Referendum on the European Union, 8th march 2003 a round-up few days before the vote


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


8 March 2003

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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

It was only on 25th February i.e. two weeks before the referendum that the government went on line with a site on the country's membership treaty to the European Union. Since the beginning of the campaign the Labour opposition that is hostile to Malta's integration into the Union, has not missed any opportunity to pass on the message that the Nationalist Party (MLP) has been preventing the population from accessing the only official document that would enable it to express itself with full knowledge of the facts - and that this withholding of information was because the government had things to hide.

For the time being demonstrations in favour or against the EU have followed suite in the country. Those in favour of Europe are trying to convince the Maltese of the chance that integrating the Union represents for them and that a "no" to the referendum on 8th March would lead to the island's marginalization. The nationalists are mainly stressing the economic aspects, presenting EU membership as a guarantee of stability and prosperity thanks to the access to a market of nearly 500 million consumers.

During this electoral campaign the government recruited the services of the economists, journalists and all types of professionals. Apart from the Nationalist Party membership is supported by the ecologists in the small movement "Alternattiva Demokratika", as well as by the great majority of professionals in the tourist industry, the island's main economic resource. As far as the Church is concerned, the leading moral authority in a country where 8 inhabitants in 10 are practising Catholics, it has not given any voting instructions but stressed that it was everyone's duty to vote on 8th March.

The Labour Party (LP) is still opposed to full membership, the irreversibility of which it condemns, and says that it is in favour of a partnership with the Union. In the opinion of the adversaries to membership, who stand as defenders of the interests of "the modest classes", European integration would be a true economic catastrophe for Malta. According to them the island's companies would lose their competitiveness within the Union since they would not be able to compete against bigger European companies; also the small size of the Maltese companies would prevent them from accessing or at least take any advantage of the major market constituted by the European Union. In addition to this the Labour Party thinks that the cost of membership and the policies imposed by Brussels, especially in the agricultural domain, will totally cancel out the 81 million Maltese Pounds in financial aid that the island is to receive for the three years following its entry into the European Union. Finally the other threats put forward by those in favour of the "no" vote are the dramatic rise in house prices that European integration would lead to in the long run and the end of the island's neutrality. The Labour Party has however forgotten to point out that the limitation of the purchase of properties by non-Maltese as well as the continuation of neutrality are part of the 77 dispensations obtained by Malta from the European Council in Copenhagen on 12th -13th December 2002. Apart from the Labour Party, who is calling to either vote "no" to joining the European Union or to abstain or vote blank by writing "Long Live Malta" on the ballot paper, the camp of adversaries to joining the EU includes the General Union of Workers, the country's leading union, some members of which however have said they are in favour of entry into the Union.

According to the polls, the Maltese should accept to join the European Union by a narrow majority on 8th March. The latest opinion poll undertaken at the end of February gave the "yes" vote as victor with 51.9% of the vote; 19.2% of the population would vote "no", 2.4% would abstain and 0.1% would vote blank. It should be pointed out that 26.4% of those interviewed said they were still undecided.

Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami (MLP) recently announced that he planned to organise general elections if the "yes" vote won and if the Labour Party continued its opposition to membership. Constitutionally the elections must take place by January 2004. The result of the referendum on 8th March might lead to early general elections.

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