Malta is to host the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2015.
The Commonwealth Network of Information Technology for Development (COMNET-IT)
has its secretariat in Valletta. COMNET-IT has championed the
development of the Commonwealth Action Programme for the Digital Divide.
Malta is one of only three Commonwealth member countries in Europe, all
of which are island states and members of the European Union.
Joined Commonwealth: 1964
Population: 429,000 (2013)
GDP: 2.4% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 39
Official language: Maltese, English
Timezone: GMT plus 1–2hr
Currency: Euro (€)
Area: 316 sq km including Comino (3 sq km) and Gozo (67 sq km).
Capital city: Valletta
Population density (per sq. km): 1,358
The Republic of Malta comprises an archipelago of six islands and islets
in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, 93 km south of Sicily and 290 km
from the coast of North Africa. Malta, Gozo and Comino are inhabited;
the other islands are Cominotto, Filfla and St Paul’s Island.
Valletta (capital, pop. 5,748 in 2011, greater Valletta includes
Birkirkara, Qormi, Zabbar, San Gwann, Sliema, Marsascala, Fgura, Zejtun
and Hamrun), Birkirkara (21,749), Mosta (19,750), San Pawl il-Bahar
(16,935), Qormi (16,934), Zabbar (14,916), Sliema (13,621), Naxxar
(12,875), San Gwann (12,152), Zebbug (11,580), Fgura (11,449), Zejtun
(11,334), Rabat (11,212), Marsascala (11,059), Hamrun (9,043) and
Victoria (on Gozo, also known as Rabat, 6,252).
There are 3,100 km of roads, 88 per cent paved. There is no railway.
Valletta Grand Harbour is the most important of several harbours. A busy
free port has been established at Marsaxlokk in the south- east.
The international airport, Gudja International, is 6 km south of
Valletta. Helicopter services fly between Malta Island and Gozo.
Malta is a member of the Council of Europe, European Union, Organization
for Security and Co-operation in Europe, United Nations and World Trade
Low hills and terraced fields occur on the three main islands. There are
no rivers, streams or lakes on Malta Island, which has an indented coast
on the eastern side with several good natural harbours. Gozo has cliffs
and flat-topped hills. Water is obtained from natural ground water
resources and desalination. The latter now accounts for 65 per cent of
water production and has relieved the shortage of fresh water.
Mediterranean type: hot and dry in July–September, with cooling
sea-breezes. Winters are mild and wet, with warm westerly winds.
There are very limited natural freshwater resources, and increasing
reliance on desalination.
The islands have been short of water and the soil is not deep.
Mediterranean scrub is the natural vegetation. Approximately 12,000
hectares (less than five per cent of which is irrigated) are under
There are small mammals, such as hedgehogs, the least weasel and shrews;
resident birds include Sardinian warblers, Manx and Cory’s shearwaters
and the blue rock thrush.
Malta (Melita, or ‘Honey Island’, in Latin) was colonised from Carthage
during the 6th century BCE. Through its long history, it has been
subject to complex influences, as shown by its language: the Maltese
language descends from Punic, with an Arabic element.
According to tradition, Hannibal was born in Malta (247 BCE). From 216
BCE the country was under Roman (Byzantine from CE 395) administration
until captured by the Arabs in CE 870. In 1070 it became a Sicilian
possession. By 1530 it belonged to the Holy Roman Emperor, who gave it
to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, with a mandate to defend Tripoli
against Turkish invasion. Building began on Valletta and its
fortifications in 1565 after an unsuccessful Turkish siege.
Sixteenth-century Malta was prosperous as a trading centre but by the
early 18th century the island’s fortunes had declined.
The French army under Bonaparte captured it in June 1798, and used it as
a base to invade Egypt, but the garrison was expelled by the British
navy in 1800 and the island came under British administration. A move to
return it to the Knights of St John (1802) provoked a petition from the
inhabitants for British protection, and Malta became British under the
Treaty of Paris (1814). Malta prospered as a free port, used by British
shipping to the Adriatic and the Near East. In 1827 it became the base
of the British Mediterranean Fleet. A packet service was established in
1832. After the Suez Canal was opened (1869) the volume of shipping
increased. By 1905 the Naval Dockyard, together with British defence
services, was the basis of the economy. Blockaded and attacked from the
air during World War II, Malta was awarded the George Cross in 1942 by
King George VI.
Demand for independence (though not representation) came relatively late
to Malta, which had benefited from the UK naval presence on the island.
In the mid-1950s Dom Mintoff’s Malta Labour Party (MLP), then in
government, inclined towards integration with the UK. This was confirmed
by a referendum in 1956. In March 1962 Malta became internally
However, by the early 1960s, with nationalism and anti-colonialism
sweeping the world, coupled with the decline of the UK navy, the mood
had changed. The MLP, as well as Dr Borg Olivier’s Nationalist Party (PN),
campaigned for independence, which was achieved in September 1964.
At independence, Malta entered a turbulent period. The dockyard was
nationalised in 1968. Malta became a republic at the end of 1974 and in
1979 the UK military base was closed, which shook the economy, and
traditional Maltese faith in UK protection.
Domestically, the country was polarised between the generally socialist
MLP and the pro-western and economically liberal PN.
Under the long and forceful leadership of Mintoff, the MLP government
made Malta a strong adherent of the Non-Aligned Movement and
strengthened cultural and trade links with Malta’s North African
neighbours, notably oil-rich Libya.
Political conflict was exacerbated by anomalies in the electoral system,
which allowed the MLP to retain power after the 1981 parliamentary
elections, although the PN had more votes. After strikes and civil
unrest, in 1987 Mintoff’s successor Dr Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici reformed
the electoral system, and the May 1987 elections were won by the PN,
under Dr Edward Fenech-Adami, who reversed many of Mintoff’s centralist
The PN led by Fenech-Adami strengthened its majority at the general
election in 1992, securing 34 of 65 seats, and 51.8 per cent of the
votes. A third party, the Democratic Alternative, with strong policies
on environmental protection, emerged, but the basic two-party pattern
remained fairly intact. After this second defeat under the electoral
system he had introduced, Bonnici resigned as leader of the MLP and was
replaced by Dr Alfred Sant, who pledged to modernise the MLP’s policies.
After the EU Council of Ministers decided in 1995 to accept Malta as a
candidate to join the European Union, the PN government set about
preparing the country for accession – introducing VAT and removing some
import tariffs. However, VAT was unpopular, and the changes as a whole
controversial, so the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 1997,
were brought forward to October 1996 to settle the issue of EU
membership and its required economic disciplines. The elections resulted
in a narrow win for the MLP – 50.7 per cent to the PN’s 47.8 per cent –
with a voter turnout of 98 per cent of the registered voters. On taking
office as Prime Minister, Sant immediately withdrew Malta’s application
to join the EU and pulled out of NATO’s Partnership for Peace plan.
During 1998, the MLP had a majority of one vote in the House of
Representatives and on two occasions when former Prime Minister Dom
Mintoff had voted with the Nationalist opposition (to defeat a
development project affecting his own constituency), it had not been
able to command a majority.
The general election scheduled for 2001 was brought forward to September
1998, when the PN, still led by Fenech-Adami, won 35 of the 65
parliamentary seats and 51.8 per cent of the votes, giving the party an
endorsement for its planned application for EU membership. The PN
government immediately reactivated its application to join the EU and
resumed its preparations for accession, and in December 1999 Malta was
formally invited to enter into negotiations on accession. Malta became a
member of the EU in May 2004.
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