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Malta and Slovenia – A Growth of European Momentum?

By Scott B. MacDonald

On March 9, 2003 the island-state of Malta voted in favor of joining the European Union in a referendum. This was the first popular test among 10 nations invited to become EU members next year. According to official results, 53.65% or 143,094 Maltese, voted "yes," The “no” vote won 46.35% or 123,628. This was a relatively narrow margin mirroring worries that membership in the EU could compromise the island-state’s tradition of highly prized independence.

The vote was important for the EU. Clearly EU headquarters in Brussels and the other nine EU candidates were watching closely due to concerns that enthusiasm for an expanded Europe was weakening. European Commission President Romano Prodi said the result boded well for ratification in other countries. "This is a choice for stability and growth, as well as for the peaceful reunification of Europe and the European people," Mr. Prodi said in a statement from Brussels.

One of the reasons for the possibility of waning excitement over EU membership has been the seemingly heavy-handed approach to developing a common European foreign policy, led by France and followed by Germany. Indeed, the Paris-Berlin bid at leadership in regard to policy over Iraq ultimately resulted in French President Jacques Chirac talking down to a number of potential EU members, in particular, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. Other concerns have been in surrounding policy independence to Brussels in a number of areas, despite obvious gains in terms of the EU’s generous assistance.

The vote was a victory for Malta's pro-membership Prime Minister, Eddie Fenech Adami, though the opposition challenged him to call elections soon for another test of voter sentiment. But Labour party leader Alfred Sant said that with 270,000 ballots cast, the 20,000 people who didn't vote meant the "yes" total amounted to less than half the eligible electorate. Voter turnout was roughly 90 per cent.

The Prime Minister’s Nationalist government met soon thereafter and decided to make an "opportune decision" on Mr. Sant's demand by calling for a general election on April 12. This was not a shock to the public as it was widely expected that the cabinet would call for elections in a few weeks, possibly to be held just before Malta is to sign its EU accession treaty in an April 16 ceremony in Athens.

Doubts about EU expansion have been growing across the continent, and the people of Malta — proud of decades of independence and policies of non-alignment — went to the polls divided over whether their Mediterranean archipelago should join the bloc.

A spat between Paris and EU-candidate nations over Washington's tough stance on Iraq only aggravated unease among smaller, less-developed countries that they would be dwarfed politically by bloc members such as France, Germany and the UK. New EU members will receive billions of dollars in aid, but they will also have to open their markets. Many workers in Malta worry that the price of membership would be slashed jobs as protectionist barriers come down.

Slovenia's referendum is next, on March 23. Other candidates with referendums pending include Poland, where a strong farming lobby fears agriculture will suffer from EU membership, as well as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Slovakia. Cyprus is to ratify its bid with a parliamentary vote

Editor: Dr. Scott B. MacDonald, Sr. Consultant

Deputy Editors: Dr. Jonathan Lemco, Director and Sr. Consultant and Robert Windorf, Senior Consultant

Associate Editor: Darin Feldman

Publisher: Keith W. Rabin, President

Web Design: Michael Feldman, Sr. Consultant

Contributing Writers to this Edition: Scott B. MacDonald, Keith W. Rabin,
Jonathan Lemco, Jean-Marc F. Blanchard, Barry Metzger, Russell Smith,
Ilissa A. Kabak, Andrew Novo, Jonathan Hopfner, C. H. Kwan, Dominic Scriven and Andrew Thorson

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