2003 Maltese European Union membership referendum

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2003 Maltese European Union membership referendum
Do you agree that Malta should become a member of the European Union in the enlargement that is to take place on 1 May 2004?
Date8 March 2003 (2003-03-08)
Votes %
Yes 143,094 53.65%
No 123,628 46.35%
Valid votes 266,722 98.55%
Invalid or blank votes 3,911 1.45%
Total votes 270,633 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 297,881 90.85%
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A referendum on European Union membership was held in Malta on 8 March 2003.[1] The result was 54% in favour. The subsequent April 2003 general elections were won by the Nationalist Party, which was in favour of EU membership, the opposition Labour Party having opposed joining. Malta joined the EU on 1 May 2004.

The referendum saw the highest turnout in an EU membership referendum (91%) and the lowest support for joining of any of the nine countries that held referendums on joining the EU in 2003.[2][3]


Malta's first relations with the European Economic Community (EEC) saw the signing of an Association Agreement in December 1970. This agreement called for the creation of a customs union based on free trade between Malta and the Bloc.[4]

Malta submitted a formal application to join the European Community in July 1990, which was met with a positive opinion from the European Commission.[4] However the application was suspended in 1996 with a new Labour government.[4] After the Nationalist Party won the 1998 election, the new government reactivated Malta's membership application.[5] Negotiations to join were finished at the Copenhagen summit in December 2002 and Malta was invited to join the EU in 2004.[6]

The government of Malta announced in January 2003 that a non-binding referendum on membership would be held on 8 March 2003 at the same time as local elections.[7]


In the run up to the referendum polls showed voters were evenly divided over EU membership.[8] The Nationalist government argued that Malta would receive EU funds for the roads and tourist industry. They said that Malta needed the EU in order to cope with globalisation and accused the opposition of scaremongering.[9]

The Labour opposition feared that EU membership would cost jobs due to the lowering of trade barriers and jeopardise Malta's independence. They preferred that Malta should form a partnership with the EU rather than seeking membership and called on Maltese votes to either spoil their ballot papers, abstain or vote no. One billboard for the no campaign showed the Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami wearing a Diaper made of the flag of Europe.[9][10]

The largest trade union in Malta, the General Workers' Union opposed membership.[11]

Referendum question[edit]

The question voted in on in the referendum was confirmed on 3 January 2003.[11] It was "Do you agree that Malta should become a member of the European Union in the enlargement that is to take place on 1 May 2004?"[3]


Choice Votes %
For 143,094 53.6
Against 123,628 46.4
Invalid/blank votes 3,911
Total 270,633 100
Registered voters/turnout 297,881 90.9
Source: Nohlen & Stöver


Supporters of the Nationalist party celebrated the result of the referendum but the Labour leader Alfred Sant did not concede defeat and said the issue would be settled at the upcoming general election.[12] He argued that only 48% of registered voters had voted yes and that therefore a majority had opposed membership by voting no, abstaining or spoiling their ballot. The day after the referendum the Prime Minister called the election for 12 April as expected, though it was not required until January 2004.[11][13]

The main issue in the 2003 election was EU membership and the Nationalist party's victory enabled Malta to join on 1 May 2004.[14]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rudolf, Uwe Jens; Berg, Warren G. (2010). Historical Dictionary of Malta. Scarecrow Press. pp. 17–20. ISBN 9780810873902.
  • Fenech, Dominic (July 2003). "The 2003 Maltese EU referendum and general election". West European Politics. 26 (3): 163–170. doi:10.1080/01402380312331280638.


  1. ^ Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p1302 ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7
  2. ^ Briguglio, Michael. "Post-Script: The Malta Labour Party after 1998" (PDF). Michael Briguglio. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b Stajano, Attilio (2006). "Chapter 3.5 An Overview of the Ten Accession Countries of the 2004 Enlargement". Research, Quality, Competitiveness: European Union Technology Policy for the Information Society (second ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. pp. 60–85, page 78. ISBN 978-0-387-28741-6.
  4. ^ a b c "Malta and the EU: History of Malta's EU Membership". EU2017.MT. Maltese Presidency of the EU 2017. 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  5. ^ "Appendix D - Chronology of EU enlargement" (PDF). Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 February 2004. Retrieved 27 February 2008.
  6. ^ "The outcome of the Copenhagen Summit". Efficacité et Transparence des Acteurs Européens. 15 January 2003. Archived from the original on 12 February 2012.
  7. ^ "Malta first in EU referendum race". BBC Online. 29 January 2003.
  8. ^ "Malta voting on EU membership". CNN. 8 March 2003. Archived from the original on 5 February 2008.
  9. ^ a b Owen, Richard (10 March 2003). "Malta to join EU after knife-edge referendum". The Times. London. Retrieved 27 February 2008.
  10. ^ "Malta awaits EU membership verdict". CNN. 9 March 2003. Archived from the original on 1 October 2003.
  11. ^ a b c "Referendum briefing No 2: The Maltese EU accession referendum". Opposing Europe Research Network. 8 March 2003. Archived from the original on 26 May 2014.
  12. ^ "Malta votes 'yes' to EU membership". CNN. 9 March 2003. Archived from the original on 13 March 2003.
  13. ^ "Malta PM hopes to ride EU success". CNN. 10 March 2003. Archived from the original on 26 December 2004.
  14. ^ "Election Results Move Malta Closer to European Union". The New York Times. 14 April 2003.