Malta is now a bridge between the EU and North Africa
Malta comprises a small group of islands in the Mediterranean, of which the largest are Malta, Gozo, and Comino. The land is largely low-lying and dry, without permanent rivers or lakes, so around half of water comes from desalination plants.
Malta is a bridge between Europe and North Africa, and its language has both Latin and Arabic components. In the past, young Maltese often chose to emigrate, creating a Maltese diaspora around the world, notably in Australia. Nowadays people tend to stay, and the population continues to grow, if only slowly. The Maltese enjoy an extensive welfare state with free education and health care.
Not many work in agriculture, which is restricted by thin soil and the lack of water, so although farmers do have crops of cereals, fruits, and vegetables, most food has to be imported.
One-fifth of the workforce are in manufacturing industry, either in small-scale factories making goods for local consumption or in the export factories established as a result of foreign investment—typically in clothing and light engineering, and a large SGS-Thomson electronics factory. However the more labour-intensive industries are declining in importance.
Until 1979, Malta had a major British naval base and still has a ship-repair industry. More important to the economy now is tourism, which accounts for 17% of GDP. Around 40% of the 1.2 million visitors are from the UK. Many others arrive from elsewhere on cruise liners.
Maltese politics is frequently confrontational and animated, and as a result electoral turnouts are commonly above 90%. For much of the 1970s and 1980s, Malta was governed by the then socialist Maltese Labour Party (MLP) led by Dom Mintoff, who built up a welfare state. Even today, a high proportion of the workforce are employed in the public sector.
Since 1987, however, with a brief 1996–98 Labour interruption, the country has been in the hands of the centre-right Nationalist Party (PN) which has been trying to privatize and to cut down the public sector. The PN was returned to power in the 2003 general election, led by Eddie Fenech Adami, though he was in 2004 appointed president. The PN, now led by Lawrence Gonzi also won, though narrowly, in 2008.
Ideologically, the two parties have moved closer together. The most divisive issue was EU membership, but the issue was finally settled when Malta joined in 2004—and adopted the euro in 2008.
www.gov.mt/index.asp?l=2 Government portal
www.timesofmalta.com/ Times of Malta - Daily newspaper
Land area:316 sq. km.
Population:0.4 million—urban 95%
Capital city:Valletta, 6,300
Life expectancy:80 years
GDP per capita:$PPP 23,080
Major exports:Clothing, electronics