On Friday 14th February the main bodies representing Maltese business were all under one roof to launch a joint document which highlights their priorities and expectations in view of the European Elections.
In the presence of a good number of MEP candidates, they discussed the focus areas pointed out in the document. The need for better dialogue between stakeholders and MEPs stood out as a recurrent theme. It remains key for representatives of Maltese business in European fora to point out Malta’s specific circumstance but, at the same time, SMEs ought to draw on the existing opportunities and better exploit the potential of the single market.
Presenting the initiatives being taken at EU level, Joanna Drake, from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, spoke about the efforts to reduce the regulatory burden on SMEs through a process of simplification of rules. She also referred to funding programmes aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and helping businesses access new markets. “We have to give entrepreneurs a second chance if they fail”, she said, remarking also that in Europe we lack business role models who young people could aspire to emulate.
Mr Christian Feustel, from Business Europe, a representative body of enterprises at European level, spoke about the relevance of this year’s European Elections, pointing out that every non-voter would be giving a louder voice to extremists. Considering that the choice of the President of the European Commission will be based on the results of these elections, it is in the interest of all sectors to ensure proper representation, he said.
John Vassallo, a former Microsoft Vice-President for Europe, spoke about ways how small countries can advance their positions in big fora such as the EU institutions. “Develop policy according to your realities and propose it to decision-makers, rather than remaining simply reactive. Choose a simple message and drum it home at all levels”, he maintained.
The manifesto, “We’re in business together”, was drawn up jointly by the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise, and Industry; the Malta Employers’ Association; the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, the General Retailers and Traders Union, and the Malta Business Bureau. The initiative was coordinated by the European Parliament Information Office.
‘We’re in business together’
The main focus areas of the manifesto are the following:
– A balance between harmonisation at European level on one hand, where this adds value to the market, and subsidiarity and proportionality on the other hand. Malta’s insularity and peripheral position should be acknowledged by European policy-makers.
– Need for smarter regulation, less bureaucracy, and more trust in business as the motor of economy.
– Promote competitiveness and secure economic prosperity through focus on wealth creation, before wealth distribution.
– Face global competition through better human development and skills matching, the strengthening of links between academia and industry, and more investment in research and development.
– More productive employment and a less regulated labour market which acknowledges adequate employees’ rights without discouraging employment.
– A constant and structured dialogue between stakeholders and MEPs is called for to ensure that Maltese business takes an active role in the formulation of EU policy
How can MEPs best represent Maltese business?
Discussion was held in two different panel formations. The first was composed of the business representative bodies involved. David Curmi, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, referred to the impact on Maltese industry following the loss of Malta’s Objective 1 status when it comes to EU structural funds.
GRTU President Paul Abela remarked that the cost of credit is still too high in Malta when compared to other European countries where credit is made accessible to business at much lower rates.
Addressing the issue of the relatively limited representation Malta has in the European Parliament through its 6 seats, MEP Roberta Metsola said that Maltese MEPs can influence not only the discussion in the committees of which they are members but also elsewhere through their networking within their political groups and beyond. “Politicians, and MEPs from small countries like Malta in particular, are also ‘lobbyists’ for their own electorate”, she said.
PL candidate Miriam Dalli stressed the need to maintain an ongoing consultation with stakehlders and appealed for more Corporate Social Responsibility from the side of businesses. All speakers concurred on this aspect. Stefano Mallia, MEP candidate on behalf of the PN suggested that the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) invites MEPs to discuss certain issues from time to time.
Cyrus Engerer and Clint Camilleri, both PL candidates, stressed the need to protect the national interest. “Let’s always toe the Malta line and not shy away from disagreeing even with our own political groups”, said Engerer.
Helga Ellul, PN candidate, called for businesses to be more proactive in communicating their priorities to decision-makers. They have to be creative and possibly work together to compete better.
AD candidate Carmel Cacopardo remarked that the manifesto should have given more importance to environmental considerations.