Malta and the European Union
- Roderick PaceRoderick PaceInstitute for European Studies, University of Malta
Fifteen years ago Malta joined the European Union (EU) and four years later in 2008 it joined the Economic and Monetary Union. Throughout this period its economy performed exceptionally well, to the extent that it managed to escape the worse ravages of the Great Recession. In general, the majority of the Maltese people support EU membership. Rapid economic growth has produced a general “feel good” sentiment, which is not, however, shared by everyone.
The Maltese political system has been dominated for many years by two parties, the Partit Nazzjonalista and the Labour Party, the only ones to elect candidates to the national parliament since 1966. In 2003, the Labour Party, which had opposed EU membership for many years, changed its policy. This brought the curtain down on parliamentary Euroscepticism in the country. In the meantime, economic success has meant that populist small parties have not been able to gain much traction with the electorate, and the established political parties were not dethroned by populist upsurge as happened in most of the rest of southern Europe. Growth has not led only to benefits, however. The construction sector is putting pressure to bear on scarce land resources, and the influx of foreign labor and a growing demand for housing have inflated rents and housing prices, often beyond the reach of lower income households. Unemployment stands at a low 3.8%, but more people are close to the poverty line. Malta is failing on some of the national targets of the Europe 2020 strategy. These challenges will have to be watched more closely in the years to come should this rate of growth be maintained.