EU funding is often associated with never-ending applications and an awful lot of red-tape, which small and micro-businesses cannot afford. Yet, € 83.18 million were allocated to the private sector between 2008 and 2013. It is calculated that the JEREMIE programme alone helped companies generate a multiplier effect of 5.8, meaning that for every euro invested, the beneficiaries generated €5.80.
The objectives, good use, and existing shortcomings of EU funding were discussed by representatives of businesses with candidates for the European Parliament election in a roundtable discussion organised by the European Parliament Information Office. The event was one of a series of similar discussions being held as part of an information campaign leading up to the elections in May.
The discussion followed a brief overview on EU funding given by representatives of the Malta Business Bureau (MBB), in which they referred to the different kinds of funding available and to the experience of Maltese beneficiaries so far. Dr Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds, referred to proposals made at EU level for a minimum portion of structural funds to be committed in favour of SMEs. Malta, he said, welcomes this proposal and the government is exploring how best to ensure access to such finds. He also stressed the importance of diligent use of EU funds as the abuse of the few could tarnish the reputation of other beneficiaries. He called on business representative bodies to be proactive in flagging any misuse of funding opportunities.
Sharing their experiences were a number of representatives from an array of businesses. They called for more support to smaller companies so that no opportunity goes untapped. “A lot of effort is put into the application process and some may get demotivated when their projects are not selected for funding”, acknowledged Kenneth Pullicino from Farsons. On the other hand, “Practice makes perfect when it comes to EU funding”, said Jonathan Borg from Westin Dragonara. The trap to avoid is to see EU funds as a form of subsidy for business operations – funding is aimed at providing added value for growth.
MEP Marlene Mizzi called for more promotion of existing support services. “Bureaucracy is our biggest enemy”, she said, “but we should also ensure the promotion of success stories in order to encourage potential beneficiaries.” She said all 6 MEPs are always available to help out where possible so businesses should use them as their representatives in the EU.
PN MEP candidate Kevin Plumpton warned against any potential conflicts of interest and referred to the role of MBB as the voice of Maltese business in Brussels. Malta’s business community should be more present in Brussels, possibly by being allocated space in Dar Malta to facilitate their work, he said.
The role of consultants on funding was also discussed. Karl Herrera from Malta Enterprise said that businesses ought to ensure that consultants are engaged only where they could provide added value. “We come across applications which are clearly the result of misguidance. This is a waste of time and effort for companies”, he said.
PL MEP candidate Cyrus Enger pointed out that most SMEs tend to opt for indirect funding, namely funds managed through national intermediary bodies. He said there are also possibilities to tap into direct funds managed by the European Commission. “These ten years of membership represent a learning curve, and we have made good steps forward when it comes to access to funding”.
Arnold Cassola, MEP candidate for Alternattiva Demokratika, mentioned COSME (the EU’s funding programme ‘Competitiveness for SMEs’) as being the ideal platform for Maltese SMEs to access funding .There are new initiatives such as Ersmus for entrepreneurs, he said, which could prove to be excellent investment for Maltese companies. “Decision-making at EU level should not be influenced exclusively by big-industry lobbying, as this would turn out to be unfair and undesirable”, he concluded.
In his concluding remarks, Dr Peter Agius, Head of the European Parliament Information Office, appealed to businesses to ensure that the Maltese MEPs are kept abreast of the challenges they face when seeking access to funding. “MEPs are there to be triggered into action. They can only do something if they are aware of your realities”, he said.