IT may be one of the smallest countries in the European Union, but Malta is joining the bigger nations in the race to ban single-use plastics from next year.

The ban was announced in the Malta government’s budget which contained a raft of measures aimed at combatting climate change and improving the environment.

The country with a population roughly the same as that of Edinburgh, aims to become a world leader on green issues.

In its pre-budget document, the government pointed out: “Malta has now enjoyed six consecutive years of unprecedented economic growth sustaining its position amongst the best economic performers in the EU.

“Public finances have been put on a sound footing with healthy fiscal surpluses recorded in the last three consecutive years, while a record decrease of over twenty percentage points has been registered in the National debt.

“The unemployment rate is below 4%, the inflation rate is stable, while take-home pay continues to rise.”

From that position of strength, the Government of the popular prime minister Joseph Muscat is able to tackle climate change and environmental issues.

Muscat said: “Over thirty measures in the budget are related to the climate and the circular economy. This isn’t only about the environment but about how we want our economy to develop.”

The ban on single-use plastics was the most eye-catching scheme. It will be phased in next year and be complete by the end of 2021, which Muscat said was an indication of the changing culture of Malta.

The Budget introduced a national strategy for carbon neutrality, with Malta to be completely carbon neutral by 2050. A major part of the plan is for the government to set a cut-off date for the purchase of new petrol or diesel-fuelled cars, after which all new cars coming into Malta will have to be powered by electricity or alternative fuels.

READ MORE: Ireland announces £1bn No-Deal plan

Lithuania to set up a minorities commission​

The National: Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius SkvernelisLithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis

THE Lithuanian government has announced that it is to set up a commission or a council to deal with problems faced by minorities across the Baltic nation.

The Lithuania Minority Rights Group has been pressing for such a commission. The Group says national minorities include Poles 234,989 (6.7%), Russians 219,789 (6.3%), Belarusians 42,866 (1.2%), Ukrainians 22,488 (0.7%) and Jews 4007, according to 2001 census data).

There are smaller populations of Armenians, Azeris, Germans, Karaims (Karaites), Latvians, Moldovans, Roma, Tatars and Uzbeks. The legal status of the new commission or council has not yet been decided, the national radio and television service reported, but Deividas Matulionis, the government’s vice-chancellor, pledged the body would be set up.

He said: “We decided that we will have such a commission or council. It would be a working body to draft national minority policy proposals and table them to the government.”

Lithuania, which has a population just more than half of that of Scotland, was under Soviet Union domination from World War II until 1990 when it was the first Baltic nation to declare itself independent.

Matulionis said that the education of ethnic Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Jews and other minorities living in Lithuania would be a major issue for the commission.

“The discussion also includes the status of national minorities which is not defined in the existing legislation,” said Matulionis.

Lithuania does have a Council of National Communities that was established in 2015 to deal with minority issues, but the council does not have government representatives and it seems certain that the new commission and new policies will get the backing of the Cabinet and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis.

Icelandic minister stands up for gay marriage

OH to have been a flea on the wall when Iceland’s minister for the environment and natural resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson met the US secretary of energy Rick Perry in a meeting with prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir last week.

Perry was in Iceland to attend the Arctic Circle Assembly, which took place at Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík. The private meeting between the three politicians must have been very interesting indeed because Guðbrandsson is openly gay and Perry infamously compared homosexuality to alcoholism.

In his memoirs Perry also wrote that he was “no expert on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate,” but that gays should simply choose abstinence, nor has this climate change denier ever recanted that view on homosexuality and alcoholism.

While he was governor of Texas, Perry also supported the state’s ban on same sex marriage which was later ruled unconstitutional. Now Iceland has a new hero because it’s been revealed that Guðbrandsson gave Perry a piece of his mind and stood up for gay rights.

On his Facebook page, following the meeting, Guðbrandsson wrote: “At the end of the meeting, I expressed my strong opposition toward his enactment of a law that made same-sex marriage illegal in Texas. I told him I am gay and that authorities are, to a large extent, responsible for enacting such a law – that they cannot simply justify it as being the result of a public vote. Perry has, among other things, compared homosexuality to alcoholism and is opposed to enabling same-sex couples to adopt children.”

That’s him telt, then.