On Thursday, May 9, we celebrated Europe Day, and this year marks the 20th anniversary since our country became a member of the European Union. At the time the issue as to whether Malta should join the EU or not was very hotly debated, and it broadly ran along party lines. Today there is no question as to where the Maltese stand in relation to the EU.

Successive Eurobarometer surveys indicate that around 70% of respondents are optimistic about the future of the EU and only 14% state that the EU conjures up for them a negative image. Around 60% state that our country’s membership of the EU is a good thing and 6% say that it is a bad thing. 67% state that it is important for them that Malta is a member of the EU, and a massive 91% believe that on balance Malta has benefitted from being a member of the EU.

Overall, the Maltese are more in favour of a number of EU policies than the EU as a whole, in some cases very significantly so. Trust in European institutions and the EU itself is among the highest in the EU and well above the average for the whole of the EU.

The reason why I am giving these figures is to show that EU membership is a non-issue in this country for various reasons, one of which is that our economy has benefitted greatly. When someone explains this positive attitude of the Maltese towards the EU in terms of our colonial past, I find that this is an intentional misrepresentation of history. The political group that obtained independence for Malta is the same group which steered Malta into the EU.

Linked to EU membership is Malta’s membership of the eurozone. This gave us an international currency which gave a further boost to our economy and the people in general. For example, we are able to shop online from other countries because we adopted the euro. With the Malta lira, none of the international online sellers would have accepted Maltese customers.

Delving deeper into our economy, one notes that the gross domestic product in volume terms increased by 144%. The growth occurred across the board; however, it was underpinned by a general modernisation of the economy. Even traditional sectors such as manufacturing went through a modernisation process, and companies which have been operating in Malta for decades continued to invest here and consolidated their presence in our country.

At the time of the run-up to EU membership, I was chairperson of the board of directors of the Malta Development Corporation. Josef Bonnici, who at the time was minister for economic affairs, piloted through parliament the Business Promotion Act. Thanks to that Act, key industries decided to increase their investment in Malta. Think of all the big names in our industrial landscape; they all had plans for further investment. At the time, we had also started the drive to attract to Malta pharmaceutical companies. Twenty years on, they are still here.

Add to this the investment of Lufthansa Technik, again thanks to efforts of Bonnici and the then chairperson of Air Malta, Louis Grech, and one manages to capture the positive feeling there was about Malta’s membership of the EU. Twenty years on, the feeling between the Maltese and the EU is stronger than it was then.

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