The 2016 Eurobarometer 84 report shows Malta expressing confidence in the different EU institutions with a margin of 50% – 55%; some of the highest in all the member states, with 93% saying they were happy. However, the Maltese relationship with the EU has always been split starting from the initial application for Malta’s accession in 1990 by the Nationalist government, which was subsequently frozen in 1996 when the Labour party took office.
Fortunately it was only two years later that a further general election was called and the Labour government lost power again due to internal issues, and thus the application was reinstated, and relations between Malta and the EU, renewed. It was 13 years after the initial application that Malta voted in a referendum as to whether the country should join the EU or not, however the Labour Party once again sought to stop accession by denying the 53.6% result in favour, claiming that it was in reality only 49%. This led to another general election to settle the issue once and for all. Once more, fortunately for accession’s sake, the Nationalist Party remained in government and Malta finally joined the EU on 1 May 2004.
The following years saw a gradual change in the Maltese people’s previously almost 50-50 stance on the EU with the 2009 Eurobarometer 71 pointing out that 57% were in favour of the EU and 67% felt that improvements were being made due to Malta’s accession. This percentage skyrocketed by 2013 when the Eurobarometer 79 found that over 80% of the Maltese felt positively European, while a 2015 study conducted by the British Social Research Agency found that Malta was the third ‘most European country’ in terms of the people’s feelings towards the Union.
Ever since then, the local political scene had quite an upheaval with the Labour party gaining an overwhelming majority in the 2013 general election, but this time having a completely different approach to the EU, despite being led by Dr Joseph Muscat, who was previously one of the front-runner sceptics. This was recently pointed out in The Daily Mail with their harrowingly bitter report about how Malta has gone from the colonised, to one with a say in Britain’s future, going so far as to say that “Malta can hold its former colonial master hostage,” thanks to Brexit. Interestingly enough, in the aforementioned study by the British Social Research Agency, it was found that the UK was dead last in ‘Europeanness’, and this was in 2015, with 64% of the people claiming they did not feel European.
The Prime Minister has now made it his goal to be as European as possible, with the final cherry on the cake being the European Presidency this year. ‘The Maltese Priorities’, as laid out on the website www.eu2017.mt are Migration, The Single Market, Security, Social Inclusion, Europe’s Neighbourhood and Maritime. It was very important for the government not to allow Brexit discussions to hijack the presidency this year to the detriment of other issues, as the Prime Minister himself said in a press briefing following the infamous referendum’s result.
The idea here is to insist on the implementation of already established measures, what with the topic being ever present on the European agenda. Malta has been struggling to cope with irregular migration for years, with the latest blind fumbling at a solution being the sudden change in Temporary Human Protection legislation which backfired after public outcry in reaction to inhumane imprisonment of a number of Malian migrants.
The Single Market:
A large focus on strengthening the Single Market will be undertaken, specifically when it comes to further development of the Digital Single Market and the Internal Energy Market. Objectives include finally ending roaming charges; no discrimination between countries in terms of prices and conditions online; and a review of the Energy Efficiency package to reduce energy consumption in both residential and industrial areas.
All efforts at fighting the ever-present and increasingly tragic terror attacks all over Europe and the world are pointing at a more federalist approach implying the pooling of resources to be more united in the battle for the safety of all European and global citizens alike. There will also be an ironic focus on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office in order to increase financial security, while the Maltese government is currently intertwined in the Panama Papers scandal.
With Malta being a self-professed pioneer in LGBTIQ and gender rights within the EU, there will be a focus on further equality, despite Dr Muscat mentioning the idea of gender quotas in order to have more female inclusion in Parliament. This was received with a very high level of scrutiny from civil society both locally and abroad.
Considering the country’s geographical position, Malta is perhaps one of the most at risk countries when considering potential ripple effects from the political and military unrest in the Southern Mediterranean region. Key priorities will be the stabilisation of Libya, resumed efforts in the Middle East Peace Process, trade negotiations with Tunisia and others.
The final priority is one of the most angled at the fact that we are an island nation, although International Ocean Governance will be focussed on, as well as the Western Mediterranean Sea Basin Initiative.
When it comes to whether or not the Maltese consider themselves European, the answer is a glaringly obvious yes for the most part. It was a genuine struggle to get here, but both sides of the political spectrum are in agreement that the EU has not only helped this country, but allowed it to thrive.