Fabian Demicoli

Diskors ta’ Patrice Pellegrino (EuroCommerce) waqt Konferenza Nazzjonali 23 ta’ Frar 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I wish to say that I am
very honoured to have been invited today to address the GRTU conference in Malta
and also to take part in the debate concerning the accession of Malta to the
EU

As you may guess, I prepared my speech before my arrival. It was drawn up
on the basis of all the economic and politic analysis that have been already
carried out in order to assess the positive potential impact of the accession of
your country to the European Union.However, yesterday, I changed my mind –
and my speech – for two main reasons.Firstly, by reading local newspapers,
which exhaustively reported the opinions of the pros and cons, I understood that
a real debate has been taking place on the question;secondly, when drinking
a glass of red Maltese wine in La Valetta, I said to myself that, in terms of
quality, this product could easily compete with wines produced in the EU. As
being of both French and Italian nationality, I allow you imagine what this
remark means…I thus decided to change my speech because the “Maltese
experience” I had yesterday lead me to the conclusion that you are fully aware
of all the necessary figures, economical analyses and data.
Therefore, in my
opinion, a major part of the current debate relates more to passion and emotions
than to reason. I will not begin by introducing EuroCommerce; the European
Organisation I am representing here at this stage – but I prefer to immediately
address the main subject of my intervention:
“What can Maltese small business
owners gain from the Single Market?”
As a lawyer, I would say that the
response lies in the Article 14.2 of the EC Treaty:
“The Internal Market
shall comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of
goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the
provisions of this Treaty”.
This implies, of course, that customs duties on
imports and exports and charges having an equivalent effect shall be
prohibited.
For an economy, such as the Maltese one, where the internal
demand is almost saturated and for which any prospective of growth passes
through the further opening of this economy to the world, this definition of the
Internal Market – that accounts for almost 400 Million consumers – should
suffice to convince business operators.
However, this does not seem to be the
case.
I understand that you are fully aware of what the Internal Market is
and of what joining it means:
– The removal of the remaining barriers,

The implementation of the Acquis Communautaire as to guarantee operators with a
level playing field and,
– The prospective of important economic growth,
especially for an economy like this, which is essentially based on
services.

But, concretely, what does this consist in?
Let me share
with you my experience:
Years ago, when an EU based big retailer operator
established itself in applicant countries, local retailers and local
manufacturers feared the competition and this situation, at that time, was quite
worrying. Indeed, 60% of the products sold in the outlets of this retailer where
produced abroad and the business schemes of the local retailers were definitely
outdated in respect to
local demand, keener to buy western products. A few
years later, 60% of products are produced locally and through the development of
for example, franchising agreements, local retailers have been able to adopt new
business schemes and improve their sales methods by adapting them to local
demand. Moreover, because local producers were able to reach the quality
standards requested and because of this privileged commercial relationship with
the EU retailer, nowadays their products, still manufactured in their country,
are sold on EU markets. Another positive effect is that because this retailer
has also exported its “know how”, local retailers have been able to develop new
marketing schemes and new methods of sales.

You should also not loose
sight that to join the European Union does not only represent the possibility to
access the Single Market, but also the possibility to access it under the cover
of specific policies aimed at:
– favouring the regional economic development,
for example, via the structural funds – and you know that Malta obtained one of
the highest per capita funding packages of the 10 applicant countries;

ensuring the development of Small and Medium sized Enterprises that, as you and
the EU institutions know, are the main source of welfare, innovation and job
creation.
Finally, joining the European Union will also represent the
opportunity to join the EU Commercial Policy and this is particularly important
for an open economy such as the Maltese one. As you know, a new round of
negotiation will take place very soon and fundamental questions concerning the
liberalisation of the services sector – which accounts for more than 70% of
Gross Added Value in Maltese GDP – are on the agenda. Joining the EU will allow
you to make your voice heard and your interests better represented within the
WTO negotiations as well as in other international economic fora.
Personally,
I have not read or heard any convincing argument against the accession of Malta
to the EU. However, such a tough debate reveals the existence of other
considerations that are not of economic nature.
No one can contest that Malta
has different trumps:
– its human resources: a flexible labour force easily
adaptable to new circumstances and having the great advantage of being
multi-lingual;
– an economy already widely open and for which more openness
should not represent a threat in itself, but a chance in the absolute;

Malta is also in front in the use of information technologies such as
Internet;
– and, last but not least, the implementation of Acquis should not
represent a great problem, because over the past years you have already adopted
the necessary measures to comply with the existing European rules.

Then
what is the problem?
I came to the conclusion that the main problem is fear
and lack of confidence and this may explain why economic data and analysis are
not the appropriate arguments in this debate.
Because I am not from Malta, I
do not have any idea of the origin of these feelings and, as a result, I am not
able to build up a flawless line of arguments. Therefore, I will borrow from
Pope John Paul the Second the title of a well-known encyclical that could be my
advice: “Non abbiate paura” – Don’t be afraid.
In the present context, I
guess that the choice between yes or no is more a question of faith than a
question of reason, faith in your ability to face the challenge and to make your
voice heard. If you are concerned about how your interests will be taken into
account, don’t forget a few important elements:
1) Specific EU policies exist
in those areas where you have particular interest: for example, the EU policy
for Enterprises does not neglect the interests of SMEs;
2) Derogation has
been negotiated for in order to take into account your specificity and a
transition period has been provided for in certain sectors;
3) Implementing
the Acquis – which should not represent a difficulty – means implementing rules
that are common to all the EU operators, so that business operators will be able
to have access to the Internal Market with the necessary legal certainty this
requires;
4) Becoming a member of the EU also means to become part of a
decision-making process and to play a role in the definition of the rules you
will have to apply within the framework of free trade agreements.

Finally
– and this is why I will introduce EuroCommerce at this stage – do not forget
that networks exist in Brussels. Created to defend general or specific
interests, these networks are very active. They do not only aim at influencing
the decision-making process but they also exercise a close monitoring on the
application of the EU rules at national level. They regularly inform their
members of any EU initiative that might have an impact on their day-to-day
business life and they are able to provide their members with advice on any
specific situation.
As such they represent an efficient link between you,
your national federation and the EU institutions.
EuroCommerce is one of
them. Created in 1993 after the merger of 3 organisations representing retail,
wholesale and international trade, our membership covers national trade
federations from 24 European countries, European associations representing
specific branches of Commerce as well as individual companies. Composed of a
team of nearly 20 permanent representatives, active in all policy areas having
impact on our sector, such as legal and consumer affairs, social affairs,
environment, e-commerce, international trade, food safety, enlargement and
enterprise
issues, payment systems, etc., EuroCommerce is the voice of the
Commerce sector in Brussels and is considered as a reliable and appreciated
interlocutor of the EU institutions.
With other European federations, like
UEAPME, we take part in the debate on horizontal and fundamental questions, such
as the promotion of sound conditions for entrepreneurship, the simplification of
business regulatory environment or the improvement of the EU Governance.
As
representative of a sector that accounts for 4.7 million enterprises, generating
13% of total GDP and providing jobs to over 22 million people drawn from all
parts of society, we are active in all the fields that might have a direct or
indirect impact on the trade sector. Because we are particularly active in the
social dialogue – where EuroCommerce is a recognised social partner for the
trade sector – I am pleased to announce you that we will organise this year a
Round table on social dialogue, here, in Malta.
I could go on by illustrating
the whole range of our activities from our membership in the Trade contact group
and its importance in the field of the external trade in particular, in the
prospective of the next WTO round in Cancun – where we will be present – to the
different initiatives we are part of in the field of food safety; but this is
not the aim of this meeting. However, if I decided to introduce EuroCommerce at
this stage, it was with the aim to show you that all the sectors of the Maltese
economy will have the opportunity to find the appropriate intermediary of their
interests and concerns and that there are ways to help you to ensure your voice
is heard in the right place at the right moment.
Ladies and Gentlemen, since,
for most of you, the choice you will be soon asked to make is not so much a
question of economical data or financial

agreement as a question of
feeling, when making this choice let me suggest to you to believe in yourselves
and particularly in your historical capacity to adapt to new circumstances. In
that case, I personally have no doubt that for Malta to join the EU will very
soon be seen and felt as a success story.

Thank you very
much.

 

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