U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Malta, April 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Malta
Area: 316 sq. km. (122 sq. mi.); about one-tenth the size of Rhode
Major cities: Valletta (capital), Sliema.
Terrain: Low hills.
Climate: Subtropical summer; other seasons temperate.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Maltese.
Population (1994 est.): 368,000.
Annual growth rate: 0.7%.
Ethnic divisions: Mixture of Arab, Sicilian, Norman, Spanish, Italian,
Religion: Roman Catholic, 98%.
Languages: Maltese, English.
Education: Years compulsory--until age 16. Attendance--96%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--9.6/1,000. Life expectancy--76 yrs.
Work force (136,500): Public sector--37% Services--28%.
Manufacturing--21%. Construction--4%. Agriculture and fisheries--2%.
Independence: September 1964.
Constitution: 1964; revised 1974.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), prime minister (head of
government), cabinet. Legislative--unicameral House of Representatives.
Administrative subdivisions: 13 electoral districts.
Political parties: Nationalist Party, Malta Labor Party.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1994 est.): $2.9 billion.
Annual growth rate: 7%.
Per capita income: $7,880.
National resources: Limestone, salt. Agriculture: Products--fodder
crops, potatoes, onions, Mediterranean fruits and vegetables.
Industry (37% of GDP): Types--clothing, semiconductors, shipbuilding and
repair, furniture, leather, rubber and plastic products, footwear,
spectacle frames, toys, jewelry, food, beverages, tobacco products.
Trade (1993): Exports--$1.36 billion: clothing, semiconductors,
furniture, leather, rubber and plastic products, footwear, bunker fuel.
Major markets--Italy, Germany, U.K. Imports--$2.17 billion: finished and
semi-finished goods, food and beverages, industrial supplies, petroleum
and related products. Major suppliers--Italy, U.K. Germany.
Official exchange rate: One Maltese lira=$2.65 (avg. for 1994); rate
Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with
about 1,160 inhabitants per square kilometer (3,000 per sq. mi.). This
compares with about 21 per square kilometer (55 per sq. mi.) for the
United States. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Malta was first
colonized by the Phoenicians. Subsequently, Maltese life and culture
have been influenced to varying degrees by Arabs, Italians, and the
British. Most of the foreign community in Malta, predominantly active or
retired British nationals and their dependents, centers around Sliema
and surrounding modern suburbs. Roman Catholicism is established by law
as the religion of Malta; however, full liberty of conscience and
freedom of worship are guaranteed, and a number of faiths have places of
worship on the island. Malta has two official languages--Maltese (a
Semitic language) and English. The literacy rate has reached 90%,
compared to 63% in 1946. Schooling is compulsory until age 16.
Malta was an important cultic center for earth-mother worship in the 4th
millennium B.C. Recent archeological work shows a developed religious
center there long before those of Sumer and Egypt. Malta's written
history began well before the Christian era. Originally the Phoenicians,
and later the Carthaginians, established ports and trading settlements
on the island. During the second Punic War (218 B.C.), Malta became part
of the Roman Empire. During Roman rule, in A.D. 60, Saint Paul was
shipwrecked on Malta at a place nowl called St. Paul's Bay. In 533 A.D.
Malta became part of the Byzantine Empire and in 870 came under Arab
control. Arab occupation and rule left a strong imprint on Maltese life,
customs, and language. The Arabs were driven out in 1090 by a band of
Norman adventurers under Count Roger of Normandy, who had established a
kingdom in southern Italy and Sicily. Malta thus became an appendage of
Sicily for 440 years. During this period, Malta was sold and resold to
various feudal lords and barons and was dominated successively by the
rulers of Swabia, Aquitaine, Aragon, Castile, and Spain.
In 1523, a key date in Maltese history, the islands were ceded by
Charles V of Spain to the rich and powerful order of the Knights of St.
John of Jerusalem. For the next 275 years, these famous "Knights of
Malta" made the island their kingdom. They built towns, palaces,
churches, gardens, and fortifications and embellished the island with
numerous works of art and culture. In 1565, these knights broke the
siege of Malta by Suleiman the Magnificent. The power of the knights
declined, however, and their rule of Malta was ended by their surrender
to Napoleon in 1798.
The people of Malta rose against French rule and, with the help of the
British, evicted them in 1800. In 1814, Malta voluntarily became part of
the British Empire. Under the United Kingdom, the island became a
military and naval fortress, the headquarters of the British
Mediterranean fleet. During World War II, Malta survived a siege at the
hands of German and Italian military forces (1940-43). In recognition,
King George VI in 1942 awarded the George Cross "to the island fortress
of Malta--its people and defenders." President Franklin Roosevelt,
describing the wartime period, called Malta "one tiny bright flame in
the darkness." Malta obtained independence on September 21, 1964.
Under its 1964 constitution, Malta became a parliamentary democracy
within the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II was sovereign of Malta, and
a governor general exercised executive authority on her behalf, while
the actual direction and control of the government and the nation's
affairs were in the hands of the cabinet under the leadership of a prime
On December 13, 1974, the constitution was revised, and Malta became a
republic within the Commonwealth, with executive authority vested in a
Maltese president. The president appoints as prime minister the leader
of the party with a majority of seats in the House of Representatives.
The president also nominally appoints, upon recommendation of the prime
minister, the individual ministers to head each of the government
departments. The cabinet is selected from among the members of the
unicameral House of Representatives. This body consists of between 65
and 69 members elected on the basis of proportional representation.
Elections must be held at least every five years. There are no by-
elections, and vacancies are filled on the basis of the results of the
Malta's judiciary is independent. The chief justice and nine judges are
appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. Their
mandatory retirement age is 65. There is a civil court, a commercial
court, and a criminal court. In the latter, the presiding judge sits
with a jury of nine. The court of appeal hears appeals from decisions of
the civil court and of the commercial court. The court of criminal
appeal hears appeals from judgments of conviction by the criminal court.
The highest court, the Constitutional Court, hears appeals in cases
involving violations of human rights, interpretation of the
constitution, and invalidity of laws. It also has jurisdiction in cases
concerning disputed parliamentary elections and electoral corrupt
practices. There also are inferior courts presided over by a magistrate.
Currently, Malta has no local government bodies and few regional
branches of the central government, although local advisory councils are
being considered. With the exception of the Ministry for Gozo, the
police, the post office, and local medical dispensaries, government
programs are administered directly from Valletta.
Principal Government Officials
President--Ugo Mifsud Bonnici
Prime Minister--Eddie Fenech Adami
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Guido De Marco
Ambassador to the United States--Albert Borg Olivier de Puget
Ambassador to the United Nations--Joseph Cassar
Malta maintains an embassy in the United States at 2017 Connecticut
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202-462-3611).
Two parties dominate Malta's polarized and evenly divided politics--the
Nationalist Party, led by Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami, and the
Malta Labor Party, led by Alfred Sant. Political views are passionately
held, and elections invariably generate a widescale voter turnout
exceeding 96%. Political allegiances among the populace are so
inflexible and divided that a 52% share of the votes can be considered a
"landslide" for the winning party. Prior to the May 1987 election, the
Maltese constitution was amended to ensure that the party that obtained
more than 50% of the popular vote would have a majority of seats in
parliament and would thereby form the government. The then-Labor Party
government proposed this constitutional amendment in exchange for
Nationalist Party (in opposition at the time) agreement to two other
amendments to the constitution: The first stipulates Malta's neutrality
status and policy of nonalignment, and the second prohibits foreign
interference in Malta's elections.
The February 1992 election resulted in the incumbent Nationalist Party
government being re-elected for another five-year term. The Nationalists
won 51.8% of the popular vote, with the Labor Party receiving a postwar-
low 46.5% share; the remaining 1.7% went to the Labor-breakaway
Alternative Movement Party. With its victory, the Nationalist Party
established a three-seat majority in the unicameral Maltese parliament.
Possessing few indigenous raw materials and a very small domestic
market, Malta has based its economic development on the promotion of
tourism and labor-intensive exports. Since the mid-1980s, expansion in
these activities has been the principal engine for strong growth in the
Maltese economy. The government's extensive program of infrastructural
investment since 1987 has helped alleviate problems that plagued Malta's
tourism industry in the early 1980s and has stimulated an impressive
upswing in Maltese tourism's economic fortunes.
Tourist arrivals and foreign exchange earnings derived from tourism have
steadily increased since the 1987 watershed, in which there was growth
from the previous year of, respectively, 30% and 63% (increase in terms
of U.S. dollars).
With the help of a favorable international economic climate, the
availability of domestic resources, and industrial policies that support
foreign export-oriented investment, the economy has been able to sustain
a period of rapid growth. During the 1990s, Malta's economic growth has
generally continued this brisk pace.
Both domestic demand (mainly consumption), boosted by large increases in
government spending, and exports of goods and services contributed to
Buoyed by continued rapid growth, the economy has maintained a
relatively low rate of unemployment. Labor market pressures have
increased as skilled labor shortages have become more widespread,
despite illegal immigration, and real earnings growth has accelerated.
Growing public and private sector demand for credit has led--in the
context of interest rate controls--to credit rationing to the private
sector and the introduction of non-interest charges by banks. Despite
these pressures, consumer price inflation has remained low, reflecting
the impact of a fixed exchange rate policy and lingering price controls.
The Maltese Government has pursued a policy of gradual economic
liberalization, taking some steps to shift the emphasis in trade and
financial policies from reliance on direct government intervention and
control to policy regimes that allow a greater role for market
mechanisms. However, by international standards, the economy remains
highly regulated and continues to be hampered by some long-standing
For the first several years of independence, Malta followed a policy of
close cooperation with the United Kingdom and other NATO countries. This
relationship changed with the election of the Mintoff Labor Party
government in June 1971. The NATO sub-headquarters in Malta was closed
at the request of the Labor Party government, and the U.S. 6th Fleet
discontinued recreational visits to the country. After substantially
increased financial contributions from several NATO countries (including
the United States), British forces remained in Malta until 1979.
Following their departure, the Labor government charted a new course of
neutrality and became an active member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Malta is an active participant in the United Nations, the Commonwealth,
the Council of Europe, OSCE, the Non-Aligned Movement, and various other
international organizations. In these fora, Malta has frequently
expressed its concern for the peace and economic development of the
Mediterranean region. The Nationalist Party government is continuing a
policy of neutrality and nonalignment, but in a Western context. The
government desires improved relations with the United States and Western
Europe, with an emphasis on increased trade and private investment.
Malta is an associate member of the EU. The government has made clear
that its primary foreign policy objective is to seek full membership in
the EU, under the right conditions, and it has actively pursued
increased political and economic ties to the EU.
Malta and the United States established full diplomatic relations upon
Malta's independence in 1964; overall relations are currently active and
cordial. The United States has been sympathetic to Malta's campaign to
attract private investment, and some firms operating in Malta have U.S.
ownership or investment. These include two major hotels and four
manufacturing and repair facilities, a water desalinization plant, and
some offices servicing regional operations.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Joseph R. Paolino, Jr.
Deputy Chief of Mission--Charles N. Patterson
The U.S. embassy in Malta is located in Development House, St. Anne
Street, Floriana (tel: 620424).
Travel and Business Information
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued to help Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular
Information Sheets on all countries include information on immigration
practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of
instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the
addresses of the U.S. posts in the subject country. They can be obtained
by telephone at (202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access
the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225,
via a modem with standard settings. Publications on obtaining passports
and planning a safe trip aboard are available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, tel.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
Check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559
gives the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or
requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions
and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International
Travel (HHS publication number CDC-94-8280, price $7.00) is available
from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20420, tel.
Before your departure, seek information on travel conditions, visa
requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and
other items of interest to travelers from a country's embassy and/or
consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government
Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at U.S. embassies (see
"Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This
helps family members contact you en route in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and
a telephone line.
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the internet:
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at
$80 ($100 foreign), one year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax: (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS
information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the internet
(gopher.statusa.gov and on CD-ROM. Call the Help-Line at (202) 482-1986
for more information.
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