Times of Malta, 22nd August 2008, by Claudia Calleja –

Concern about the environment and energy-related issues has grown markedly among the Maltese, according to a new EU survey.

While rising prices and immigration remain the two major areas of concern, the Eurobarometer Spring 2008 national report shows that, when compared to autumn 2007 figures, Maltese people have shifted their worries about unemployment and the economic situation to green issues.

After ranking sixth and 11th in autumn, protection of the environment and energy issues ranked third and fourth on the list of “important issues faced by Malta” in spring. Unemployment and the economic situation, which had ranked third and fourth last autumn, dropped to ninth and seventh respectively.

As he outlined the results yesterday morning, national report editor Robert Micallef explained that the data was based on face-to-face interviews carried out with 500 Maltese respondents between March 26 and April 16.

When asked about the most important issues faced by Malta at the moment, 40 per cent (down by one per cent since the Autumn 2007 report) of Maltese respondents referred to rising prices and inflation as a primary concern.

Another 29 per cent mentioned immigration, down 11 per cent since the autumn report.

Third came environmental protection at 21 per cent, an increase of 10 per cent). And the fourth top concern was energy-related issues with 18 per cent, a 13 per cent rise.

These were followed by concerns about housing, crime, the economic situation, the health system, unemployment and pensions.

The report noted a trend in the drop in concern about immigration in spring since the largest influx was experienced in the summer months (and this was then reflected in the autumn report).

The main three topics of concern across the EU were inflation, unemployment and the economic situation.

The report also shows that 85 per cent of the Maltese respondents were satisfied with the life they lead – an increase of two per cent since the autumn survey – whereas 15 per cent were not.

Joanna Drake, the head of the European Commission’s representation in Malta, defined the results as “very positive”. Malta was one of the only three countries where positive changes in opinions regarding EU membership were found, she noted. The other two were Cyprus and the Czech Republic.

Contrary to the general tendency in the EU, in Malta respondents had increasingly positive expectations concerning the economic and the employment outlook for the next 12 months, the report said.

Forty per cent (+ five per cent) of Maltese respondents said the economic situation in Malta will get better in the next year, 17 per cent (- three per cent) said it will get worse, 24 per cent said it will remain the same.

This compared favourably with EU averages whereby 24 per cent of the population said they expect their economic situation to improve with 26 per cent expecting it to get worse.

The report also states that the most positive changes in trust in the EU were recorded in Malta and Cyprus, as well as in Slovakia and Finland. Trust levels decline most of all in Austria, Hungary and Greece.

“It appears that increases in trust levels in the EU are to some extent linked to increases in trust levels of national institutions,” the report said. Data for Malta showed that 56 per cent (+ 11 per cent) of Maltese respondents said they tend to trust the government whereas 34 (- nine per cent) do not; 54 per cent (+ 12 per cent) trust the national Parliament and 30 per cent (-14 per cent) do not; 35 per cent (+ six per cent) tend to trust political parties while 48 (- eight per cent) do not; 52 per cent (+ five per cent) tend to trust Malta’s legal system whereas 36 per cent (- seven per cent) do not.

The report also shows that the Maltese had greater confidence in the EU institutions than the EU average: 61 per cent of the Maltese trusted the European Parliament (compared to the EU average of 52 per cent); 58 per cent trusted the European Commission (EU average 47 per cent) and 55 per cent trusted the European Council (EU average 43 per cent).

There has also been a six per cent increase, to 60 per cent, in the number of people who agreed with EU membership and an increase of nine per cent, to 72 per cent, of those who supported euro adoption when compared to the autumn figures.

The full national report can be viewed on http://ec.europa.eu/.