MaltaToday Survey | The Maltese believe Ebola is the biggest threat to world peace right now

MaltaToday Survey | Angela Merkel most popular, Israel and Russia shunned, Chinese investment welcomed

A new drug, ZMapp, produced by California-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, has already been used to treat two US aid workers and a Spanish priest infected with Ebola.
A new drug, ZMapp, produced by California-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, has already been used to treat two US aid workers and a Spanish priest infected with Ebola.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: the most trusted foreign leader by the Maltese
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: the most trusted foreign leader by the Maltese

Fifty years after Malta gained its place in the international community of nations as an independent state a MaltaToday survey explores how the Maltese view the rest of the world and finds local admiration for austerity-driven Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Maltese also display openness towards China, with 60% approving the partial sale of Enemalta to a Chinese government-owned company.

The survey also shows strong disapproval of Israeli and Russian foreign policies.

When asked to express a preference between six world leaders the Maltese prefer German Chancellor Angela Merkel to US President Barack Obama, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Vladimir Putin is the least liked, surpassed even by the less known Chinese President, Li Xinping.

Despite the Chancellor’s bad reputation in neighbouring Mediterranean nations, German foreign policy gets a 70% approval rating here.

The Maltese are also most likely to side with the West in Ukraine and largely disapprove of Russian foreign policy. But despite a general western orientation in their foreign policy choices, the Maltese strongly disapprove of Israeli foreign policy, which has been traditionally supported by the West.

Moreover despite the West’s traditional support for Israel, only 7% support Israel in the current war in Gaza, which received lukewarm support from the US, whose foreign policy is only deemed positive by 41%. 

The Maltese are also lukewarm towards China’s foreign policy, approved by only 38% of respondents, but are open to Chinese investment to the extent that 60% approve an agreement through which a Chinese state owned company would buy a 33% stake in Enemalta. 

The Maltese are divided when asked whether Malta should emulate Dubai’s model when it comes to development, as recently suggested by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, even if they tend to associate the rich emirate with luxury and extreme wealth.

In what could be an indication of widespread disinterest in EU institutions more than two thirds cannot name the newly elected President of the EU commission.

A survey of attitudes towards 15 countries also revealed that Germany is admired for being disciplined and economically stable and that Sweden is more known in Malta for its blondes than for its gender equality and welfare state.

Azerbaijan is more known for hosting the Eurovision two years ago than for its role in supplying gas to the new power station. Confirming prejudices against both Africans and East Europeans, South Africa is incorrectly associated with diseases like Ebola and nearly a tenth associate Romania with criminals.

Moreover Ebola is considered one of the major threats to world security even if the spread of the disease has so far been limited to poor countries with an inadequate health system.

Perceptions on China range from awe for its economic progress and an anachronistic association of modern capitalist China with communism.

A Maltese profile of 15 nations

Respondents were asked to state the first word which comes to mind when they heard the name of 15 countries, including the five emerging economies known as BRICS, five EU member states, two African countries, Syria, Dubai, the United States and Switzerland. This is the profile of each of these countries emerging from the survey.

Russia: War, girls and oligarchs                     

Perceptions on Russia are conditioned by the current conflict in the Ukraine, which dominated the news over the past months.  Perceptions on Russia tend to be stereotypical, ranging from the obvious climatic association of Russia with cold weather, vodka and its historical association with Communism. Some Maltese also make some observations on current Russian society, with 4% making reference to a class of very rich people who emerged from the ashes of Stalinist Russia. Some respondents associated these rich Russians with Malta’s citizenship scheme.

But only 2% refer to Russia’s strategic role in providing Europe with natural gas. Moreover while 8% associate Russia with “beautiful women”, only 1% refer to human trafficking.

China: Progress or global dominance?

China is the only one of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India China and South Africa) included in the survey associated with progress and economic might.

But despite the remarkable transformation, which saw the emergence of a capitalist class in China co-existing with one party rule, 14% still associate the emerging giant with communism. But 11% associate China with economic and technological progress and 6% associate it with trade progress. A further 5% referred to its economic power, which according to some may lead to global dominance. Despite this awe at China’s economic prowess 12% associate China’s economy with cheap labour and products and child labour.

Only 1% associate China with the iconic Tiananmen revolt. None associate China with military might, an issue which is creating concern in South East Asia. Instead a tenth associate China with its food, reflecting the proliferation of Chinese restaurants in Malta over the past two decades.

India, curry and poverty?

Perceptions on India remain crystallised in the past, with most respondents ignoring the economic prowess of the emerging BRICS nation where extreme poverty coexists with wealth and Bollywood stars.

Dubai: wealth, luxury and artificial things

Dubai, one of the emirates constituting the United Arab Emirates is mostly associated with wealth and luxury. In a reflection of Maltese aesthetic taste, 6% associate the emirate with “beauty” even if 4% associate it with “artificiality”.

Interestingly Maltese perceptions on Dubai also resonate with the current government’s planning agenda which foresees more high rise development and land reclamation. None associates Dubai with its more controversial side; namely the exploitation of foreign workers and human rights violations.

United States of America: vast and mighty

The sole remaining global military super power elicits a variety of impressions ranging from an adversity to its arrogance and interventionism to a reverence towards the American dream and perceived role in furthering the cause of freedom. Hollywood and Las Vegas also dominate perceptions along with the iconic and tragic twin towers image. Completely absent from the Maltese landscape is the US association with counter culture, music and its civil rights movement.

Brazil: football, samba and carnival

Brazil is another BRICS nation whose technological and economic prowess escapes the popular imagery of the country, which remains firmly anchored in its association with football, carnival, coffee and samba. Yet with regard to Brazil, probably thanks to the left wing orientation of the Church in Latin America, the Maltese also display sensitivity towards social inequality and unfair income distribution.


The Maltese show an awareness of problems like poverty, hunger and war, which contribute to the influx of migrants who cross to the Mediterranean. Yet 5% also associate Somalia as a country with “disease” which suggests a latent fear of migration from this war ravaged failed state.

Switzerland: From Heidi to Sant

The picture most Maltese have of Switzerland is that of an idyllic alpine country derived from a book on Heidi and is replete with references to mountains, natural beauty, chocolate and cheese.  But 9% also associate Switzerland with banks. The Maltese also tend to associate this country with discipline and cleanliness, an observation also made in regard of other Northern European countries mentioned in the survey. 

A few Maltese also associate Switzerland with Alfred Sant, who popularised what was originally Mintoff’s vision of Malta as a Switzerland in the Mediterranean, an allusion to its role as a neutral country in Europe.

Sweden: Blondes and welfare


It may well be Europe’s leader when it comes to gender equality but in the Maltese psyche Sweden is associated with beautiful, mostly blonde women. Only 2% associate Sweden with gender equality while 10% associate it with beautiful women. Yet Sweden also elicits some more sophisticated references to its welfare state, environmentally friendly and liberal policies. Yet none referred to Sweden’s increasingly multicultural identity, having absorbed the largest influx of migrants coming to Europe in the past years.

Italy: Gastronomy and culture

While Germany is viewed as Europe’s powerhouse, Italy is seen as Europe’s more lyrical underbelly, mainly associated with food, fashion and culture. In contrast to Germany, Italy is associated with economic crises and political instability. In a gross generalisation 8% associate Italy with the mafia.  Despite the popularity of Italian football only 2% associate Italy with the game.

UK: Royals and shopping

In a sign of lingering colonial ties combined with the media circus around it, the royal family dominates the postcard images the Maltese have of the United Kingdom. In a sign of the resilience of Oxford Street in the Maltese psyche, the UK is also seen as a shopping destination. The UK is also associated with multiculturalism or more blatantly with black people by a smaller minority.

Germany: Discipline and strength

Although 7% remain trapped in the past, associating modern democratic Germany with the Nazi past, most Maltese tend to associate Germany with its fiscal and economic discipline or “seriousness.” Yet the Maltese image of Germany tends to border on the stereotypical, with most Maltese ignoring the late back and bohemian scene in cities like Berlin.  In fact the Maltese stereotype of Germany seems to fulfil German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s appeal to the proverbial austerity of the Swabian housewife. Interesting is the association of Germany with cleanliness and references to the “cold character” of Germans.

Romania: adoptions, poverty and crime…

Most people associate Romania – one of the latest countries to join the EU – with poverty. But a substantial fifth also associate Romania with adoptions. This reflects the large number of children who were adopted by Maltese couples in the 1990s following the fall of communism. This positive association tampers more negative images of Romanians as criminals (a view expressed by 3%), which is fuelled by the sensationalist media in neighbouring Italy. Interestingly 3% associate Romanians with the Roma minority, a minority pushed to the margins of Romanian society.  A small number of respondents also associate Romanians with pole dancers working in gentlemen’s clubs and a smaller number with human trafficking.

Syria: war and fundamentalism

Syria is mostly associated with the civil war, which has been ongoing for the past three years. A sizeable 4% also associate Syrians with plasterers working in Malta. Despite the arrival of Syrian refugees in the past months only 3% associate Syria with immigration. This could reflect the association of migrants with Africa.

Libya: war and confusion      

Oil rich Libya is associated with war and confusion in a reflection of current events, which have seen rival militias battling each other and the erosion of the last remnants of central authority. Only 5% associate Libya with its former dictator Gaddafi.

South Africa: poverty, disease and Mandela

Just 7% associate South Africa with the iconic Nelson Mandela who led the struggle against apartheid, just one notch above those who associate South Africa with its wild life.

Clearly South Africa is also perceived to include a larger portion of sub Saharan Africa to the extent that 11% associate it with ebola, a disease that has not affected this nation.  4% even associate South Africa with immigration, even if South Africans do not feature among those seeking protection in Malta.

Azerbaijan: Eurovision and gas

Despite its growing importance as a shareholder in the ElectroGas consortium, which is set to dominate the local gas market for the next 18 years, Azerbaijan emerges, as the least known among the countries surveyed. In fact only 32% could think of something when they were faced with this country. Interestingly half of these mentioned the Eurovision song festival, controversially held in the country in 2012 amid widespread repression against human rights campaigners in a country ruled by the Aliyev dynasty.

70% approve German foreign policy

Among five countries surveyed, German foreign policy is the only one to be rated positively by an absolute majority of Maltese.

This could be an indication that most Maltese identify with the European Union, of which Germany is the leading member. 

In the survey respondents were also asked to assess the foreign policy of the USA, Germany, China, Russia and Israel.

Interestingly German foreign policy is judged more positively than that of the United States of America, a fellow NATO member and sole remaining super power.

While 41% approve US foreign policy 37% are lukewarm, expressing a nuanced so-so judgement. Yet only 6% give an outrightly negative assessment of US foreign policy. 

This suggests that the Maltese have doubts on US foreign policies.

The Maltese are equally lukewarm on China, with only 38% expressing a favourable view of Chinese foreign policies.  But the Maltese are more likely to view China’s foreign policy negatively. While only 6% assess the United States’ foreign policy negatively, 19% assess China’s foreign policy negatively.

Not surprisingly the most negative ratings were registered by Russia and Israel, two nations currently involved in regional conflicts.

Only 6% judged Israeli foreign policy positively while 47% judged it negatively. 

This suggests that the Maltese do not approve Israel’s attack on Gaza, which has left more than 2,000 Palestinians (70% of them civilians) and 67 Israelis dead.

Views on Russian foreign policy – dominated by the current crisis in the Ukraine – is slightly more nuanced with 13% approving its foreign policy and 39% disapproving it.

Merkel preferred to Obama

In another sign of positive views on Germany, Angela Merkel tops Maltese preferences from a list of six Prime Ministers and heads of state, who also included Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, British PM David Cameron, Chinese President Li Xinping, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Merkel emerges from the survey 10 points more popular than second placed Barack Obama.

Putin emerges from the survey as the least popular leader, with less than 2% of preferences.

Curiously, Matteo Renzi was only chosen by 4% of respondents despite Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation, which has practically relieved Malta of the perceived migration “burden”.

The Euro sceptic David Cameron, who in recent months has drifted towards more isolationist positions, is slightly more popular than Matteo Renzi. But this could also reflect the fact that Renzi has only been Prime Minister since February.

Pro Palestine and Pro Ukraine

While a relative majority of Maltese support a pro western stance on Ukraine, they are more likely to support the Palestinians despite the lukewarm support given by the United States to Israel.

This suggests that the Maltese are not conditioned by cold war alignments in their views on international events.

The survey shows that while 40% think that the Palestinians’ stance is more justified, only 7% think that Israel is in the right. 
But a substantial percentage of Maltese are non-committal. While 20% think neither side is right, 31% could not express an opinion. A small number of respondents (2%) think that both sides are right.

With regard to the Ukraine only 11% think that Russia and the separatists in East Ukraine are most justified, 44% are in line with the position of the Ukrainian government, which is supported by the EU and the USA. Still, a substantial 38% replied, “don’t know.”  Only 7% expressed the view that both sides are in the wrong. 

The survey coincided with increased civilian casualties as the Ukrainian army continued besieging towns in East Ukraine dominated by the separatists.

Welcome to China, doubts on Dubai

Although only 38% approve China’s foreign policy, an overwhelming 60% expressed a positive view on the agreement through which a Chinese state owned company will buy a 33% stake in Enemalta in a deal which would see the Chinese company shoulder a part of the corporation’s debt.

This suggests that the Maltese are pragmatic when it comes to commercial relations with a power whose foreign policies they do not approve entirely.

In fact only 26% expressed a negative view on Chinese investment in Enemalta.

In view of the Prime Minister’s recent declaration that he wants to turn Malta into the next Dubai and Singapore, respondents were also asked whether Malta should emulate Dubai when it comes to development. The survey shows the Maltese split between 42% who find Dubai an undesirable model and 37% who find this model desirable.

Juncker unknown to 70%

New European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker remains largely unknown in Malta. In fact only 28% could state the name of the present commissioner. When asked 2% either mentioned his predecessor Jose Manuel Barroso or his rival to the post Martin Schulz, while an overwhelming 70% replied don’t know.

Juncker was the first president of the Commission to be indicated by the party winning the relative majority in EU elections following a campaign, which saw both leading candidates for the post visiting Malta.

Fear of Ebola and ISIS

When asked to state the greatest threat to world peace and security respondents reflected global apprehension on the spread of ebola and the rise of the ISIS caliphate in Iraq.

In an indication of a Maltese lingering obsession with immigration 12% consider it as the most pressing problem in the world.

While as a single issue ebola tops the list of concerns as a single issue (15%), 16% expressed concern on Islamic fundamentalism and ISIS. In a clear indication of islamophobic views, a further 7% consider Islam and Arabs as a problem.

This suggests that a significant percentage of Maltese fail to make a distinction between Islam, and the atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians, Yazidi and other fellow Muslims.

In another generalisation 5% consider religion in general to be a threat to peace and security.


A total of 541 respondents were contacted, 400 accepted to participate. The results were weighed to reflect the age and gender balance of the population. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.