” system where the President is the head of the state and the Prime Minister is the head of the government. The Maltese Constitution denotes Catholicism as the state religion, while guaranteeing religious freedoms to the sections of the population practicing other faiths.
Malta’s political association with Europe began in 1965 when it became a member of the Council of Europe and showed its commitments to the human rights Convention by incorporating its values into the national constitution. Subsequently, Malta applied for EU membership in 1996, but in the same year, after winning the election, the Labor Party “froze” the application. Later on in 2005, was now ruled by the Nationalist Party, it ratified the proposed EU constitution.In 2008 the country joined the eurozone. Recently, in the 2013 general election, the Labor Party won an absolute majority, defeating the Nationalists after 15 years, but this has not affected Malta’s march towards integration with the EU, indicated strongly by the Labor Party appointing former MEP Joseph Muscat as prime minister.
On one hand, Malta’s government pursues its interest by joining the EU in terms of having a framework of cooperation for social, economic and political developments. On the other hand, Malta also brings a southern dimension to the Union due to its location: its role in the Mediterranean is valuable for trading and the integration of Mediterranean peoples into the Europe through its active participation in the “EuroMed” process. Also, the Malta government plays an important role in the region and is part of many international organizations as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Further, Malta’s location as being one of the important trade routes in Mediterranean makes it an attractive destination for foreign investors. However, the country does not have adequate water supply and energy sources; the economy is heavily dependent on foreign trade. Recently, the government has started privatizing its markets to meet the demands of EU. However there exist serious political divides in the country on joining the EU and its single market. In this light, the upcoming European Parliament election on 24 May 2014 will elect six MEPs to represent Malta. The candidates have urged the people to vote and have a voice in the election. Those candidates who win would play an important role in shaping the contours of Malta’s engagement with the EU in the future.
Image: ‘Malta’ courtesy to Ben Ward via flickr, released under Creative Commons.