The adoption of the 2014 country-specific recommendations (CSRs) by the Council of Ministers on 8 July concluded this year's European Semester cycle of economic policy co-ordination. Member States are now expected to implement these recommendations by taking them up in their national budgets and other relevant policies.
To a large extent, this year's recommendations build on those addressed to Malta in previous years and cover a broad range of issues representing key economic challenges including fiscal consolidation, pensions and healthcare reforms, the labour market, education and skills, energy and competitiveness, including debt and other sources of SME finance and efficiency in the justice system.
The European Commission Representation in Malta organised a roundtable discussion with a view to present the recommendations in more detail and further the discussion and exchange of views of stakeholders on these themes. The full-day event was moderated by Mr Ivan Ebejer and Ms Alexia Zammit, European Semester Officers at the Representation. The morning session dealt with fiscal consolidation and long-term sustainability of public finances. The Commission's assessment of Malta's progress and remaining challenges in these themes were explained by Ms Marie Donnay, Mr Presiyan Petkov and Ms Barbara Bernardi (DG Economic & Financial Affairs) while Mr Brian Sloan (DG Taxation & Customs Union) addressed the issue of improving tax compliance. Mr Peter Paul Borg (DG Health & Consumers) presented the Commission's recommendations on the healthcare system. The discussion focussed on the importance of ensuring a durable reduction in the budget deficit and on Malta's commitment to ensure fiscal sustainability. Stakeholders agreed on the need to address the challenges posed by tax evasion. The second session tackled the challenges related to competitiveness. The three elements comprising the recommendation i.e. justice system reform, efficiency in public procurement and alternative source of access to finance were explained by the Commission, while Mr Robert Suban lecturer at the University of Malta presented his views on the importance of financial and capital markets development and assessed the current challenges, particularly in terms of financing, faced by local companies. The discussion centred on ways how the business environment in Malta could be improved, focussing specifically on the role of alternative sources of financing. Participants held different views on the degree to which the cost of financing represents an obstacle to fostering enterprise in Malta.
The afternoon session kicked-off with an overview of the ongoing public consultation on the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 Strategy launched by the Commission in May. The recommendation on energy was presented by the Commission while the discussion mainly focussed on the authorities' ongoing efforts in implementing this CSR. The last session was devoted to the employment and education recommendation, presented by Mr Lorenzo Vella (DG Employment Social Affairs and Inclusion) and Mr Marco Montanari (DG Education and Culture). Dr Philip Von Brockdorff, Head of the Economics Department at the University of Malta, delivered a presentation on the demand and supply characteristics of the Maltese labour market and looked at the productivity as it relates to skills. Amongst others, the roundtable discussion dealt with the relative cost of labour in Malta as well as required shift in the skills necessary to satisfy the future needs of the labour market. The issue of education and employment and their relationship to social exclusion was also raised.
In all, 55 participants representing some 30 different organisations took part in the roundtable. The Representation will be organising similar events to coincide with key stages of the European Semester. Such events are not only an opportunity for the Commission to present its assessments and views but also to exchange notes on the economic challenges facing Malta. They are in line with the Commission's belief that the success of the European Semester improves if the widest possible representatives of society are engaged and take ownership of the process.