Malta

1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

Election campaign: civil unions, energy prices and unemployment

Nation­al issues dom­i­nat­ed the cam­paign. The polit­i­cal debate had two main adver­saries, the Nation­al­ist Par­ty (NP), in oppo­si­tion since los­ing the March 2013 elec­tion and the gov­ern­ing Labour Par­ty (LP). Since 1966, these have been the only two par­ties in the nation­al par­lia­ment and have cap­tured all seats in the three Euro­pean par­lia­men­tary elec­tions held since 2004. The NP focused on gov­er­nance issues and unem­ploy­ment. It crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment for not keep­ing its elec­toral promis­es. The LP has defend­ed its record and kept up the momen­tum since the last nation­al elec­tion by reduc­ing ener­gy prices to the ben­e­fit of con­sumers and pass­ing the Civ­il Unions Act, which rep­re­sent­ed a tri­umph for the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty. This law once again threw the NP into tur­moil. For the Euro­pean elec­tion the NP urged vot­ers to show gov­ern­ment ‘the yel­low card’, but then failed to per­suade them to shift their alle­giances. Indeed the Euro­pean elec­tion result repli­cat­ed that of the nation­al elec­tion held in March 2013 which saw the LP out­pace its rival by around 36,000 votes or 11.5 per­cent of the valid votes cast and a nine seat par­lia­men­tary major­i­ty. In the 2014 Euro­pean elec­tion, the LP obtained 53.4 per­cent to the NP’s 40.02 per­cent although the two par­ties elect­ed three MEPs each.

Alter­nat­ti­va Demokrati­ka (AD), the green par­ty, per­formed very well in the cam­paign and was the par­ty which stuck most to Euro­pean issues. How­ev­er, its share of the vote was only about 3 per­cent.

No role for Euroscepticism

Euroscep­ti­cism did not play a major role in the cam­paign and Allean­za Bid­la, the only Euroscep­tic Par­ty which con­test­ed the elec­tion secured a mere 0.08 per­cent of the vote.

Declining, but high turnout

In 2014, vot­er turnout declined to 74.8 per­cent from 78.8 per­cent in 2009 – which had itself declined from 82.4 per­cent in 2004. There is a declin­ing trend in turnout even if it is still much high­er than the EU aver­age. This decline is due to a num­ber of fac­tors includ­ing: the irrel­e­vance of Euro­pean issues dur­ing the cam­paign, vot­er fatigue since cam­paign­ing start­ed almost imme­di­ate­ly after the 2013 elec­tion, indif­fer­ence, ‘nor­mal’ vot­er absen­teeism, the fact that both main par­ties sup­port mem­ber­ship and the fact that the elec­tion would not change the gov­ern­ment. The pop­u­lar­i­ty of the LP and its com­fort­able major­i­ty in the nation­al par­lia­ment may also have per­suad­ed some vot­ers into think­ing that the Euro­pean elec­tion was “worth­less” since it would not alter pow­er con­fig­u­ra­tions.

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2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Good relations with Russia, but criticism of its Ukraine policy

The gov­ern­ment has crit­i­cised Russia’s annex­a­tion of Crimea and urged for a peace­ful­ly nego­ti­at­ed solu­tion of the con­flict. This view is shared by the oppo­si­tion. The ‘main­stream’ view is that it is impor­tant for the EU to main­tain good rela­tions with Rus­sia.

Getting Russia involved in EaP negotiations

EU rela­tions with the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries have to be man­aged bet­ter. The For­eign Min­is­ter, Dr George Vel­la, remarked in an inter­view that it was impor­tant to involve Rus­sia dur­ing EU nego­ti­a­tions of asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments with East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries such as Geor­gia, Moldo­va and Ukraine. Fur­ther­more, Dr Vel­la stat­ed that the Euro­pean Union was too naive in think­ing that they could engage the Euro­pean neigh­bour­hood coun­tries and offer Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ments, deep and com­pre­hen­sive free trade areas, and hop­ing that Rus­sia would not react.

Divided opinions on Turkey’s EU accession

The last sur­vey of pub­lic opin­ion on Turkey’s mem­ber­ship, held by Euro­barom­e­ter in 2006, shows the Mal­tese split with 35 per­cent in favour of Turkey’s acces­sion, 31 per­cent against and the rest unde­cid­ed. Gov­ern­ment and the oppo­si­tion sup­port Turkey’s mem­ber­ship, although with­in the polit­i­cal par­ties, there are con­trary opin­ions. Turkey’s EU mem­ber­ship does not com­mand a lot of pub­lic inter­est.

As far as oth­er neigh­bour­hood issues are con­cerned, there is obvi­ous­ly a strong pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with devel­op­ments in the Mediter­ranean par­tic­u­lar­ly the sit­u­a­tion in Libya, the civ­il war in Syr­ia and now in Iraq. These can also become sources of new migra­to­ry pres­sures in the Mediter­ranean, and Mal­ta believes that the EU is not being suf­fi­cient­ly help­ful in deal­ing with this phe­nom­e­non. Dur­ing the Euro­pean cam­paigns in 2004, 2009 and 2014, immi­gra­tion topped people’s con­cerns in Mal­ta.

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3. Power relations in the EU

Criticism towards austerity measures

In the absence of pub­lic opin­ion sur­veys it is dif­fi­cult to nail down what the preva­lent view is on the growth vs. aus­ter­i­ty debate and Germany’s role in the EU.

Mal­ta has not had the need to impose aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures and hence pub­lic and offi­cial views are swayed by this fact. The dom­i­nant per­spec­tive is cer­tain­ly against aus­ter­i­ty. Malta’s eco­nom­ic per­for­mance has not so far war­rant­ed any cut­backs. Pre­ferred reform options are not clear and there have been few pub­lic state­ments on this top­ic by the main deci­sion-mak­ers. Before tak­ing up min­is­te­r­i­al respon­si­bil­i­ties and dur­ing his time as an MEP, the Finance Min­is­ter Edward Sci­clu­na spoke out against aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures and “blan­ket aus­ter­i­ty” mea­sures.

Historic ties with the UK, but no strong views on ‘Brexit’

In the press there have been pre­cious few assess­ments of the effects of an EU exit by the Unit­ed King­dom on Mal­ta. Mal­ta enjoys close rela­tions with the UK for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons. Mal­ta is also a mem­ber of the Com­mon­wealth. But Mal­ta does not toe a UK line in the EU and it has often dif­fered with it, the lat­est exam­ple was on sup­port for Jean-Claude Junck­er as Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent.

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This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.