With a general election, a PN leadership election, the Egrant story, the collapse of the Azure Window and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, it’s fair to say that 2017 has been one of the most tumultuous years in recent Maltese history. And all signs point towards 2018 continuing down this path – with some major issues set to arise that promise to shape Malta in the next year and beyond.
1. Constitutional reform
Malta’s current Constitution has stood firm since 1974, but the winds of change are blowing and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has pledged to bring about the Second Republic. Constitutional reform could drastically impact everything from the police force to the courts to electoral laws, and will shape Maltese institutions for the decades to come. Both Labour and PN have said they want to discuss such a reform but the time has now come to see exactly what changes the parties have up their sleeves.
2. Malta as a blockchain island
Muscat wants Malta to be a global trailblazer in embracing the blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, but with Gibraltar already regulating the technology and other countries looking to follow suit, time is not on his side. Expect a national blockchain regulator to be set up in the early months of next year, and the government to implement blockchain within the public sector while incentivising companies to embrace it too.
3. Air Malta: Now or never
Air Malta’s future remains up in the air after negotiations with Italian airline Alitalia collapsed at the start of the year, and tourism minister Konrad Mizzi has now pledged to restructure the airline’s finances before searching for a new strategic partner. Air Malta’s ultimate plan is to become a Mediterranean hub linking Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, but it is as yet unknown how it plans to achieve this aim. The country expects some much-needed clarity on the national airline’s future next year.
4. Law and order: now a priority
Joseph Muscat has pledged to turn Labour into a “law and order” movement, while PN leader Adrian Delia has highlighted this as one of Malta’s major problems. Muscat drew first blood when he deployed the army to the streets of Marsa, but expect Delia to try and outdo his political rival in promoting law and order policies.
The focus on law and order will also spark a serious debate on whether Maltese society should sacrifice privacy for the sake of security, a controversy that came to the fore when a new government company announced plans to install CCTV cameras with facial recognition software across Paceville.
5. A changed media landscape
How will Malta’s media react to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia?
Daphne Caruana Galizia was a crucial part of the Maltese media landscape, with a unique brand of journalism, and her assassination has left a vacuum within the press. It is still unclear how the Maltese media will respond to the post Caruana Galizia age.
2018 will also be the year the new Media and Defamation law comes into play, with criminals libel abolished and mediation introduced as an alternative to libel in disputes between journalists and injured parties. Yet the Maltese press is also facing a new threat, with companies threatening to sue them in the USA for millions of dollars if they do not pull down certain articles, and the Maltese government could be pressured to take action.
It will also be interesting to see how traditional media outlets respond and adapt to the rise of online and social media news platforms and the decline of print readership.
6. Weed, reproductive rights, prostitution, euthanasia
Three controversial civil liberties are expected to dominate public debate next year – namely whether Malta should legalise weed for recreational use, whether it should regulate prostitution, and whether it should open the door for more advanced reproductive technologies. Euthanasia was not included in Labour’s electoral programme, but it could nevertheless blow up as an issue next year as more and more Maltese people feel comfortable promoting it.
Muscat has paid lip service to all these issues, but we still have no idea what sorts of laws he intends to propose.
The debates will be a true litmus test on how far Muscat is ready to go to transform Malta into a socially liberal country.
7. Labour’s leadership race
One of Joseph Muscat’s major strengths has been his ability to keep the Labour Party completely united throughout his 11 years in charge. However, with the end of his premiership drawing closer and rumours abounding that he could take up a top job in the EU in 2019, the race to replace Muscat could well kick off next year.
The race could present Labour with some serious existential problems – whether it should follow in Muscat’s successful footsteps or whether it should return to its more ideological socialist roots.
Deputy PM Chris Fearne, transport minister Ian Borg, MEP Miriam Dalli and MP Robert Abela have all been touted for the top job, but more surprises could await..
8. Large-scale projects
Construction work on the Townsquare Tower will start next year
Expect 2018 to be the year of large-scale construction and infrastructural works like never before; most crucially, a flyover will be built at the Marsa-Paola junction and the government will start getting serious on its electoral pledge to upgrade all of Malta’s roads within seven years. Works will also kick into gear on the Townsquare skyscraper project and eyes will be on the Planning Authority to see whether it will also green-light other proposed skyscrapers in the Sliema-Gzira-St Julian’s region.
Media focus will also be on proposed developments in Zonqor Point and Manuel Island, on regeneration plans for Marsa, Birzebbuga, Marsaxlokk, Marsalforn and lower Valletta, and on whether the government will come up with another masterplan for Paceville.
9. Closure on political scandals
The public is expected to reach some level of closure on a range of political scandals and controversies, as magisterial inquiries and court cases draw to a close. These include a magisterial inquiry into whether Michelle Muscat owns the offshore Panama company Egrant, and a court case filed by economy minister Chris Cardona against Daphne Caruana Galizia over her reports that he had visited a German brothel. In the latter case, the courts have ordered the preservation of Cardona’s mobile phone data on the night he was supposed to be at the brothel.
10. Impact of Brexit and Italian election
The UK’s exit from the European Union has been scheduled for March 2019, meaning 2018 will be the year in which the two parties finally decide the exact terms of the UK’s departure and the status of the new relationship between themselves.
The EU will also be keeping their fingers crossed for next year’s Italian general elections, with polls currently forecasting a victory for the eurosceptic Cinque Stelle party and a rise to the top for 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio.
11. Long-awaited launch of V18
Not exactly an issue, but 2018 will be the year Valletta takes on the reins of the European Capital of Culture, a much-awaited event for Maltese people in the cultural sector. A long cultural programme has been drawn up, which will kick off with an opening ceremony on the 14th January with an island-wide festa in the Maltese capital.