U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes:  Malta, April 1995 
Bureau of Public Affairs 
 
Official Name: Malta 
April 1995 
 
PROFILE 
 
Geography 
 
Area: 316 sq. km. (122 sq. mi.); about one-tenth the size of Rhode 
Island. 
Major cities: Valletta (capital), Sliema.  
Terrain: Low hills.  
Climate: Subtropical summer; other seasons temperate.  
 
People  
 
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Maltese.  
Population (1994 est.): 368,000.  
Annual growth rate: 0.7%.  
Ethnic divisions: Mixture of Arab, Sicilian, Norman, Spanish, Italian, 
English.  
Religion: Roman Catholic, 98%.  
Languages: Maltese, English.  
Education: Years compulsory--until age 16. Attendance--96%. 
Literacy--90%.  
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%. 
 
Government  
 
Type: Republic.  
Independence: September 1964.  
Constitution: 1964; revised 1974.  
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), prime minister (head of 
government), cabinet. Legislative--unicameral House of Representatives. 
Judicial--Constitutional Court.  
Administrative subdivisions: 13 electoral districts.  
Political parties: Nationalist Party, Malta Labor Party.  
Suffrage: Universal at 18. 
 
Economy  
 
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 
fluctuates. 
 

PEOPLE  
 
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.  
 

HISTORY  
 
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.  
 

GOVERNMENT  
 
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 
minister. 
 
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 
previous election. 
 
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). 
 

POLITICAL CONDITIONS  
 
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. 
 

ECONOMY  
 
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 
this performance. 
 
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 
structural weaknesses.  

 
FOREIGN RELATIONS  
 
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. 

 
U.S.-MALTESE RELATIONS  
 
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). 
 


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