Introduction The study of Malta’s foreign policy further elucidates the challenges of small states in international affairs. This chapter skirts the complex labyrinth of defining a “small state” since there is no doubt that Malta is such a state. It confirms much of Jeanne A. K. Hey’s summary of commonly cited foreign policy behaviors of small states (2003: 5). In Malta’s case a strong link between its domestic politics and foreign policy is also evident. In foreign policy, small states normally place stronger emphasis on their regional subsystem than on the wider, global system due to their limited resources and the “immediateness” of the regional threats and opportunities to which they have to respond. Since joining the EU many states tend to give Malta more importance mostly because it participates in the EU institutions. Meanwhile, new opportunities created by membership allow Malta to look beyond the confines of its geographical region. However, participation in the EU institutions and the implementation of EU laws and policies have taxed its administrative capacity, including its small, national foreign policy-making process and diplomatic corps, constraining it to prioritize a smaller set of objectives. Participation in the EU’s external relations has increased Malta’s relevance in international affairs, particularly in multilateral diplomacy in the UN, the World Trade Organization, and the international conferences on climate change in which the EU states act together on common positions. But Europeanization has led to the redirection of considerable national energies inwardly. Small states in a complex polity such as the EU tend to become more Eurocentric than “globally oriented” as they grapple with the non-stop dynamics of European integration. At the same time, Malta’s intensely competitive bipolar domestic politics divert more political energy inwardly. For Malta’s political elites, domestic politics are more important than foreign policy because these in the end determine election outcomes. This is paradoxical given the country’s openness (a consequence of smallness) to international trade and investment and to external political and cultural influences. In the highly polarized Maltese politics foreign policy is the subject of keen competition and disagreement between the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party, the only
parties represented in Parliament, though the difference in some of their positions may not be as large as they are made out to be. There is a lot of consensus behind the façade of public posturing intended to sway voters. The debates leading to some of the major decisions in Malta’s foreign policy, such as EU membership and neutrality, were highly polemical, but once the decision was taken, the divergent positions converged. Malta’s foreign policy is influenced by other “underlying” paradoxes: statehood inclines it toward emphasizing its sovereignty, security, and self-help and the “national interest,” drives which are tempered by its self-image of vulnerability. Insularity spurs it toward seeking connections with the rest of the world. Globalization provides Malta with a world market which more than compensates it for its small domestic market, but multiplies the threats to its security and identity. Its geographic position at the center of the Mediterranean region makes it a natural hub, but it is surrounded by much more powerful neighbors and so has learned to compromise and seek the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Malta’s historic myths and narratives endow it with a sense of mission, often a sense of invincibility against much bigger odds; but history has also taught it the costs of war and occupation. This led it to entrench neutrality in its Constitution and pursue a pacific vocation. Although the main aim of neutrality is to keep Malta out of conflicts, it hardly suffices to protect it from external aggression or threats.