Tag Archives: malta

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)

Nearly a week after the European elections, the reverberations are still shaking the entire continent, on at least two levels — the consequences of the historic level of eurosceptic parties elected across Europe and in terms of the growing battle between the European Parliament and the European Council over electing the next European Commission president. European_Union

In the first part of a Suffragio series examining the results of the May 25 European parliamentary elections, I focused on the five most populous countries in the European Union: the United Kingdom and France, where eurosceptic parties won the greatest share of the vote; Germany, where chancellor Angela Merkel won another strong victory; Italy, where prime minister Matteo Renzi won a near-landslide mandate just three months into his premiership; and Spain, where both traditional parties lost support to a growing constellation of anti-austerity movements — so much so that Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the leader of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Spain’s traditional center-left party, resigned

In the second part, I examined the results in nine more countries — Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.

In the third and final part, I examine the results in the remaining 14 countries of the European Union. Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)

Who is Joseph Muscat?


It’s the least populous — and newest — member of the eurozone, but tiny Malta, with around 420,000 people, is poised to become the latest European nation to vote for massive change, tossing out the long-governing center-right Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista) of prime minister Lawrence Gonzi. malta

Polls have closed in Malta, and opinion polls show that Joseph Muscat, the leader of the opposition center-left Labour Party (Partit Laburista), will likely now become Malta’s new prime minister and, at age 39, the eurozone’s youngest leader (younger even than Finnish prime minister Jyrki Katainen).

What does that mean for Malta and for Europe?

Muscat has borrowed liberally from the ‘change’ playbook that propelled U.S. president Barack Obama to office in 2008, but it’s not incredibly clear exactly the kind of change that he’ll bring to Malta, other than a promise to reduce Malta’s incredibly high electricity rates by 25% (though, again, it’s not clear how he’ll do that).

But Malta, with GDP growth of around 1.5% in 2012, unemployment of just 7% and a budget deficit under the EU threshold of 3% of GDP, has been relatively immune to the recession that’s gripped much of the eurozone and especially Mediterranean Europe, thanks in large part to tourism and a growing financial sector.

Muscat, a former member of the European Parliament, took over the leadership of the party following the previous March 2008 elections, in which Labour very narrowly lost the election, giving the Nationalists a one-seat advantage in the 69-member parliament.

He succeeded Alfred Sant, who led Labour throughout the 1990s and led the (failed) opposition to the 2003 referendum that opened the way for Maltese accession to the European Union.  Muscat and most of the Labour Party in 2003 opposed accession, which along with accession to the eurozone, is the chief Nationalist accomplishment of the past decade.

Muscat has since backtracked and supports Malta’s eurozone membership — that’s good, because Malta will hold the rotating six-month EU presidency in 2017.

Gonzi, prime minister since 2004, leads a party that has governed Malta, with the exception of a 23-month Labour government in the late 1990s, since 1987.  His government fell earlier this year over the budget — not because of any austerity measures, but because a member of his own party opposed a decision to hire a German operator to manage Malta’s national bus service.

Muscat’s campaign, however — long on platitudes and short on details — suggest that the Maltese rationale for change is different than that of most European voters, who over the past two years have ousted incumbents from France to Greece to Spain to Ireland, but simply because they have grown weary of a Nationalist government that’s come to the exhausted end of a long run in power:

Has Muscat landed at a fortuitous time in Maltese politics? The Nationalists are a spent force ten years after EU accession, the unpredictable Alfred Sant has been exorcised from the new Labour tableau, and the perception of the ‘clique’ at the PN’s Stamperija and Castille has been amplified so much, that the fin-de-siècle odour is too strong to ignore. Enter the politics of the air-freshener.

The dynamic is reminiscent of the fatigue many voters felt toward the end of the Conservative Party’s 18-year hold on power in the United Kingdom in 1997 (just cast Gonzi as former UK prime minister John Major).

Likewise, Muscat has led a flashy campaign to reinvigorate the once-dowdy Labour Party in the same way that Tony Blair revamped the UK Labour Party.  Since taking over from Sant in 2008 (cast Sant as Malta’s answer to Neil Kinnock), Muscat has worked to build bridges with the Maltese business committee and otherwise modernized and moderated his party’s views, least of all in support of Malta’s new role in the EU.

Nowhere in the campaign has there been the kind of discontent or anger or economic pain that’s fueled the rise of protest movements — like the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) that recently won over 25% of the vote in the Italian elections.

As such, Muscat’s election seems unlikely to add much to the ongoing ‘austerity vs. growth’ debate in Europe.

Dom Mintoff, ‘architect’ of Maltese politics, dies at 96

Dom Mintoff, a former Maltese prime minister and the towering figure of Maltese politics since the 1960s, has died at 96

Mintoff (pictured above in 1972) was leader of the Labour Party from 1949 to 1984, and he was known in Maltese as il-Perit, ‘the architect.’

Always divisive and always entertaining, he served as prime minister from 1955 to 1958 (while Malta remained a British colony) and again from 1971 to 1984.

In his first stint as prime minister, Mintoff was a proponent of full integration of Malta into the United Kingdom — he resigned in 1958 when those negotiations failed.  Mintoff had demanded the same level of social services for Malta, and the UK failure to grant that concession led to Mintoff’s turn toward independence.  Malta gained full independence in 1964, exactly 150 years after becoming a crown colony of the British empire.

As prime minister, Mintoff brought Malta’s standard of living and welfare state (including a pension system) closer in line with continental Europe, despite Mintoff’s propensity for nationalization of various industries in Malta.  Today, however, Malta is not only a member of the European Union but also a member of the eurozone, as of 2008.

The second time around, though, Mintoff was no slouch with Britain and the West, and his foreign policy zig-zags made him unpopular in the West and in the United Kingdom especially.  He skillfully played both sides of the Cold War against each other, often to Malta’s benefit.  Mintoff kicked the British governor-general and NATO out of Malta upon his election in 1971, and he negotiated to closure of the last UK military base in Malta in 1979.  He refused to allow either the United States or the Soviet Union to hold a base in Malta (an island strategically located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea).  Furthermore, Mintoff widened the circle of Maltese diplomacy to include China and other ‘non-aligned’ nations and developed a particularly strong relationship with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi — he once said Malta was part of the Arab world.

Mintoff’s legacy to Malta is as an architect of the current stable democracy there (even if it was neither entirely stable or democratic with Mintoff in charge).  For the world, he’ll remain one of the more ornery and colorful figures of the Cold War era.

One Maltese reporter’s remembrances can be found hereMaltaToday‘s full coverage here, including an in-depth piece assessing his complicated legacy.