Maltese European Union membership referendum, 2003

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A referendum on European Union membership was held in Malta on 8 March 2003.[1] A narrow majority voted in favour of joining but the opposition Labour Party rejected the results. The victory of the Nationalist Party in the 2003 general election confirmed the result of the referendum and Malta joined the EU on 1 May 2004.

The Maltese referendum saw the highest turnout, and the lowest support for joining, of any of the nine countries that held referendums on joining the EU in 2003.[2][3]


After the Nationalist Party won the 1998 election, the new government reactivated Malta's membership application, which had been suspended by the previous Labour government.[4] Negotiations to join were finished at the Copenhagen summit in December 2002 and Malta was invited to join the EU in 2004.[5]

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.[6]


In the run up to the referendum polls showed voters were evenly divided over EU membership.[7] 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.[8]

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.[8][9]

The largest trade union in Malta, the General Workers' Union opposed membership.[10]

Referendum question[edit]

The question voted in on in the referendum was confirmed on 3 January 2003.[10] 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.[11] 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.[10][12]

The main issue in the 2003 election was EU membership and the Nationalist party's victory enabled Malta to join on 1 May 2004.[13]

Further reading[edit]


  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. ^ "Appendix D - Chronology of EU enlargement" (PDF). Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 February 2004. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  5. ^ "The outcome of the Copenhagen Summit". Efficacité et Transparence des Acteurs Européens. 15 January 2003. Archived from the original on 12 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Malta first in EU referendum race". BBC Online. 2003-01-29. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  7. ^ "Malta voting on EU membership". CNN. 8 March 2003. Archived from the original on 5 February 2008. 
  8. ^ a b Owen, Richard (10 March 2003). "Malta to join EU after knife-edge referendum". The Times. London. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  9. ^ "Malta awaits EU membership verdict". CNN. 9 March 2003. Archived from the original on 1 October 2003. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Malta votes 'yes' to EU membership". CNN. 9 March 2003. Archived from the original on 13 March 2003. 
  12. ^ "Malta PM hopes to ride EU success". CNN. 2003-03-10. Archived from the original on 26 December 2004. 
  13. ^ "Election Results Move Malta Closer to European Union". The New York Times. 2003-04-14. Retrieved 2008-02-27.