European presidency: Steering Europe into the future
If the world were a Venn diagram, Malta would be in the central portion where the circles of influence overlap. A Commonwealth member now taking over the European Union presidency, Malta is set for a key role in the Brexit process
Tradition and splendour: the beautiful fishing village of Marsaxlokk, with its spectacular natural harbour. Photo: viewingmalta.com
"Brexit won't affect the status quo for British tourists"
Dr Edward Zammit Lewis (Tourism Minister)
As a country in the middle of so many international dynamics, it is Malta's destiny to play a helping hand to ease diplomatic tensions and seek mutually beneficial solutions between east and west, north and south, or, in the current climate, between the European Union and Britain.
Malta may be small, but this can be a diplomatic advantage in times of tension between greater powers. In late 1989, just weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bush and Gorbachev chose Malta for their historical meeting at which they declared the Cold War to be over.
More recently, in 2015 Malta played host for the second time to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), while 2017 sees the state take its turn to hold the presidency of the European Council, starting on January 1. It is the first time, since joining the EU in 2004, that Malta has held the six-month rotating presidency. The period will coincide with the start of formal negotiations between the UK and EU leaders over Brexit once London triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
At a time of great uncertainty for Europe in general and Britain in particular, Malta wishes to reassure all of its EU partners that no effort will be spared to create consensus.
"Europe's problems are caused by lack of growth due to lack of investment"
Prof Edward Scicluna
Minister for Finance
Malta's finance minister, Professor Edward Scicluna, underlines the nation's historical ties with the UK. "We understand each other so well. Even our parliament is built on the British model. And our small size and our distance from the core of Europe both allow us to look at European problems more objectively. We see things which unfortunately big countries closer to the problem don't see."
In times of economic and financial crisis across much of the EU, Malta has seen opportunities grow in sectors such as financial services, iGaming and shipping. Professor Scicluna points out that the prosperous and stable Malta offers a unique jump-off point for investors who wish to disembark in North Africa. Once again, Malta is able to serve as a bridge between different nations and distinct cultures.
"Being a peaceful place in a very troubled area, we are seen as a base where you can do business and operate in these difficult countries. European companies are eager to invest in North Africa and beyond if there are not too many obstacles. Europe is not growing at the moment, so any new demand will be in these countries."
Despite the shock of Brexit, Malta's tourism minister, Dr Edward Zammit Lewis, believes that the European Union and the UK "have an obligation to maintain good relations, not only at the diplomatic level, but also from a practical point of view with regards to trade and commerce."
Golden Bay and its magnificent sandy beaches.
Colourful balconies in Valletta.
A view of the town of St Julian’s.
An aerial view of the fortified city of Birgu, also known by its Italian name of Vittoriosa.
And Malta, he continues, remains very much open for business in the new environment, with tourism being a crucial sector for the Mediterranean nation. Visitors from Britain make up a quarter of summer arrivals on the island, with this figure rising towards 40 percent in the winter.
Dr Zammit Lewis says he is determined to ensure that Brexit does not create any barriers for UK tourists, such as visa requirements. "We must keep the British tourists on a level playing field with others coming from the European Union. We will do whatever is necessary to negotiate a package that maintains the status quo."
The minister points out that UK nationals make up Malta's largest foreign community, even though 50 years have passed since the island attained independence from the British Empire. "British people have blended into our society to the extent that you can go to remote places on Gozo and find Britons living there. The UK will always be an important partner for us politically, commercially, culturally, historically and socially."
"The UK will always be an important partner politically, commercially, culturally, historically and socially"
— Dr Edward Zammit Lewis, Tourism Minister
Malta came through the Eurozone crisis unscathed after placing more emphasis on growth as a way to cut deficits. Incentives for first-time buyers and tax cuts kept the wheel turning, boosted by reforms to make work pay.