Malta: Capital of Innovation in Europe

Malta is positioning itself as a leading European hub for innovation and openness to technology. Its reputation stems from a number of business-friendly regulations put in place to attract investment and spur economic activity in the Mediterranean island.

Malta was once a British colony — gaining independence in 1964. The island nowadays leverages its language and cultural heritage to support business and trade — alongside a prominent set of regulations which bring value to the national economic activity.

“Innovation is the key for future economies. Additionally, for a long time, crafts and trade were sidelined but innovation plays a role here too to revitalise them. The global economy is becoming more innovative and it is the responsibility of our country to be at the forefront of that innovation,” MEP Miriam Dalli recently said, outlining the country’s commitment to taking its ‘economy to the next level’.

Clear evidence of this prosperity is Malta topping the European Commission economic growth list for 2019 and 2020, after the Maltese economy presented growth of 6.6 per cent last year.

The innovative mindset is reflected in diverse sectors, from personal healthcare to financial technology. Malta has been the European gateway for many policies, including the legalisation of cannabis and embracing crypto and gaming projects.

Medical Cannabis Capital

In March 2018, Malta officially legalised medical cannabis. A month later, with the Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Research Purposes Act in place, Maltese entities were able to cultivate, import, process and produce cannabis intended for medical and research purposes under a controlled and supervised environment.

These policies led to the Malta Medicines Authority gaining international reputation and prestige for its patient-centric work in the regulation of medicines. The strategy seems to be working so far: according to statistics from Eurostat, a 75% share of the population in Malta perceived their health as good or very good.

Last November, Malta hosted the Medical Cannabis World Forum, which brought together the policymakers, business leaders and healthcare practitioners who are shaping the global cannabis industry today.

“One would think that a small country like Malta would follow suit; instead, Malta is a dynamic … leader. The legislative measures enacted with respect to medicinal cannabis are not some transposition of provisions implemented everywhere else. Many in the field are cognisant that Malta has floodlit an area which may still be quite hazy elsewhere,” said Parliamentary Secretary Dr Deo Debattista at the Forum last year.

Gaming, blockchain and technology hub

Following recent advancements made in the legislation for Gaming operaters in Malta, the island has received over 20 applications from new companies looking to direct business in Malta. Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri, who announced the surge of applications to the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) at the ICE London 2019 edition, the leading global gaming conference, identified the island as the ‘home of gaming excellence’.

This was clear at the event itself, as Malta had the highest number of stands at ICE London , with 11% of exhibitors being Malta-based operators.

Prompted by the uncertainty around the post- Brexit scenario in the UK, Malta has seen an influx of businesses moving part of their activities to the island, such as big UK-based gaming and betting companies — 888 Holdings and Ladbrokes’ parent company — announcing it would be moving some of its operations to Malta because of looser regulations and lower tax rates.

Regarding Malta’s openness to disruptive technologies such as blockchain,

high-profile exchanges like Binance, Bittrex, Okex, Bitbay, and Zebpay, have moved or extended operations from stricter regulatory jurisdictions to incorporate their businesses in crypto-friendly Malta.

Stefania Barbaglio, blockchain consultant and technology PR says: “Malta has become a role model in Europe, highlighting the role of positive legislation to boost economy and business activity. Outdated regulations and closed attitudes towards innovation can lead to elite nations — such as the UK and the US — losing their spot in the international investment scene. It is important that new regulations are centered around innovation and the social value of technology, so that the digital economies can flourish and develop.”

Malta AI & Blockchain Conference

The Malta AI and Blockchain Conference Spring Edition is approaching, giving stage to over 300 exhibitors and welcoming over more than 5,000 guests. Among the list of speakers, there is prime minister of malta Joseph Muscat and parliamentary secretary for financial services Silvio Schembri.

Last November, three innovative bills were launched during the event. In this 2019 edition, the Maltese Government will enact a world first: a fourth bill, giving a D.A.O. its own legal personality. In addition, a task force is also working around the clock on a set of incentives that will support businesses in Artificial Intelligence.