Malta is a Republic, a parliamentary democracy. It gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. The legislative power lies with the unicameral House of Representatives, Il Kamara tad Deputati, made up of 65 members who serve five-year terms and are directly elected. Every five years, the House of Representative elects the President, whose function as Head of State is largely ceremonial. The President then selects a Prime Minister and, with the Prime Minister's recommendation, a cabinet of ministers. The Prime Minister and his cabinet of ministers hold the executive power. The court system in Malta is separate from the government.
The government is seeking to develop the economy though increased tourism, by becoming a financial center, and through export-dedicated manufacturing. Malta is also in talks with Tunisia to discuss oil exploration of a continental shelf between them for commercial exploitation.
The island's principal strength is its strategic location, in the middle of the Mediterranean, as a gateway between Western and Eastern worlds. It has also benefited from its numerous, quiet harbors perfect for the ships, both naval and commercial, that have passed through over the many years. Former British naval yards, converted to commercial ports have made Malta an ideal transshipment site.
The industrial sector produces textiles, clothing, footwear, plastics, printing, electronic components and electrical equipment. Malta exports most of its products to France. Other trade partners include the United States, Germany, Singapore, the UK, Italy, and Libya. Malta has traditionally had close ties with Libya because it is the main supplier of oil for the island's energy needs.
In May 2004, fourteen years after first submitting a bid for membership, Malta joined the European Union.