"European Funding Is Helping Transform Our Society"

Manuel Zarb - 21st October 2017

Parliamentary Secretary for EU Funds and Social Dialogue Aaron Farrugia discusses the role of EU funds and how they can help the Maltese business community.

Aaron Farrugia is responsible with overseeing Malta’s use of EU funding and social dialogue, working within Helena Dalli’s Ministry of European Affairs. Starting by discussing the options available with EU funding and the effect of this on business, Dr Farrugia outlines the objectives he is aiming to achieve by the end of the 2020 programming period. “We have three main objectives,” he says. “The first is fostering competitiveness through innovation and the creation of a business-friendly environment. The second is investing in our environment, sustaining an environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient economy. The third goal is the creation of opportunities through investment in human capital, and improving the health and well-being of our citizens.”

These objectives, he says, will contribute to improve citizens’ quality of life and create an environment which is conducive to economic growth and job creation. “The European Structural and Investment Funds are key to achieving these objectives. Other EU funding initiatives, particularly the Internal Security Fund, contribute towards improving the security of our citizens by improved border control. Malta is also benefitting from various centralised funds such as Horizon 2020 which supports investment in research and innovation; the Connecting Europe Facility which supports investment in energy and transport, and ERASMUS+.”

He adds that this round of funding is designed around the needs of the business community. “Businesses will benefit from improved infrastructure such as an enhanced e-Government service, improved waste management, and improved TEN-T infrastructure. Meanwhile, SMEs will be able to apply for grants administered directly by a newly established division in my Parliamentary Secretariat. We are offering funds to establish new businesses and to expand or diversify existing ones; we also provide grants for businesses that wish to sell, and to those internationalising their operations.”

On how funds will be used to increase the labour participation rate of specific groups – such as women, the elderly, and youths, Dr Farrugia refers to what is already being done. “Projects such as the Access to Employment Scheme already provide employment aid to enterprises in Malta and Gozo, to promote the recruitment of jobseekers who experience various challenges. The training aid framework scheme is intended to promote access to training to persons actively participating in the Maltese labour market, to enhance productivity, adaptability, and employability. Moreover, Government has allocated approximately 30 per cent of the European Social Fund resources to combating poverty and social exclusion.”

On the Social Dialogue aspect of his portfolio, the Parliamentary Secretary asserts that this is now well-established in Malta. “In the last few years, we have seen our worker and employer organisations take a more informed and proactive role, as they’ve invested in strengthening their technical and administrative capabilities.”

The social partners are all members of their counterpart European organisations, he explains, and many of them have a proactive attitude. “This gives them considerable exposure to global social dialogue. Through these affiliations, we also have better access to relevant information, which ultimately impacts the perceptions and decisions of local organisation leaders. I want to take this to the next level, and look at how we can work with partners to begin addressing some of the long-term challenges we face as a country, to ensure sustainable development for future generations.”

A crucial part of a sustainable economy is to make sure no one is left behind, Dr Farrugia says. “Our social market economy should provide opportunities for all, with decent jobs and sustainable, inclusive growth. The better working conditions are, the more committed people can be to economic success. Improving working conditions can enhance efficiency and productivity within the enterprise, and can boost competitiveness in broader terms. If we are to safeguard economic growth, we need to keep pace with change.”

This is a snippet. Read the full interview with Aaron Farrugia in the latest edition of Business Agenda 

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