Martin Bugelli introduced the debate which was the last of a series of activities organised by the Representation as part of the Single Market 20th anniversary celebrations held Europe-wide. The activities were held in cooperation with various organisations, including, Young Enterprise, Malta Business Bureau, the Gozo Business Chamber and the information providers. From 18 -20 October an exhibition tent was set up in St. George's Square in Valletta where the EU information providers were present to explain any issues related to the Single Market. Mr Bugelli said that a good indication of the effectiveness of this action is that 3000 publications were distributed to persons who had an interest in the subject.
Louis Grech, MEP, S&D, was the author of the EP report "Delivering a Single Market to Consumers and Citizens". He said that there were substantial changes in the single Market in the last 20 years. The principle achievement related to the breaking of barriers, that resulted in freedom of movement and breaking of prejudices. This brought about significant economic gains. This was the first time that many countries with diverse histories built a unified project.
He said that the study that was carried out concluded that there were feelings that the Single Market was yesterday's business and that it was taken for granted. Perceptions of citizens were that the Single Market only served the needs of a few multinationals. Few European citizens were aware of the benefits. There was more fear than faith in the Single Market. He said that "unless we succeed in convincing citizens to believe in the Single Market, it will have no future".
The report proposed a new Single Market Act that would address the integration of social objectives and citizens' concerns. The idea is to find a balance between enlargement and the economy whilst safeguarding jobs and protecting consumers. In the current economic situation, the Single Market is the only solution for growth. The digital economy is one of the spurs that contributes to growth. A major challenge that we meet, particularly during times of economic difficulty, is related to the tendency for Member States to react with protectionism. A holistic approach is necessary to combat this. The citizen must be central to the definition of the Single Market. Integration cannot be accomplished without the Single Market, and without a functioning Single Market the EU would be under threat. More and better enforcement is necessary in order to create a Single Market for citizens.
George Vella said that the Single Market is even more important for Malta than for other Member States due to the size of our home market. When we compete with firms abroad we have increased challenges due to language, cultural, legal and other differences, which the Single Market helps us to overcome. He said that the results of a survey conducted by MBB with its members show that there are still significant barriers to be broken. Rather than looking up to the EU just to seek funding, Maltese business should be asking the EU to work harder on eradicating barriers. A major challenge for Maltese business is access to finance and it is imperative that this is improved for the Single Market to make a difference to Maltese business. Apart from this, it is necessary to reduce our isolation by improving Malta's accessibility by sea and by air.
Odette Vella said that the Single Market offers great advantages to Maltese consumers in terms of a greater variety of products and lower prices. She said that the Competition Office had provided input to the European Commission with regards the proposal on Alternative Dispute Resolution, that is, processes and techniques of resolving disputes that fall outside of the judicial process, which is greatly beneficial to consumers. In fact, the Competition Office had insisted that ADRs should be possible irrespective of the geography, i.e. not just for cross-border disputes.
Louis Grech concluded saying that we must have a competitive economy with a social dimension that safeguards citizens' rights and gives the necessary incentives to small businesses.
Click here for some pictures of the event.