Martina Said talks to outgoing MBB President David Zahra and incoming President Simon De Cesare on their outlooks for the future of the MBB and the EU.
Since taking the helm as President at the Malta Business Bureau (MBB), outgoing President David Zahra has witnessed its growth and achievements from the front line, at a time when the country was experiencing some major milestones of its own, not least leading the Presidency of the Council of the EU and taking on its year-long stint as European Capital of Culture.
“The past year has been an eventful one for the MBB; on the policy front because of Malta’s EU Presidency, and also because the MBB was awarded two new EU-funded projects, targeted towards improving digital literacy and the level of soft skills within industry. These complement the projects which we already have in place and which target various areas, ranging from financial literacy to entrepreneurship and employability skills,” Dr Zahra asserts. “Our participation in these projects extends the services offered to local businesses and to the Maltese economy in general. It is our aim that with the support given through these projects, Maltese enterprises become more competitive and sustainable.”
The MBB has continued to play a prominent role in pushing Maltese business’ priorities on an EU level, particularly on legislative proposals emanating from the e-Commerce, Services and Compliance Packages, Dr Zahra adds. “Also, since September 2017, the MBB increased capacity at its Brussels representation office with a senior advisor who joined the current EU Affairs Manager. This has enabled the team to increase the focus and level of engagement to achieve stronger outputs in our advocacy objectives.”
Looking back on the past 12 months, Dr Zahra says that the MBB’s several significant achievements have been indeed satisfying, among them the MBB’s active role within Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, including its support in various initiatives and events taking place in Malta and in Brussels, as well as the publication of an environmental-economic report, as part of the ‘Investing in Energy’ project, in March 2018.
“While serving as a useful tool for businesses and energy service/product suppliers, the study also serves as a strong base for our lobbying efforts with the Government and EU institutions on the need to increase energy financing options available to businesses,” he asserts. “The study shows that despite increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy measures, the investment required to reach the 2020 targets is even more considerable. And the 2030 targets will require even larger investments.”
Simon De Cesare, the MBB’s new President as of 22nd May this year, believes that the profile of the Bureau is ever increasing. “I am pleased to have been given this opportunity to contribute towards the local business community. The work that the MBB has conducted, at EU level, over the last few years has been impressive. It has established itself as a key stakeholder to advise and support businesses on EU-related affairs,” he asserts. “I look forward to my term as President, to preside over the organisation to further sustain its growth and give my best to achieve more results as well as new opportunities for the benefit of Maltese businesses. In the meantime, I will continue supporting MBB’s drive to implement EU projects, as I believe that this is one of the best ways of disseminating information on EU-related issues, as well as of promoting opportunities with local business.”
Mr De Cesare shares his priorities as incoming President, asserting that his term will coincide with an exciting time for the organisation, but also with testing times for the EU. “My presidency will coincide with two major developments on a European level, which will define and most definitely steer the MBB’s work in the upcoming months.”
“The first is the Commission’s proposal for the EU Multi Annual Financial Framework (MFF) that is expected to be published in May, comprising a comprehensive programme for the future of the EU budget beyond 2020. The most interesting aspect in this process will be the impact of Brexit on the future MFF. To date, the UK’s contribution to the EU budget is significant and one will have to see how this financial gap will be mitigated,” says Mr De Cesare. “This is particularly intriguing, especially at a time when the EU is under increasing pressure to do more to boost employment and growth, improve governance of the euro area, strengthen security and military cooperation, manage migration flows into the EU and tackle climate change, while also continuing frameworks such as the Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion Funds.”
Mr De Cesare’s presidency will also coincide with the end of the current Commission mandate and the European Parliament elections in May 2019. “The upcoming legislature of the European Parliament will present considerable opportunities for Maltese MEPs to participate in debates, vote and decide on a series of legislation and reports of critical importance for Maltese companies in the medium-to-long term. In this regard, the MBB will be developing its own agenda and shaping thoughts as to what the next legislature should be focused on to sustain further economic competitiveness, growth and creation of employment.”
He adds that, given the challenges it is currently facing – be they economic, security-related, geo-political, social or cultural – it is clear that the EU is in desperate need of real structural reforms. “Considering a reduced EU budget after the UK’s withdrawal, more optimal use of EU funding needs to be made through targeted investments in youth training and life-long learning, among others. Time is of the essence, and we need to act now through implementation of structural reforms when they are affordable rather than too painful and designed to avoid crises of the future, not react to them.”
Dr Zahra adds that while the EU remains one of the best places in which to live, work and conduct business in the world, the EU process needs to be reaffirmed and reinforced to continue guaranteeing success and future prosperity. “Clearly, in today’s context, a scenario where the EU project rolls back to be nothing but a single market is not realistic. For this reason, deeper integration is required to enable us to be stronger and competitive on a global level,” he states.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there is a shared need to act to work towards economic and social convergence in the EU, which will address inequalities and poverty,” adds Dr Zahra. “We also need a Union functioning on democratic and transparent institutions, and with economic competitiveness at the centre of its political vision, as the key for growth, investment and the creation of jobs.”
Looking ahead towards the MBB’s growth as a business-representative organisation, Mr De Cesare says “what lies ahead is hard to predict, however it is clear that our businesses will continue to be affected by decisions, regulations and directives emanating from the EU institutions. More and more areas will come into the regulatory framework as the single market moves towards completion. We will need to ensure that the EU comes up with smart regulation to continue reducing barriers and improve the competitiveness of companies. Where possible, we also need to enable a legal framework and a business environment with adequate support structures from which entrepreneurs can benefit and thrive. The MBB will stay committed to monitor the development of, as well as advocate, EU legislation that is business-friendly, and continue serving the local business community by tapping into the opportunities offered by the EU.”
On a final note, Dr Zahra says his journey as President of the MBB, which comes to an end this May, has been an exciting one, and he is proud of the organisation’s attainments during his tenure. “This would not have been possible were it not for the individuals who make up the MBB. And for that, I would like to thank the Board of Directors, which I had the pleasure to chair for the past year. Special thanks also go to MBB CEO Joe Tanti and the Executive Team for their hard work and selfless dedication towards the organisation. I also wish to take this opportunity to augur my successor, Simon De Cesare, to continue building on the MBB’s strengths and positive reputation, both at a national and an EU level.”
This article originally appeared in the MBB Annual Report 2017/2018 which may be found here.