Fabian Demicoli

GRTU members share views with EP candidates in pre-election debate


GRTU this week
held its main EP election activity with a number of candidates for the 2014 MEP
Elections. Being a dynamic organisation that represents the widest spread of
sectors GRTU wanted to involve its members from the different sectors who
themselves shared their views and expectations from the new groups of Maltese
MEPs.

The members
touched on a number of topics and uncovered various interesting opinions.
Philip Fenech GRTU Deputy President and President of the GRTU Tourism and
Hospitality Sector opened the discussion with the Single European Sky. Mr
Fenech said he was aware that the European Parliament recently voted in favour
of the Single European Sky 2+ that would accelerate its implementation. Such an
initiative would involve a continent-wide reform in air traffic management that
could result in increased safety, efficiency and environmental-friendliness. A
defragmented European airspace may help reduce the cost of flying because less
duel is consumed and the flight time would be shortened which would lead to
lower and more competitive prices, that would encourage more travelling. From
an SME perspective the proposal translates in a number of benefits.

PN candidate
Jonathan Shaw highlighted the fact that Malta's MEPs should see what effects
initiatives like these would have on Malta. He also responded to a point about
the United States having more efficient air traffic management by stating that
whilst the EU is a Union of states, the USA is one state and therefore
procedures would be less complicated. The PL candidate Cyrus Engerer expanded
upon Shaw's statement about the importance of looking at Malta first and
foremost, as at times a common European approach to certain matters is not in
Malta's interests, especially not at this stage. Moreover, he believes that the
environment is an essential factor to take into consideration when a vote is
eventually undertaken. PL candidate Marlene Mizzi emphasised the
cost-efficiency of a single airspace, as trade costs through means of air and
sea transport are high and affect an island state like Malta all the more.

PN candidate
Stefano Mallia also feels that an airspace reform is vital for businesses and
also thinks that the public perception of Air Malta needs to be changed as the
airline is crucial to the country's economy and tourism sector. PL candidate
Ivan Grixti started out by asserting that Malta is not part of mainland Europe
and therefore some consequences to a Single European Sky can be expected. He
maintained that cost-savings should reach the right people, as operators
deserve reasonable profits, but consumers should also benefit.

The second
topic raised by long standing GRTU Member and GRTU Vice President Marcel Mizzi
focused on the issue of lack of communication with our MEPs. Maltese MEPs
should be in constant contact with businesses. They should not under estimate
the important contribution we can give them as we constantly issue Position
Papers on various topics. Roberta Metsola, a current MEP and candidate on the
PN ticker, acknowledges that it is clear that there is a need for increased
communication, however, contact has been amplified in recent times. Metsola
asserted that the European People's Party Group (EPP Group) – a centre-right
European political group – is focusing on the need for more SME-friendly
measures. It is essential to note that SMEs require special attention as they
are the foundation of the European economy for different reasons. Whilst some
commentators believe that EU intervention is necessary in order to help SMEs
overcome the recent economic crisis and develop their trades, others feel that
less EU involvement could actually benefit these businesses.

PL candidate
Alfred Sant believes that increased contact is definitely a necessity, however
he also highlighted the importance of strategic questions in the European
Parliament (EP). He also said that civil society should do its part in
analysing how EU planned developments effect them, he gave the example of the
Banking Union and how this effects SMEs. On the issue of communication, Stefano
Mallia insisted that organisations that constitute civil society such as the
GRTU should send some of their members on educational trips to Brussels so as
to appreciate the processes of the EP. The problem with communication is that
sometimes, as Marlene Mizzi pointed out, some reports – which would include
amendments – would be handed out to MEPs very late which gives them no time to
consult. In Cyrus Engerer's opinion, MEUSAC should also have a more hands-on
approach and work with the EU Secretariat more closely so that any problems
would be discovered at their starting point.

Marcel Mizzi
also addressed the issue of Audit requirements on Micro enterprises which is a
heavy burden that MEPs should lobby to alleviate. This affects even dormant
companies. Such an exemption would mean a reduction in running costs for
Maltese micro enterprises that runs in the hundreds of thousands of Euros. Most
of the candidates present agreed that Audit requirements pose a significant disproportionate
burden on micro firms however they felt MEPs do not have a role to play as this
is more something for the national Governments and Authorities to decide. GRTU
officials however pointed out that the Small Business Act, an EU non-mandatory
Act, specifies that Member States could choose to take up this exemption for
SMEs and we would like MEPs to lobby in this direction.

Representatives
of GRTU's Burdnara (Cargo Hauliers) Section intervened explaining the situation
for Maltese enterprises involved in the transport of goods. Because of the
limited Maltese market they can by no means be compared to German transport
companies for instance. Some machinery the Maltese companies invest in are used
very rarely because they have a specific purpose and so complying to EU
requirements to phase out older trucks and machines is much more difficult for
them.

Another
interesting topic that was mentioned during the discussion by Noel Gauci,
President of the Renewable Energy Section within GRTU, was Research and
Development (R&D). The EU has placed R&D and the establishment of a
European Research Area higher up in the policy agenda. Unfortunately, a lot of
businesses are disadvantaged when it comes to this as high level research is
excessively costly, complex and interdisciplinary. Mr Gauci emphasises that our
MEPs need to keep in mind the specification of Malta when it comes to renewable
energy and such notice should be visible when funding opportunities are made
available.

GRTU takes the
opportunity to thank the candidates present that at the time were all running
for the EP elections: Roberta Metsola, Stefano Mallia, Jonathan Shaw, Ivan
Grixti, Cyrus Engerer, Marlene Mizzi and Alfred Sant.

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