It has been nearly 25 years since I last visited the Islands of Malta, so it was nice to spend a relaxing holiday there again, although the changes that have taken place in that time are all too apparent, some good, some not so good.
A member of the EU since 2004, Malta has been a big net beneficiary of the EUs bribery money, the Regional Development funds, Structural funds and specific Archaeological project funding. In many cases they have used the money well, providing the islands with a network of new roads which is a huge improvement on those left by the last of the colonial rulers, the UK, or the huge water desalination plant which feeds both the general public and the commercial and farming industries with a regular supply of clean water, and I don’t think that there is any doubt that investments in this kind of infrastructure were sorely needed.
Other areas of EU regulation and the use of funds are more contentious, such as the Gozo Ferry, with the rebuilding of the port facilities in MGarr and Cirkewwa which many say are unnecessary and the raft of legal actions with the EU over the monopoly of the Gozo Channel Line, only now resolved with a new tender, won by a consortium of state owned companies.
What draws the most ire however are the bus services in Malta, long a major tourist attraction, and is another of the facilities upon which EU regulation is forcing ‘modernisation’. Mid June will see the end of the famous and iconic owner/operator yellow buses to be replaced by a fleet of brand new imported buses operated by Arriva, liveried in its now familiar communitarian blue, who have won a monopoly service contract from the Maltese government. The fleet will include many of the bendy-buses that London Mayor Boris Johnson had asked Arriva to remove because they are too big and unweildly for the streets of London. How these buses will operate in the tiny narrow streets of Maltese towns and villages I have no idea. The rules laid down by the EU stipulate that the displaced owners of the old yellow buses will not even be allowed to run tourist services, which needless to say has caused a lot of ill feeling across the Island.
All of these things however are fairly superficial, it is the societal changes that are taking place which are by far the most concerning. It is like watching Ireland as it changed from being a land which had fought and won its independence from colonial rule to only sign it away again by joining in the love fest of the EU, discarding its ancient customs and ways for a lifestyle that is based on a utopian sameness, run by bureaucrats fed by cheap credit and created the now famous Celtic Tiger economy. An economic model that in the fullness of time has proven to be unsustainable, and so I fear it will be for Malta.
Unlike Ireland the Maltese are not a manufacturing or business center, their entire economic boom is based upon EU money and credit. In no small way the Maltese see this as a kind of reparation, knowing full well that the majority of this money comes from German and British taxes, but like everyone else they believe this pot of money is endless.
In a test of wills the Maltese government under the guidance of the EU have set sail on a course to stamp bureaucratic standards above those of historical Malta, which for centuries have adopted the morals and standards of the Catholic Church, with a referendum on the introduction of divorce to be held on Saturday, 28 May 2011. Malta is the only European country where divorce is not permitted.
Everywhere one looks we see the trappings of this new unrealistic economy, more people than ever now work for government and EU agencies providing or supervising EU regulations, virtually all foodstuffs, dairy products, juices and soft drinks are now imported from Germany and France as its own farming and food industries slide into decline, property developers have moved in in strength, with tower blocks of apartments having taken over the skyline of Sliema at triple the price of anywhere else in Malta using non lasting building methods which are totally alien to the landscape and history of Malta, the buy to let market is being actively encouraged, and as we saw in Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal young farmers see a quick and easy profit in development & letting rather than growing food.
The RPI and taxes along with the unemployment rate is rising fast whilst the amount of floor space being taken up by new car showrooms and the attendant finance companies is one of the largest growth industries in Malta, with banks and EU agencies showering credit credit credit, boom boom boom that will surely be followed in time by an Ireland/Spain/Greece style bust.
Malta has lived under the rule of Greeks, Romans, Moors, Turks, Knights Hospitalers, Napoleons French and the British, finally achieving independence in 1964, and I for one find it hard to watch as they willingly adopt an EU economic model founded on the shifting sands of credit turning the quick buck rather than the historic rock that has sustained Malta for thousands of years.
I applaud the Maltese for taking some bold decisions in raising their living standards and for following some of the modernisation programmes that they have, but they must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, they must take care not repeat the mistakes that earlier EU entrants have made, and should pay particular attention to the Irish, Spanish and Greek economic shambles.
The only difference I see is that the Maltese people themselves made the decision to join the EU in a referendum in 2003, although I still don’t think they are fully aware of the ultimate consequences of giving up their hard won independence to the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. Malta, like all the other countries who are now EU member states, is losing its uniqueness, its Malti heritage, everything which to the visitor IS Malta, to become like the rest of us just another uniform EU region, in hock forever to the latest empire to occupy their shores.
I wonder in future years just how much today’s children of Malta will eventually thank this generation for this latest form of economic slavery.