Addressing challenges through opportunities: Representing businesses in the EU

Jo Caruana - 5th June 2016

As the Malta Business Bureau celebrates 20 years since its formation, outgoing president Mario Spiteri talks about the organisation’s role, highlights and plans for the future.

We all remember the days before Malta’s European Union accession. A bit like the weeks in the run-up to the island’s adoption of the euro in 2008, we all had questions about how things would work once we joined the EU. And nowhere were those questions more prevalent than within the local business community.

It was the Malta Business Bureau (MBB) that helped to answer some of those questions and guide businesses through the potential minefield of bringing their company in line with EU laws, and this was achieved successfully.

“The MBB has always been about EU focus,” explains Mario Spiteri, the MBB’s outgoing president. “The then Malta Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Industries co-founded the MBB in 1996. Its original purpose was to support Government by providing the Maltese business position during the negotiation period leading to Malta’s EU membership, and likewise to prepare the business community as to what this actually meant for their daily operations and prospects for the future.”

"From a lobbying perspective we have outlined four legislative areas that are of particular interest for us to look into, namely geo-blocking, services passport, business insolvency and corporate taxation."

Thus, in the 20 years since it was set up, the MBB has guided Maltese business owners through the many developmental stages that have taken place, and is still evolving and building on its role today.

There are many key issues currently on the EU agenda. “I would say that our main focus at the moment are topics related to the economy in general, particularly through European Commission action plans related to the Single and Digital Single Market strategies, the Capital Markets Union, the Energy Union and the Social Agenda. Our role is an advisory one and our focus shifts depending on what we feel is most important for Maltese businesses at any one time.”

Mr Spiteri, who runs a number of businesses of his own in the travel, tourism, real estate and insurance sectors, has been on the MBB Board for eight years and was appointed president two years ago. During his time leading the organisation, several projects have been launched successfully.

“The first was the setting up of Zaar, Malta’s first crowd-funding platform,” explains Mr Spiteri. “It was launched as a joint venture between MBB and the University of Malta to fill a void that the business community has felt for some time – access to finance for micro enterprises and start-ups. has now been launched and a number of Maltese projects have since been funded successfully.”

The MBB has also focused its efforts on the development of a coherent lobbying strategy. “Our board member Dr John Vassallo, who will succeed me as MBB president, has really used his expertise as an international lobbyist to help us make excellent headway on this matter. As a team we have learnt how important it is to focus on making small changes that make a difference in an upcoming legislation, as this is the best way to achieve results for local businesses.”

And, beyond their lobbying and crowd-funding projects, the MBB has also recently tapped into the Design for Europe Network. “This is a European Commission-funded programme to support design-driven innovation across Europe. Through a combination of events, online knowledge-sharing and networking, this network is raising awareness of the value of design, and the MBB was nominated as Malta’s ambassadors for this project. So far we have held a very well-attended seminar locally, and we are very pleased with the results. We will be taking this initiative further in the months to come.”

Finally, and aside from its daily ‘bread and butter work’ based on reacting to the latest policy and legislation from Brussels, the MBB has also focused firmly on training. “In the last year, for instance, we organised nine workshops linked to three different EU funding programmes, namely Horizon 2020, Erasmus+ and Creative Europe. We believe the workshops were very fruitful and that seeds have been sown to help a number of businesses materialise projects through direct EU funding in the future.”

Now, with its eye firmly on the future of business in Malta, the MBB will continue to extrapolate on its recent achievements. “From a lobbying perspective we have outlined four legislative areas that are of particular interest for us to look into, namely geo-blocking, services passport, business insolvency and corporate taxation,” continues Mr Spiteri.

“We will of course remain as proactive as possible on all the aspects that help Maltese businesses get closer to the EU, and help them to benefit from it as much as possible.

This is a snippet. Read the full interview on the latest issue of The Commercial Courier.  

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Addressing challenges through opportunities: Representing businesses in the EU