Malta is to close down its Copenhagen Embassy which is the island's only representation in Scandinavia.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the news claiming "rationalisation and prioritisation" as the main reasons for the decision.

"The Ministry can confirm that the process has already started to close down our diplomatic presence in Copenhagen," the spokesman said yesterday.

This does not mean, he insisted, that Malta will be slackening its relations with the Scandinavian countries.

"These relations will be covered through a new Maltese embassy to be opened shortly in Warsaw, Poland. Embassies cost taxpayers a lot of money and we are trying to rationalise the ministry's expenses and prioritise our diplomatic presence."

On the other hand, senior diplomats who spoke to The Times criticised the decision claiming such decisions should not be taken lightly due to repercussions of a sensitive nature on a diplomatic level.

"Our mission in Copenhagen is the only one representing Malta in the three Scandinavian EU countries - Denmark, Sweden and Finland," one said.

"The closure of this representation will mean that Malta will not be directly involved in the most prosperous region of the EU. Closing an embassy is not a switch-on/switch-off exercise and we need to be much more 'diplomatic' in these types of decisions."

A few years ago, Malta closed its embassy in Stockholm and last year closed its representation in Hungary only a few years after its opening.

"All these openings and closings in such a short time show that Malta does not have a long-term strategy.

"It seems Malta's foreign policy changes every time there is a new minister," the senior diplomats added.

The same diplomats also criticised the timing of the decision to close Copenhagen stating that Scandinavia will be the centre of worldwide and EU activity next year.

Copenhagen will next year be the seat of the United Nations Climate Change Conference aimed at reaching a global agreement on how the world is going to respond to the climate change challenge following the end of the Kyoto protocol.

Malta has a very important role to play in that agreement through Michael Zammit Cutajar, who apart from being Malta's Climate Change Ambassador, is considered as a worldwide authority in this field. He was recently appointed vice-chairman of the UN group conducting the final negotiations at the Denmark conference.

Sweden will also be at the forefront of the EU agenda next year when it takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU in July.

Currently, Malta's embassy in Copenhagen is led by Ambassador Noel Buttigieg Scicluna.

Foreign Ministry sources said that Ambassador Buttigieg Scicluna has decided to leave the diplomatic corps at the end of this month but no one has been appointed in his stead.

Contacted in Copenhagen, Dr Buttigieg Scicluna confirmed that he decided to call it a day after a diplomatic career spanning 20 years.

"All I can tell you is that I will be returning to Malta at the end of this month as I have decided to leave the diplomatic service. It has been a long and interesting run," he said.

Dr Buttigieg Scicluna refused to answer questions regarding Malta's diplomatic presence in Copenhagen, referring us to the Foreign Ministry.

Denmark and Sweden do not have embassies on the island and have never hinted that they intend to open diplomatic missions.

"This may be one of the real reasons behind Malta's decision to close both embassies," the senior diplomat said.

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