1994-2014 : 20 years of change in Malta
Malta in Europe and Abroad
Malta is now a member of the European Union. The country adopted the Euro. It won the 2013 Junior Eurovision Song Contest (and is still waiting to win the real and big Eurovision Song Contest). Brand-new ones have replaced the old Maltese buses. HSBC is so well established that you can feel like you are in some Asian countries. The streets in the capital, Valletta, have been refurbished. A new Parliament building is being completed. The Nationalist Party is not anymore in power and is replaced by The Maltese Labour Party since the beginning of 2013. Even if Malta is a EU member since 2004, a few strategic partnerships have been signed with China, infusing a lot of heated debates and thinking on the country’s role in the world.
Of course, life is always good in Malta. The piercing-blue sea and the temperatures, quite high in July and August but made milder by the strong wind, are all incentives to visit the archipelago. You can still find scores of young tourists from continental Europe. The population can be multiply by three in the summer. The Maltese English is of Italian and Arabic scents, an accent you can recognize among thousands. Maltese people are deeply passionate about politics and they are proud members of either the PN or the Labour party. The Prime Minister uses to take a walk in Valletta streets without any bodyguard.
2 trips, with 20 years difference: a time to think and reflect.
What can Malta do on the world stage? What role is the country playing in Europe, Africa or Asia? Because of its so special position in the Mediterranean Sea, Malta had to be benignly neutral to some countries or political regimes that were considered enemies by others. Today, the archipelago is in the EU but it has a distinctive vision on world affairs. The other 27 members of the European community must listen to its voice and rely on the Maltese experience.
In 2003, I followed the debates and the campaign before the referendum on the EU membership. At that time, Malta was absolutely torn between the pro-European PN and the Labour Party, whose bonds with Colonel Gaddafi were old and substantial. The Yes won by a mere 53% of the ballots. The Maltese President decided to call new elections. In 2004, the PN Party was back in power for another 5 years after campaigning for a clear and resolute involvement in the European institutions. In 2008, Malta entered the Euro zone. The Maltese lira was no more…
When I arrived in Malta at the end of July 2014, I noticed with some emotion that the European flag was waving next to the Maltese one. In 2017, Malta will hold the rotating Presidency of the European Union. In 2018, Valletta is going to be the European capital of culture. Maltese people are proud and are eager to stage those events. In mid-November of this year, they will organize the Junior Eurovision Song.
Next September 21, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Malta’s independence. Its inhabitants are freedom-loving citizens. Elections’ turnout are among of the highest of the democratic countries. Maltese MP are welcoming and listen carefully to their electorate. Even if the elections process may look like difficult to understand from the outside, it is fit for an electorate of roughly 300 000 people.
The Maltese diplomacy is still in the making
It is the consequence of the political division of the country. When the PN was in power, his militants had access to the decision-making levels. It is the same now for Labour since it has an absolute majority. They are a lot of discussions about the links between Malta and China. The previous government signed a agreement of avoidance of double imposition. The new one has strengthened and widened the scope of the treaties.
Maltese people should decide of their own affairs. I don’t want to interfere with that. Obviously, the external relations have repercussions in every day life. A country of 300 square km must know that its international alliances have a lot of consequences. I always thought that Malta is first and foremost a European country that can take advantage of its proximity with Africa. Its European anchor is well known. European standards are implemented in the archipelago. The adoption of the Euro is a success.
Bonds between Malta and China are still in the making. Some agreements in education, college and energy fields have been signed. I may remind my Maltese friends that there is no direct air route to link Valletta to any other city in China. Chinese people don’t really know Malta. They often mistake the country for Monaco. Moreover, Chinese Union Pay card system is not accepted in Malta. We are far from a massive influx of Chinese tourists anytime soon.
Mary Spiteri used to sing it in the 80’s: Malta is fully attached to its independence. Maltese people want to remain free of any external liabilities. This is a state of mind and a tradition. A Maltese tradition…