In The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2017 Democracy Index, published in January, Malta recorded the steepest score decline in Western Europe.
Malta maintained its “full democracy” status, coming in at 17th worldwide. However, the country recorded the steepest decline of any west European country (-0.24) in 2017, falling to 8.15 (on a scale of 0‑10).
The decline was triggered by the unresolved murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which exposed weaknesses in the rule of law in Malta and the inability of the country’s institutions to protect journalists and uphold media freedom and freedom of expression.
The study has five criteria: Whether elections are free and fair (electoral process and pluralism), governments have checks and balances (functioning of government), and whether citizens are included in politics (political participation), support their government (political culture), and enjoy freedom of expression (civil liberties).
Compared to the previous year, Malta obtained identical scores in all but one of the categories with the country dropping more than 1 point in the civil liberties category. In 2016 Malta was rated 9.71 but this has now gone down to 8.53.
Overall Malta dropped two places and in the other categories Malta obtained 9.17 in electoral process and pluralism, 8.21 in functioning of government, 6.11 in political participation and 8.75 in political culture.
Caruana Galizia’s murder has put Malta under the spotlight and the country’s institutions have come in for stern criticism from the European Parliament which has expressed concerns about the apparent unwillingness to investigate allegations of corruption, the misapplication of EU laws, the lack of political independence of the media and the growing perception of Malta as an international focal point for money laundering and tax avoidance.
In November 2017, the European Parliament demanded that the rule of law in Malta be closely monitored to ensure proper law enforcement and compliance with EU rules on money laundering and banking activities.
MEPs noted the Maltese authorities’ failure to investigate serious allegations of corruption and the sale of EU citizenship through Malta’s cash for passports scheme.
Following their fact finding mission, the MEPs led by Socialist Ana Gomes also called for an independent international investigation into Caruana Galizia’s assassination, with the full involvement of Europol.
The resolution adopted by the European Parliament includes the remote possibility of the EU opening infringement procedures against Malta by invoking Article 7 of the EU treaty, which could see Malta losing its voting rights unless it adheres to the demands put forward by the European Commission.
But in its lengthy reply, government said the MEPs showed “a fundamental lack of understanding” of how things work in Malta and repeated its mantra that it has introduced significant reforms since taking power in 2013.