The Republic of Malta lies about 90 km south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea and consists of the three islands Malta (246 km²), Gozo (67 km²) and Comino (3 km²). Together with two smaller, uninhabited islands, the three islands form the remainder of a land bridge that connected Sicily with North Africa 15 million years ago.
The main island Malta occupies about 80 % of the total national area (316 km²) and consists of a limestone plateau, which gradually rises from northeast to southwest to a height of up to 253 m (Bingemma Heights). Large areas are karstified, there are no rivers or natural lakes on the island. The coast is bay-rich and flat in the north and east, in the south and west there are steep coasts with numerous caves. On the island of Malta lies the capital of the republic, Valletta. The island of Gozo lies five kilometres north-west of Malta and also consists of a limestone plateau up to 176 metres high. Between Gozo and Malta lies the island of Comino, only three square kilometres in size, where sheep are raised.
Malta has a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. In the capital, Valletta, average temperatures are 26°C in July and 13°C in January. In summer, maximum temperatures of up to 42 °C can be reached. The average annual rainfall is 550 mm and falls mainly in the months of November to February.
Flora and Fauna
Hardly any of the original island vegetation has survived; today, hard leaves and shrub willow (macchia and garigue) dominate, replacing the former forests. Typical examples are thyme, lavender and spurge. Many of the plant species present today were introduced to the island, e.g. oil and carob trees, Aleppo pines and oleanders.
Larger wild animals are no longer found on Malta. The animal world is species-poor, frequently to be found are e.g. hedgehogs, mice, rabbits, rats, lizards and snakes. Hunting for native songbirds (larks, thrushes, blue alder) and migratory birds migrating twice a year is still common.
A total of 399 000 inhabitants live in the Republic of Malta, most of them on the main island. With over 1 260 inhabitants per square kilometre, the population density is very high. The largest city is Birkirkara with about 22 500 inhabitants, followed by Qormi (18 500) and Mosta (18 100). The capital Valletta has about 7,100 inhabitants. 95.7% of the population are Maltese, descendants of the many different conquerors of the islands (Phoenicians, Arabs, Italians, Normans). The largest minority are the British, who make up around 2% of the total population. An estimated 400 000 Maltese live abroad.
The official languages of Malta are English and Maltese, an Arabic language with Italian elements. Over 95% of the population is Roman Catholic, the British on the island are mostly Anglican.
The social, health and educational systems meet European standards. Life expectancy is 79 years on average, population growth is 0.4%. 93% of the Maltese population can read and write.
Malta is a parliamentary republic under the Constitution adopted in 1974. The head of state is the president (since April 2009 George Abela), who is elected by parliament for five years and above all performs representative functions. The head of government is the Prime Minister (since March 2013 Joseph Muscat), who normally represents the strongest party in parliament and is appointed by the President of the Republic.
The legislative power lies with the parliament, which consists of a single chamber. The 67 members are elected by the people on the basis of proportional representation for a term of five years. Further seats are sometimes granted to the ruling party to ensure a stable majority in parliament. The two major political parties in Malta are the Nationalist Party (NP) and the Socialist Labour Party.
Malta has relatively stable growth rates and is a prosperous country. The unemployment rate for 2012 was 6.4%.
Agriculture plays only a minor role, only about 20 % of the population’s own needs can be covered by Maltese products and only 2 % of the gross domestic product (GDP) is achieved in this sector. The main crops are potatoes, citrus fruits, melons, cereals (wheat, barley) and wine. On the small island of Comino there is intensive sheep farming.
The most important economic sectors are electronics and textile production, the Vallettas shipyards in Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour, trade, insurance and banking, services and tourism. The services sector accounts for 77% of GDP and visitor numbers are constantly rising.
Malta’s main exports are mineral oils and lubricants as well as machinery and transport equipment purchased by China, Singapore, the USA and the major EU countries. The main imports are the same goods, mainly from Italy and other EU countries. The euro was introduced on 1 January 2008.