Malta: country overview03 July 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 12 February 2013
Malta is a group of islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Malta became a Member State of the European Union on 1 May 2004.
Year of EU entry: 2004
Member of Schengen area:Yes
Political system: Republic
Capital city: Valletta
Total area: 316 km²
Population: 0.4 million
Malta is a group of seven islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Only the three largest islands - Malta, Gozo and Comino - are inhabited. The terrain is low and rocky with coastal cliffs.
Malta, in the heart of the Mediterranean, is a melting pot of civilisations with a history stretching back thousands of years. The country has been inhabited since around 5200 BC and a significant prehistoric civilisation existed on the islands prior to the arrival of the Phoenicians who named the main island Malat , meaning safe haven. Later the islands were for centuries the seat of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John and then part of the British Empire. Malta became independent in 1964.
The Maltese government is headed by the leader of the party with a majority of seats in the unicameral House of Representatives, known in Maltese as Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti .
The national language is Maltese, which is part of the Semitic language family that includes Arabic. English is also recognised as an official language, and many Maltese also speak Italian.
Tourism is important in Malta but the island also has an expanding services sector.
Traditional Maltese food includes soup (minestrone, fish), pasta and pastry dishes. Stuffed dishes are also a feature of Maltese cuisine. Stuffat Tal-Fenek (rabbit stew) is a national dish.
Malta - the smallest economy in the euro zone - produces only about 20% of its food needs, has limited fresh water supplies, and has few domestic energy sources. Malta's geographic position between Europe and North Africa makes it a target for illegal immigration, which has strained Malta's political and economic resources. Malta's fertility rate is below the EU average, and population growth in recent years has largely been from immigration, putting increasing pressure on the pension system. Malta adopted the euro on 1 January 2008. Malta's economy is dependent on foreign trade, manufacturing, and tourism, and was hurt by the global economic downturn. Malta has low unemployment relative to other European countries, and growth has recovered since the 2009 recession. Malta's financial services industry has grown in recent years and it has avoided contagion from the European financial crisis, largely because its debt is mostly held domestically and its banks have low exposure to the sovereign debt of peripheral European countries. Malta reduced its deficit below 3 percent of GDP, leading the EU to dismiss its official excessive deficit procedure against Malta in 2012.
Source: European Commission