Malta at a Glance

Name (in the national language): Malta

Nationality: Maltese

Official Designation: Republic of Malta

Flag: Two equal vertical bands of white (hoist side) and red. In the upper hoist side corner is a representation of the George Cross, edged in red, awarded by King George VI as an appreciation of the courage shown by Malta during World War II

Location: Europe

Area of the Maltese Islands: 316km2

Capital: Valletta

Population: 405,165 (est. July 2009)

Population Density: 1,298 inhabitants/km2 (2007)

Ethnic Groups: Maltese (descendants of ancient Carthaginians and Phoenicians with strong elements of Italian and other Mediterranean populations)

Religion: Roman Catholic (98%)

Language: Maltese (national & official) 90.2%; English (official) 6%; multilingual 3%; other 0.8% (2005 census)

National Anthem: Lil Din L-Art Ħelwa

Currency: Euro (EUR, €), 1€ = 100 cents

Member of International Organisations: Australia Group, C, CE, EAPC, EBRD, EIB,EMU, EU, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICRM, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NSG, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, PFP, Schengen Convention, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO,UNWTO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

Time Zone: CET

International Calling Code: (+356)

Internet Country Code: .mt

Public Holidays

New Year’s Day- 1st January

Feast of St. Paul's Shipwreck- 10th February

Feast of St. Joseph- 19th March

Freedom Day- 31st March

Good Friday- Variable

Workers’ Day- 1st May

Commemoration of the 1919 Uprising- 7th June

Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul- 29th June

Feast of the Assumption- 15th August

Feast of Our Lady of Victories- 8th September

Independence Day- 21st September

Feast of the Immaculate Conception- 8th December

Republic Day- 13th December

Christmas Day- 25th December

Geography: Located in Southern Europe, in the Mediterranean Sea, just south of Sicily, the Maltese archipelago basically consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. The largest island of the group is Malta, from which the archipelago takes its name. Valletta, the capital, is the cultural, administrative and commercial centre of the archipelago. Malta is well served with harbours, chief of which are the Valletta Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk (Malta Freeport). Malta’s International Airport is situated 5km from Valletta.The second largest island, Gozo is topographically quite different from Malta. Quaintly attractive for its less industrialised way of life, Gozo can be reached from Malta by ferry-boat from Ċirkewwa and Pietà, near Valletta, and by helicopter from the airport, or by seaplane from the Valletta Grand Harbour.Comino, Cominotto, Filfla and St Paul's Islands are the other major features of the archipelago. Of these, only Comino, straddled between Malta and Gozo, sustains a very tiny population. Turned into a popular resort because of a couple of very fine beaches, Comino can be reached from Ċirkewwa or Mġarr, either by boat or by excursion ferries during the summer months.

Position: The Maltese Islands fall within the following co-ordinates: Northern Latitude 36N; Eastern Longitude 14 36E. The distance between Malta and the nearest point in Sicily is 93km. The distance from the nearest point on the North African mainland (Tunisia) is 288km. Gibraltar is 1,826km to the west and Alexandria is 1,510km to the east. This strategic position has allowed Malta to develop as an important trading post. The Malta Freeport is one of the Mediterranean’s leading ports for container transhipments.

Physical Features: Malta has no mountains or rivers. A series of low hills with terraced fields on the slopes and coastal slopes characterise the islands. The lowest point is the Mediterranean Sea (0m) while the highest point is Ta’ Dmejrek (253m), near Dingli. The coastline of Malta is well-indented, thus providing numerous harbours, bays, creeks, sandy beaches and rocky coves. The length of the shoreline around Malta is 136 km, and 43km round Gozo. The natural resources are limestone, salt and arable land. The current environmental issues are the limited natural fresh resources and increasing reliance on desalination.

Maritime Claims: territorial sea: 12nm; contiguous zone: 24nm; continental shelf: 200m depth or to the depth of exploitation; exclusive fishing zone: 25nm.

Climate: It is the climate, more than anything else, that has made Malta an important tourist resort in the centre of the Mediterranean. The climate is typically Mediterranean; the average winter temperature is 12oC (which rarely goes below 10°C except perhaps at night) and more than 30°C in summer. There are really only two seasons in Malta: the dry, hot summer season, and the mild winter season. The average rainfall is 558.2mm (22ins). Rain rarely, if ever, falls during the summer months.

History: The strategic importance of Malta was recognised by the Phoenicians, who occupied it, as did, in turn, the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. The apostle St. Paul was shipwrecked in Malta in A.D.60. With the division of the Roman Empire in A.D.395, Malta was assigned to the eastern portion dominated by Constantinople. Between 870 and 1090, Malta came under Arab rule. In 1091, the Norman noble Roger I, then ruler of Sicily, came to Malta with a small retinue and defeated the Arabs. The Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, obtained the Maltese islands from Charles V in 1530, and reached their highest fame when they withstood an attack by superior Turkish forces in 1565. Napoléon seized Malta in 1798, but the French forces were ousted by British troops the next year, and British rule was confirmed by the Treaty of Paris in 1814.

Malta was heavily attacked by German and Italian aircraft during World War II but was never invaded by the Axis powers. Malta staunchly supported the UK through both World Wars and remained in the Commonwealth when it became an independent nation on 21st September, 1964. It eventually became a republic on 13th December, 1974. In 1979, when its alliance with Great Britain ended, Malta sought to guarantee its neutrality through agreements with other countries. Malta has no international disputes. Since about the mid-1980s, the island has transformed itself into a freight transshipment point, a financial centre, and a tourist destination. Malta became an EU Member State on 1st May, 2004 and began using the Euro as currency from 1st January, 2008. In July 2005, Malta ratified the proposed EU constitution.

Government:The Head of State is the President while the Head of Government is the Prime Minister. The President is elected by the House of Representatives for a 5-year term, eligible for a second term. The leader of the majority party or leader of a majority coalition is usually appointed Prime Minister by the President for a 5-year term. The deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.Cabinet has collective and individual responsibility for the government’s decisions. The Prime Minister determines the respective ministerial portfolios of the various Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.

Legislative authority is vested in the House of Representatives.The House of Representatives is unicameral (normally 65 seats). The current Parliament is composed of 69 seats, because when the political party winning the plurality of votes does not win a majority of seats, the Constitution provides that a sufficient number of seats will be added to Parliament to ensure that the party which won the general election has a majority in Parliament. Members of Parliament usually belong to two main parties: the Malta Labour Party and the Nationalist Party. Lately, government tends to alternate between these two parties, although there have been times when small political parties have obtained seats.Members of Parliament are elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve a 5-year term, because elections take place approximately every 5 years by universal and secret ballot. The country adopts the single transferable vote electoral system, and it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative when to call general elections. All adults of 18 years and over who are Maltese nationals are eligible to vote.

Each locality is in turn also administered by a Local Council, while the Armed Forces of Malta is the military branch of the Islands.

Legal System: Malta’s Constitution was drawn up in 1964, and has been amended many times. Malta enjoys the benefits of a stable government with a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model. The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and conscience, among other fundamental rights and freedoms. The provisions of the European Convention on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms have been incorporated into the law of Malta, and the social and industrial scene in Malta is generally peaceful. Maltese law is founded on Roman Law and the legal system is predominately Civil in nature, with codes of law principally based on the Code Napoléon. French and Italian laws were a dominating influence on our own laws but from the 19th century onwards English statute law also began to be grafted onto existing laws. Thus, the Criminal Code which was enacted in 1854 (amended many times since then) is one of the codes most influenced by English legal principles, several of which have been fully adopted, such as the jury system. Over the years, Parliament increasingly enacted legislation in line with British statutes and, more recently, European Law, in conformity with the general European trend in favour of harmonisation of legislation. This has resulted in a rather ‘mixed’ system. Moreover, EU Law is binding upon Malta’s accession to the EU.

It should be added that English judicial precedents or case law generally have significant influence with our courts when there are no customs or usages of trade or other provisions in the codes or laws to regulate an issue. In our case, however, judicial precedent is not binding on our courts.

As a result of common recognition and judicial adoption, all Public Law is based on English Law and, in case of any lacunae in our Public Law, reference is made to English Law. The same occurs in the case of Private International Law where the English Common Law is directly applied as the law of Malta except where laws or judicial trends consistently adopt different conflicts of law principles. However, English Common Law has never been applied in Malta, except in Public Law areas.

Maritime Law, including Admiralty Law, and general Commercial Law, including Company Law, is also very much influenced by English Law. For example, the Maltese ‘Companies Act, 1995’ is similar to the British ‘Companies Act, 1985’ and the ‘Insolvency Act, 1986’. The extensive package of Maltese financial services legislation (a package of 14 Acts including the Investment Services Act; the Banking Act; the Prevention of Money Laundering Act; and the Insurance Business Act) – introduced in 1994 and later – is consonant with the relative EU directives on the relevant subjects. During its accession negotiations with the EU, Malta ‘screened’ its laws together with the European Commission and revised them in line with European law. The implementation of this screening process was practically concluded by the time Malta became a full member of the EU.

Malta has sought to attract business to its shores by various methods, including the passing of legislation in and for various sectors. Malta provides incentive legislation for industry, shipping (company, vessel and mortgage registrations), Freeport activities and international companies, with a tax-efficient profile.

Judicial system: The Judiciary, composed of the Chief Justice and a number of Judges and Magistrates, are independent from the Government, and are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The independence and impartiality of the Judiciary is guaranteed by the Constitution and demanded by the principles of natural justice which have been themselves regularly upheld by the Maltese courts.

Malta has a number of courts, superior and inferior, withthe Constitutional Court being the highest Court dealing with constitutional issues. Under the law of Malta, parties enjoy the right to appeal to the European Court of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms from a judgement of the Constitutional Court. The Court of Appeal (made up of 3 Judges) has both Civil and Criminal jurisdiction. The Superior Courts (made up of Judges) decide Civil and Commercial cases with claims amounting to more than €11,650 and certain other cases according to subject-matter. Matrimonial cases are dealt with by the Family Section of the Civil Court. There is one Superior Court of Voluntary Jurisdiction which deals with estates and family matters. The Inferior Courts (made up of Magistrates) decide on Civil and Commercial cases below €11,650 and lesser Criminal cases. They also have the functions of a court of criminal inquiry. A Small Claims Tribunal, competent to decide on monetary claims amounting to not more than €3,495, was set up in 1998.

Education: School attendance is compulsory for all children between the age of 5 and 15 years. Malta has a number of private and Church-owned primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, and private colleges and tuition centres, but all State schools and vocational colleges are free. Malta has one University, also free of charge, and autonomous from the Government. The University of Malta traces its origins to the founding of the Collegium Melitense which was set up through direct papal intervention on 12th November, 1592. In 2003, it was estimated that 92.8% of the population were literate.

Religion: Although the Roman Catholic religion is the official religion of Malta, as safeguarded in the Constitution, religious tolerance is afforded towards all religions and religious groups. The Maltese Islands have two dioceses, that of Malta headed by the Archbishop, and that of Gozo and Comino, headed by a Bishop. Each locality has its parish and a number of churches and/or chapels. Around Malta and Gozo, there are also a number of different religious orders.

Economy: Malta produces only about 20% of its food needs, has limited fresh water supplies, and has few domestic energy sources. However, Malta produces quite an amount of agricultural produce. Malta's geographic position between Europe and Africa makes it a recipient of illegal immigration, which has strained Malta's political and economic resources. The financial services industry has grown in recent years. Malta's economy is dependent on foreign trade, manufacturing, especially electronics and pharmaceuticals, and tourism. In fact, Malta’s major industries are tourism, electronics, ship building and repair, construction, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, footwear, clothing, and tobacco. In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (at market prices) was €5,398.5.5 million.

Sources:

Central Intelligence Agency – The World Factbook https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html;

About.com http://www.infoplease.com;

Malta Department of Information http://www.doi.gov.mt;

University of Malta: www.um.edu.mt;

Malta National Statistics Office: www.nso.gov.mt