With our new cohort of MEPs having taken up their positions in Europe, it’s time to consider how they will help shape the future of business at both a local and a European level. Jo Caruana meets them.
The 2019 European elections went down in history as some of the most highly anticipated in a generation. The stakes were high: populism, euro scepticism, Brexit and green issues filled the narrative, and voters went to the polls in droves to make their voices heard. In Malta, those vying for the six hotly-contested seats debated the biggest topics facing our society at the moment, from transport and traffic, to pollution, construction and, of course, business.
In its role, the Malta Business Bureau issued its business manifesto for the European elections and new EU legislature. Here, our six recently-elected MEPs share their thoughts on what we can expect from the years ahead, and from their work on an individual level.
MIRIAM DALLI – HEAD OF PL DELEGATION & VICE-PRESIDENT OF EP S&D GROUP
“The recent electoral results delivered a clear message: Maltese and Gozitan citizens feel that the Maltese islands are making tangible progress in economic growth, social well-being and the general quality of life. Now, as newly-elected
members of the EP, we must work in unison and understand the aspirations of Maltese society, our working community and our business community alike.
Competitiveness is key to Malta’s economic success. Over the past four years, I have worked to mitigate a call for a common corporate tax base, which would be detrimental to our taxation system. I insist that, as Maltese MEPs, we work incessantly for the EP to recognise the national interest of smaller states in safeguarding our sovereignty on taxation.
We must also safeguard the single market – one of the elements that delivered the most positive results in the EU. Despite a feeling of disenchantment in this regard, we must keep working on the need for Europe to be more open, particularly when it comes to trade. With Brexit looming over the Union, we must insist that we cannot have any exceptions to the single market and must protect the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour.
As a small island nation, perhaps the most pressing need for Malta is the nurturing of our SMEs. This is where I strongly believe in innovation. The latter does not only apply to the big giants within the industrial spectrum. On the contrary, in order to revitalise trades and crafts, we must encourage them to invest in innovative practices.
The global economy is becoming all the more innovative and, as politicians, we must direct our SMEs towards placing themselves at the forefront. EU funds such as Horizon Europe help finance research and innovative ventures, benefitting those who want to enter the market with tangible ideas, prototypes and projects. The Socialists and Democrats in the EP worked to make this fund available to SMEs and to address those member states that are still lagging behind when it comes to investing further in research and development. I had the opportunity to promote these principles, being among the MEPs in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.
Moving forward, it is imperative that traditional sectors update their practices to cater for current needs. This will benefit many industries, including tourism, which is a resource that we risk taking for granted, especially in view of the ever-increasing number of visitors to our islands, season after season. As MEPs, we must constantly encourage European policy-makers to consider the different context experienced by small states and adopt adequate measures.”
ROBERTA METSOLA – HEAD OF PN DELEGATION
“A strong Malta in the heart of Europe is what I have always worked for throughout my political career and that vision was central to my work as an MEP for Malta and Gozo. I endorse the MBB’s manifesto and will continue to keep Maltese industry at the heart of every decision I take.
Having six MEPs means that we all need to work harder, longer and be cleverer to ensure that Maltese people’s voices reach where we need it to be. We need to continue to punch above our weight in Brussels and ensure that we get the results our people deserve.
Now, the first step is to ensure that all six MEPs are placed on different committees. It is important to repeat what happened in the last legislature. I have always – and will always – stand up for the Malta and Gozo that we all want to see: for the politics of correctness, for the prevalence of justice, for the protection of the rule of law, and for the safeguarding of our environment and our standing in the world. This has as much an impact on the business environment as on individuals.
And yes, reputation matters. It is crucial if we are to continue to defend our taxation system. I reiterate our concern as a nation with the moves towards tax harmonisation on a European level or any attempt to remove the concept of unanimity on this issue. The effect of this on Maltese industry would be huge and disproportionate.
As a small EU member state, Malta knows that a one-size-fits-all approach does not, and cannot, always work, especially when taking into consideration the country’s insularity and economies of scale. This applies to both EU funding and issues of taxation.
Moving ahead, I want to see more uptake of EU funds from Maltese and Gozitan businesses, and to ensure that bureaucracy is reduced so that such funds become even available to firms that do not have the clout or size that other EU companies have. We need to push for a robust EU regulatory environment for Maltese businesses to grow.”
“I believe the MBB manifesto provided excellent guiding principles for the upcoming discussions of the next legislative term. One of the most pressing and difficult matters that we need to deal with concerns the proposal for tax harmonisation. I intend to continue the fight to preserve our full sovereignty on tax matters and the necessary flexibility that is essential in maintaining the competitive edge of small and peripheral countries like Malta. This has always been a priority, and one that I will continue to work on.
Of equal importance for Malta is the discussion and agreement on the next EU budget. I agree that it should be a forward-looking budget but – equally – one that maintains its focus on cohesion funds.
I am convinced that it is important to work on achieving a more social market economy, which not only helps foster economic growth, but focuses on its workforce. Human capital is considered to be one of the EU’s greatest economic assets. But is enough being done to safeguard Europe’s competitiveness in this area?
Our role as politicians is to provide European citizens with tools to become – and remain – self-reliant, and to adapt to the constantly changing labour market. We need to not only focus on the employability of young people, but also on ensuring they remain employable throughout their working life. As jobs and skills profiles become more complex, especially when it comes to ICT skills, the importance of education and life-long learning, as well as tackling the existing gender and generational gaps (especially for disadvantaged people) cannot be underestimated.
The free movement of workers, and the freedom of establishment and services, are fundamental principles of the internal market, and we are here to safeguard it with a proper legislative framework. Society and its workforce is ageing, more women are entering the workforce. The industry is looking at diverse contractual arrangements and more flexibility. Workers are moving towards a greater movement between jobs and a better work-life balance. We need to continue our work in drafting legislation that adapts to this changing world of work and households. One such example is the Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers, which I negotiated during this legislation.
I believe that SMEs and microenterprises are the backbone of our EU economy and are all the more important to Malta. They must not be stifled. We need to ensure that unnecessary burdens on SMEs are removed across all EU legislation.”
“The MBB’s business manifesto struck all the right chords – not least with its insistence on the need to enhance competitiveness at both the local and European levels. However, we need to better understand the sources of competitiveness in the Maltese situation and defend them intelligently.
EU membership has steered Malta towards a huge reliance on service sectors that, strictly speaking, lie outside the purview of the single market and depend on tax flexibility to flourish and remain competitive. Our competitiveness depends too on the importation of labour at the high income as well as low income ends of the wage spectrum. While widening even if temporarily, the pool of skills available in Malta, this is also serving to damp labour costs.
For the past EP mandate, as well as the new one, there is a majority of MEPs that favours taxation harmonisation and stringent single market rules in areas closely related to the provision of the financial services and iGaming sectors in which we have excelled. As a result, though tax policies are subject to unanimity rules, pressures for change could grow.
Maltese MEPs, as well as business leaders from Malta, will need to articulate dispassionately and ‘scientifically’ why tax flexibility is essential for keeping the economies of small, peripheral member states flourishing, and why this does not mean that they will thereby be opening their doors to tax dodgers, money launderers and Mafiosi.”
ALEX AGIUS SALIBA
“The single market is truly one of Europe’s greatest achievements, enabling goods, services, capital, and people to move freely in the world’s largest economy. Despite being the jewel in the crown of the EU project, though, the initial enthusiasm that drove the establishment of this single market seems to have significantly decreased over the years. Disenchantment with it has led to political unwillingness and a rise in protectionist movements in some member states that are against the further integration and development of the single market.
It is therefore essential to remember and underline its positive achievements, and the ways they affect the daily lives and activities of people and businesses across borders. Beyond that, it is vital to keep dismantling existing barriers by creating new opportunities in a single market that can guarantee the economic and social well-being of both European citizens and companies.
I will be dedicating my efforts to reviving and designing a single market of opportunities and economies of scale focused on citizens’ and businesses’ needs and cross-border experiences. This time it is different! It is time for a change. It is time to focus and deal with real problems, and on finding the right solutions that result in immediate and tangible benefits for people and businesses.
As an MEP, I will work towards delivering initiatives that will improve the health and safety of people, protect consumers and raise their confidence in the market, while also guaranteeing safer products and services, reducing costs and enhancing performance for businesses. On top of that, we need to guarantee better implementation and enforcement when it comes to existing single market rules. We have a single market, but we must ensure that it works equally for everyone.
The future single market must stimulate sustainable economic growth and job creation, while, at the same time, consider citizens’ and businesses’ hopes, fears, expectations and aspirations. Only by finding the right balance between both will we be able to bring a fresh, new impulse into a vibrant single market supported by all.”
“Celebrating our 15th year as part of the EU is the perfect moment to not only look back on what we have achieved but, more importantly, to look forward.
It is clear that the future for the Union is murky at best. Brexit – whenever it happens – will permanently change the European fabric. Whichever way that change happens, we must ensure it does not negatively affect our country.
As part of the freshman class of MEPs, I am excited and honoured to begin my work towards our country’s best interest within the EP. I congratulate the MBB for its proactive approach towards dialogue with us MEPs. The guiding principles are a clear result of structured research and in-depth knowledge of the needs of Maltese businesses.
At their core, these guiding principles aim to protect one main element: competitiveness. This is a multi-faceted issue, but I believe the main concern in this area remains taxation. Throughout my campaign, I insisted that taxation should remain strictly within the member states’ competence. Tax harmonisation remains a hotly-debated issue in Brussels, despite the detrimental effects it is likely to have on certain member states including smaller, peripheral ones such as Malta.
Within the EP, I will advocate for the particular needs of states like ours, and highlight the negative effect that harmonisation would have on our businesses and fiscal policy. We need to ensure that Malta can remain an attractive location for foreign investment. As we delve deeper into the digital area, fully embracing technology is also of key importance if we want to remain at the forefront when it comes to business. Digital barriers deny opportunities not only to businesses but, ultimately, to consumers.
Within the EP, we need to ensure that our single market is truly fit for the ever-changing technologies, and we need to adapt national frameworks to make sure they are not cumbersome and are not lagging behind in the digital revolution. On a related note, technology could be an essential tool to facilitate a more sustainable way of doing business. Our European colleagues have already paved the way for a symbiotic relationship between business interests and sustainability goals – it is high time we do the same and keep innovating as we have always done.”
Article featured on our Business Agenda – Issue 36.