Gonzi, Lawrence (Malta)

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Appointed Malta’s prime minister on 23 March 2004, Lawrence Gonzi oversaw the nation’s accession to the EU six weeks later. Leading the right-of-centre Nationalist Party (NP), he advocated seizing the opportunities for trade and investment afforded by Malta’s EU membership, including adoption of the single European currency. He was re-elected in 2008 but his government fell in Dec. 2012.

Early Life

Lawrence Gonzi was born on 1 July 1953 in Valletta, Malta. He attended St Joseph’s school, St Aloysious College and The Archbishop’s Seminary, and went on to study law at the University of Malta, graduating in 1975, the year after Malta became a fully independent republic (having achieved independence from Great Britain in 1964). Gonzi took up employment as a junior solicitor in a private firm and later worked as a company lawyer with the Mizzi Organization. From 1976 he was engaged in the voluntary sector, working with people with disabilities and mental health problems. He was also the general president of the Malta Catholic Action Movement between 1976 and 1986.

Gonzi entered politics in 1986, contesting the 1987 general election as a candidate for the Nationalist Party. Duly elected, he served in the government of the new Nationalist prime minister, Edward Fenech Adami. Gonzi was elected speaker of the House of Representatives on 10 Oct. 1988. The NP took up a pro-Western stance and argued for integration into the European Community. It also embarked on a programme to stimulate business, increase tourism and reduce the role of the government in the economy. The party held on to power in the 1992 general election, but lost the Oct. 1996 poll to a rejuvenated MLP, led by Alfred Sant.

Gonzi retained his parliamentary seat in the 1996 election and, a month later, was appointed opposition party whip, secretary to the parliamentary group and shadow minister for social policy. The following year he was elected secretary general of the Nationalist Party, subsequently playing a central role in achieving an NP electoral victory after just 22 months of the Labour administration. Gonzi was appointed minister for social policy and leader of the House of Representatives. The appointment of Prof. Guido de Marco as president of the republic on 2 May 1999 prompted Gonzi to contest the election for the deputy leadership of the NP. He was successful, and shortly afterwards was made deputy to Prime Minister Adami.

During his years at the social policy ministry, Gonzi is remembered for reforms to the industrial relations legislation, his zero-tolerance policy towards benefit fraud and for overseeing the restructuring of Malta’s shipyards. In March 2003 Malta’s population voted in favour of EU membership in a referendum, and the following month the NP was returned to power in a general election. Adami stepped down as NP leader in March 2004, and in the subsequent leadership contest, Gonzi emerged victorious. On 23 March 2004 he took office as prime minister (and minister of finance) of Malta.

Career Peak

In his first media briefing in April 2004, Prime Minister Gonzi announced his government’s intention to adopt the euro ‘when it is advantageous to Malta’. He also proposed to boost tourism (the nation’s most important source of income), create favourable conditions for investment, restructure the public finances and improve Malta’s competitiveness in the international market. In Nov. 2005 Gonzi hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). In Dec. 2007 his government signed the Lisbon treaty on streamlining the operation of the European Union and from 1 Jan. 2008 Malta adopted the single currency.

The NP won a third successive term by narrowly winning the popular vote in parliamentary elections in March 2008, with Gonzi being sworn in for a second prime ministerial term (but relinquishing the finance portfolio) on 11 March. In an address to the nation he said that his government would concentrate particularly on sustainable development, with an emphasis on the environment.

In April 2009 the Maltese government refused to accept 140 illegal African migrants aboard a cargo ship that had rescued them in rough waters near the island of Lampedusa, claiming that they were Italy’s responsibility.

Entering the final year of his second term and in the wake of internal rifts within his Nationalist Party, Gonzi narrowly survived a parliamentary vote of confidence in June 2012. However, in Dec. his government was defeated on a budget vote and fell.

In Dec. 2012 Gonzi’s government collapsed over negotiations on the following year’s budget. In March 2013 the NP faced a crushing defeat at the general elections and Gonzi resigned from the party leadership.

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