Malta has maintained its existence in the middle of the Mediterranean throughout history as a safe harbor, an isolated place of exile, a police station for Mediterranean control… With the end of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR with the 1989 Malta Conference, Malta’s symbolic visibility in international politics increased. As a small island state, Malta’s priority security problems are issues such as irregular migration and climate change that actually concern the whole world but affect itself more due to its location. The fact that the capitals closest to itself geographically are Tunisia and Tripoli shows its strategically position in Europe.
Malta is at the southernmost point of Europe and the first contact point with Africa, with a distance of 220 miles from Libya. Libya’s destabilization has the potential to affect Malta more than any other European country. So much so that, at the insistence of Malta, EU Foreign Ministers discussed the situation of Libya before the conflict environment in Libya became so complex that openly occupy the international agenda. Malta’s priorities include preventing its North African neighbor Libya from becoming a failed state and a haven for Islamic jihadists.
Although the first source of income is not trade, Malta has a presence in international trade with its historical and large-volume ports. Marsaxlokk Port, which is one of the important ports of the Mediterranean and is among the world’s top 50 port in the field of transportation1, operates in Malta with a Turkish business partner. In addition, Malta’s economic relations with China at a higher rate than other EU countries are due to the investments it made in Malta, which it sees as an important port in the Mediterranean within the scope of the Belt Road Initiative. This also affects its political relations with China. Malta is pressured in the joint decision-making processes from the EU on this issue.
Malta is in a different position in its relations with the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus, which is a member of the Commonwealth. It is known that he sees it as two island administrations in the Mediterranean, conducts diplomatic missions and joint studies with the Greek Cypriot administration. Especially after the EU membership, the partnership between the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus and Malta has deepened.
At the same time, Malta has been seen as the country that will provide the most favorable communication between the North and the South in the Mediterranean Union intellectual process put forward in Europe. Malta, which is also included in the Mediterranean Seven called EUMED within the EU, is a “useful partner” in France’s North Africa and Middle East policies. In the idea of a common trade zone supported by the USA, it has been evaluated as a country that can negotiate with Israel and Palestine simultaneously.
Despite its constitutionally declared military neutrality2, Malta is fully committed to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. It acted together with the EU naval units against piracy in Somalia and against irregular immigration in the Mediterranean. The operation, which started with Sophia in the Mediterranean, continues with Irini in 2020. Operation Irini, which is planned to last until 2021 and is managed from Rome, has started its activities to control the arms embargo against Libya with the UN decision, taking its priority from the fight against irregular migration and human trafficking. In addition, the operation, which will follow the illegal oil and petroleum products trade by Libya, has received many criticisms. In addition, the operation, which will follow the illegal oil and petroleum products trade by Libya, has received many criticisms. Finally, Malta announced that it withdrew from the operation in May 2020. The fact that the EU policies, which have a share in the increasing continuation of the conflict in Libya, cause the increase of immigrants and the EU and member states not following effective action in this regard, leaving Malta in an increasingly difficult situation can be seen as Malta’s withdrawal from the Operation Irini.
After the withdrawal of Malta from Operation Irini, the responses from Europe are united in point that ‘Malta is moving away from the idea of an alliance, which led the field with Turkey to Russia’. On the other hand, Malta, which is not treated fairly especially regarding irregular migrants, expressed its discomfort about the unilateral nature of the operation. So much so that, as a country that wants stability in Libya, Malta has repeatedly emphasized that the necessary things have not been done in Libya to achieve stability and that the control of the arms embargo should be done not only from the sea but also from the land on the border of Egypt. It was understood by the public that the operation, in which Germany also participated subsequently, has been carried out against the Libyan GNA and the Haftar Forces have not been affected, with Malta’s expostulating and emphasis.
Turkey in talks with Malta has reached a consensus on Malta’s sensitivity in Libya. In the tripartite talks with the Libyan GNA, it was emphasized that the southern borders of Libya should be strengthened in the fight against smuggling of weapons, goods and people. It is in accordance with the nature of the process that Malta, which cannot receive support from the EU and its member states, cooperates with multidimensional benefits for its own security in reducing the conflict.
Some member countries have lost their ties with the EU, especially during the Covid19 pandemic. The approach of the EU to a member such as Malta, which has its own characteristics and problems, is not within the framework of the necessity. The uncoordinated policies brought about by this problem caused Malta to remind itself of equal sovereign status in national realities and fair foreign policy rather than acting in the focus of great states in strategic moves in the Mediterranean. The intellectual deviation that occurred after Brexit, especially shook the small but developed countries of the Union. Subsequently, in the pandemic, the EU could not play its role of solidarity and cooperation well and relations between Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Malta with EU and the member states that dominate the Union entered a new era. Although it has not been significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic in numbers, Malta has seen the inadequacy of EU policies in implementation.
Malta supports a non-military solution and territorial integrity and stability in Libya. For this, he prefers and suggests meeting with the officially recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). Considering that Britain and France refused the continuity of the arms embargo for the civil solution that Malta demanded for Syria before, in the field of international security, Malta differs from Europe in terms of ideas. This method, that Turkey also supports, strengthens the hand of Malta. In addition, Turkey as the most experienced country for irregular migration in the world can understand both of Libya and Malta in the process, it is an important factor in working for a solution. The humanitarian, financial and security support for preventing of the migration route especially from Sub-Saharan Africa to Libya and from there to Europe via Malta3 on the sea and lands, comply with the existing vision of Turkey.
Malta will increase its strategic presence and power in the region when it manages its features with the right cooperation. It is likely to play a role in the future of Libya and security of Eastern Mediterranean.
- It is in a neutral position according to its Constitution. As a result of this neutrality, it restricts foreign soldiers and bases in its territory and even limits the use of its ports.
- Although the route is generally Italy, as a result of Italy’s efforts to keep immigrants away from their own lands and difficult sea conditions, Malta is the first country to encounter immigrants and the EU does not support this process.