As a project manager working for ThinkYoung, a non profit think tank that lobbies for young people in decision making processes, I was given the opportunity to attend the 2014 European Business Summit in Brussels. Given the diverse repertoire of sessions and speakers present at this event, I have decided to share a brief summary of the sessions which I attended.
This session served as the final closing one for the EBS, where participants could look back on the themes discussed over the course of the summit and rationalise the business priorities require by the EU for the next five years. In a time in which the EU is still recovering from the economic recession, key political visions needed to be amalgamated for a more holistic perspective. As such, the business vision for growth and competitiveness discussed in this closing plenary was given by representatives of the three main political parties in the European Parliament.
The panel consisted of following individuals:
Philippe De Backer – ALDE, MEP
Valdis Dombrovskis – EPP, Latvian MP
Hannes Swoboda – S&D, President of S&D group
Michèle Sioen – President of the FEB and CEO Sioen Industries
Markus J. Beyrer – Director General of BUSINESSEUROPE
Members of the panel each weighed in on what is needed to make Europe stronger, and allowing it to continue on its slow path to recovery. Swoboda remarked how despite the current economic turmoil, the European market is still a force to be reckoned with, seeing as it is the third largest economy in the world after the US and China. As such, the next five years should be used to further develop the single market, and most importantly inspire confidence in other countries to invest in it.
A key to achieving this is through innovation – which is this year’s buzzword here in Brussels. The EU is putting a lot of emphasis on this notion, as innovative ideas and start-ups can lead to a more diversified market and can also contribute to reducing high unemployment rates that have crippled numerous European economies.
Despite the fact that ‘regulation’ was often mentioned in quite unsavoury tones by businessmen in previous sessions, there appeared to be a general consensus by the panel of speakers that the next five years should also be used to set up legislation that would see the European market more harmonized. It was argued that the current system does not allow for accurate checks and balances at the national level, often leading to certain instabilities within the market itself.
Question time, and a member of the audience asked an all important question: “Should your party win the European Commission presidency, which three concrete steps would you take to ensure that youth unemployment is mitigated?”
Despite representing different political groups, members of the panel seemed to be in agreement on this matter. Youth unemployment has to be tackled mainly through better education and training programmes that strengthen the skills of young people in Europe. However, none of the panelists gave concrete measures which might be able to tackle this issue.
At one point, Hannes Swoboda mentioned Malta and immediately drew in my attention. One the subject of European funds for the training of people, Mr Swoboda said how he was tired of hearing, “how member states do not have money to provide the necessary training for their workforce. Malta last January made such an objection, but the funds are there and the states just need to apply for them and use them. The EU provides the necessary tools, but then it is up to the member states to make use of them”.
Swoboda was referring to the case were Malta lost EU funds in 2013 as it did not apply for them in time. It was a bit sad to only have Malta mentioned in such a context, but Swoboda is on track with his statements. Respective member states have all that is needed for them to provide development in their countries, but responsibility rests with the competent individuals to utilize them to their full potential. In this instance, Malta failed drastically and did not provide such a good impression.
A follow up question was asked in which the panelists were asked to comment about the “threat of an ever increasing presences of Extreme Right Parties in the European Parliament“.
Hannes Swoboda gave the most prominent answer to this question, where he exclaimed that members states need Europe and need to retain their membership. The other panelists agreed unanimously with Swoboda, and also indicated that it was time for Europe to start being more positive above its outlook.
This session was indeed a very positive, and I was personally very enthralled by the fact that politicians from opposing parties can sit together and discuss in a mature matter (bearing in mind that I come from Malta, where politicians behave extremely immaturely). However, at time I found the panel’s answer too superficial and misdirecting, but what should one expect from politicians?