Fabian Demicoli

SMEs: Time to Take Control

The current economic slowdown needs specific policy actions to alleviate and support SMEs, for them to be able to master the crisis and to fully use their potential for growth, job creation and innovation. The action programme I have caused GRTU, Malta's Chamber of SMEs, to adopt is supported by other national associations in the EU representing small and medium enterprises and craft industries. My advice to SMEs is to judge EU candidates on the basis of how versed they are on these issues and how supportive they are in their endevours to see these issues resolved.

 

There is no doubt that the last European Parliament has demonstrated a determined effort to support a successful SME policy. Significant progress and improvements in support of SMEs` needs have been registered.

 

The compromise on the Services Directive and the Recognition of Qualification requirements, the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact, progress on the implementation of the ‘Think Small First' principles, an SME – friendly implementation of Basel II, the enhanced participation of SMEs in standardization and a common understanding about labour market reforms (flexicurity principles) are the most important achievements. These issues all count on the positive side of the scoreboard for the outgoing EU Parliament.

 

I personally feel satisfied that through my participation as Director General of GRTU in many dialogue and consultation meetings and workshops, I had the opportunity to act on behalf of Maltese SMEs to cause progress on  these important issues. This is one tremendous opportunity, opened to use by EU Membership. We can now, together with our colleagues from other EU Member States be influential to cause change where it directly affects SMEs.

 

On the more negative side, Europe failed to find solutions for the European patent and for working time. The EP has also failed to remove tax barriers within the Internal Market and to find adequate solutions for reduced VAT rates. However the scoreboard of the outgoing European Parliament gives overall a positive result.

 

Still, SMEs representatives cannot emphasise sufficiently that the progress made during the last years will not be enough to allow SMEs in Member States to meet successfully the negative impact of the current economic crisis affecting most EU states. That is why it is so essential that all 27 Member States send as their representatives in the new Europe Parliament MEPs that are fully versed on SME issues and capable of presenting at EP Level arguments in favour of SME policies in an effective forceful and convincing manner. All institutions at European, national and local level must do their utmost to restabilise the financial markets and to support economic growth.

 

The question of what Europe's economy must do to overcome the financial turmoil and to ensure a recovery of Europe's economy must be at the centre of the European Parliamentary Elections campaign. That is why I am satisfied that the PN in Malta has adopted work as the main theme of the PN Campaign. The safeguarding of jobs, innovation, job creation and the recovery of Europe's economy will not only keep busy the incoming Presidency of the EU but also the new European Parliament. New MEPs must be prepared, qualified and articulate on economic, job creation and investment issues.

 

The Economic Recovery Plan released by the European Commission is a positive step, but in SME eyes it fails short on some important aspects. For instance, the Small Business Act is mentioned half-heartedly throughout the text. If it is meant to be a serious contribution to economic recovery, the Rescue Plan must include an action plan on the implementation of the Small Business Act. In Malta I wish to see a greater commitment from Government on the implementation of the Small Business Act.

 

The new European Parliament needs to face important issues facing SMEs today. Most important perhaps are the following:

 

  • Help for SMEs to survive the credit crunch. This is now a prime issue even in small states like Malta. In the absence of immediate action by all authorities at European and National levels, many SME's will not be able to survive as access to finance to help them bridge the gap between recession and recovery is becoming increasingly restricted. In Malta this is today a menace growing by the day.
  • SMEs need more support for an economic recovery. Selected action is being taken but it is reaching only those firms in dire need and with the greatest growth potential. The action programme must be more wide spread and it must reach the smaller firms too.
  • SMEs must be provided with more space to breath. Over the last years too many restrictions, bureaucracy and additional Government induced burdens have been imposed on SMEs. Small businesses found it hard enough to cope when the going was right. Under current economic conditions most SMEs simply cannot cope. Each time I meet the Prime Minister the basic theme of discussion is common: Force your bureaucrats to give SMEs space to breathe. I honestly despair sometimes seeing how stupidly cruel some bureaucrats are in their zeal to cause small business owners despair.

 

  • The new EU Parliament must ensure that EU governments must protect SMEs against unnecessary burdens. This requires a complete re-education of the whole apparatus of government. "Think small first", reduction of administrative burdens, simplification. These are all slogans for many people in authority. On a daily basis they carry on as if the European Parliament has never approved these policies.

 

  • Finally and most importantly the new European Parliament should strive to push forward policies to strengthen competitiveness at all levels and foster SMEs cross border activities. There's a market of 500 million people. Most SMEs are hardly benefiting from this tremendous successful achievement of EU strategists. Here in Malta we had a fantastic opportunity to grow at levels never recorded before if only we learn how to penetrate this exceptional market.

 

As an MEP I believe I can master all my expertise experience and qualities to endeavor to push forward these important themes. It is extremely important for Maltese enterprises to look forward with confidence. We need to strive ahead at National level to continue and cause all authorities to be more SME friendly. But it is now essential that the voice of SMEs is loud, clear and persuasive at European Parliament level too. The Lisbon Treaty gives the EU greatly enhanced legislative powers on all economic and social policy matters. We must have in the EU a strong voice to represent us all.

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