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France and Malta
Our political relations are excellent and have been growing stronger ever since Malta joined the European Union. Operation Harmattan in Libya showed Malta’s willingness to cooperate, as it made its air and sea space, and Valletta airport, available to the French forces, despite being neutral; in general, France’s attitude towards the Arab countries is deemed constructive, both with regard to the Middle East and the Arab League. France’s interest in the Mediterranean is also very well received by Malta.
At European level, our two countries are both keen to guide Europe towards growth and solidarity, which could lead to converging positions at forthcoming European Council meetings.
Two issues need to be monitored in particular: combating illegal immigration (a real national priority for Malta) and maritime security. Although the fleet under the Maltese flag moved from the “black list” of the Paris MoU to the “white list” in 2010, it remains under surveillance. In 2011, the Maltese fleet was the largest in Europe and the seventh-largest worldwide in terms of transport capacity.
Since Malta joined the EU, visits to both countries have become more frequent. The pace slowed in 2009 but picked up again on 5 October 2012, with the visit of the President of the French Republic and the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, to Valletta for the 5+5 summit. This visit included a bilateral component, which was unprecedented for a French Head of State visiting Malta. On 24 April 2014, the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, was received in Paris by the President of the French Republic. On 11 and 12 May 2015, the French Minister of State for European Affairs visited Valletta. Lastly, the President of the French Republic travelled twice to Valletta in late 2015: the first visit was on 11 and 12 November, for the EU-AU summit on migration, and included a bilateral component; the second visit was for the opening of the Commonwealth summit on 27 November, which was an opportunity to mobilize the participants ahead of COP21.
Our position as fourth-largest trade partner, after Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom, is deceptive (third-largest customer and eighth-largest supplier), because our local investments remain limited. Our companies often consider the Maltese market to be too narrow and our exports largely consist of electronic products imported by the Franco-Italian company STMicroelectronics and petroleum products (supplied by Total, 20% of our sales). Italian companies (which supply the archipelago from Sicily) and German companies (which have made great efforts to establish a community of SMEs alongside Playmobil and Lufthansa) are a step ahead of us. This was highlighted by the closure of the embassy’s economic service in 2010. However, in future, Malta could be viewed by our companies as a base from which to access the North African market.
France’s presence is limited but nevertheless essential to the Maltese economy: STMicroelectronics is the island’s main employer and largest exporter (50% of the country’s exports) and the French-owned company CMA CGM uses Malta’s trade port (12% of container traffic in the Mediterranean). It should be noted that, since 2008, several French businesses in the financial sector have set up branches in Malta: PSA, RCI (Renault), Oney (Auchan), April for insurance, and several French-owned online gambling companies. In the water sector, Malta, which treated only 10% of its waste water in 2004, has built three waste water treatment plants (consortium managed by Degrémont). In the field of telecommunications, Alcatel is the industrial partner of Go, the country’s main telephone operator. In January 2011, Nexans won a €178 million contract to install a submarine cable connecting the Maltese and European power grids. Several French brands have successfully established themselves in Malta: Yves Rocher, Kiabi and Habitat in 2013. Lastly, the number of French tourists continues to grow (120,000 per year).
The Embassy’s action essentially revolves around the Malta-Mediterranean Alliance Française, which teaches 800 students. Although French teaching is thriving at lower secondary school level, it loses a lot of ground to English as pupils prepare to enter the world of work. It is therefore crucial to set up Francophone bilingual sections at upper secondary school level, to raise the profile of French teaching.
Academic cooperation is somewhat limited. There is little student mobility (the University of Malta is partnered with Nancy II University). There is strong competition with Italian and English. Our policy is primarily based on scholarship programmes. The aim is to increase the appeal of French Master’s and PhD courses and promote student mobility by encouraging the University of Malta to develop partnerships with other French universities (building on the 550 existing English-language courses in France).
In the field of science, the most significant and promising initiative is the setting up of a regional office of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Malta and the creation of the MISTRALS research programme in 2011. This is in line with our goal of building a Euro-Mediterranean research space.