Malta suffered heavy attacks by German and Italian aircraft during World War II, but was never invaded by the Axis powers. It became an independent nation on Sept. 21, 1964, and a republic on Dec. 13, 1974, but it remained in the British Commonwealth. In 1979, when its alliance with Great Britain ended, Malta sought to guarantee its neutrality through agreements with other countries. Although Malta applied for membership in the European Union, the Labour Party, after winning the election in Oct. 1996, froze Malta's EU application and withdrew from the NATO Partnership for Peace program in an effort to maintain its neutrality. When the Nationalist Party won the Sept. 1998 elections, however, it revived the EU accession bid, and in May 2004 Malta joined the EU. In July 2005, Malta ratified the proposed EU constitution. The ruling Nationalist Party was narrowly reelected in March 2008, ensuring Gonzi a second term as prime minister.