For Joe Tanti, CEO of the Malta Business Bureau (MBB), the idea of where Malta would be had it missed out on the chance to join the European Union is inconceivable.
“I wouldn’t even like to think about it! We would have missed a golden opportunity,” he told this newspaper. “EU accession has been able to maximise the prospects for our people to study, work and travel abroad freely, and it has also provided new pathways and avenues to success for our businesses. I cannot fathom that Malta would have prospered so well, if it had not joined the EU.”
The MBB, which was founded in 1996, represents the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry as well as the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) in Malta and Brussels. It started out as an information-based organisation, but in recent years, it has become an important EU-accredited policy and lobbying organisation.
“As an EU business advisory which is private and non-profit, we have had many local businesses knocking on our doors for support. Over the years, we have seen an increase in start-ups, design and tech-driven SMEs seeking our advice on how they can make the most of EU opportunities,” Mr Tanti said. “We have been able to tailor our business support services for these young companies, thanks to our Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) service and other EU-funded projects which we’ve been rolling out. Demand for business support has changed over the past 10 years, which has prompted MBB to regenerate itself accordingly.”
According to Mr Tanti, MBB is a living example of how organisations from small member states can play an active role in the EU’s legislative process and maximise on EU funding opportunities for the benefit of the Maltese business community. “EU projects are an extremely useful tool to implement EU policy in Malta. Projects enable us to engage with businesses and help them understand more how they can truly reap the full benefits of EU membership. The MBB has been successful in the submission and implementation of a number of EU-funded projects. However, I believe that there remains a gap between the EU vision and our local businesses, however; there is still so much we can do to link the two.”
With 2019 marking Malta’s 15th year as an EU member state, Mr Tanti says that since 2004, Malta has had a stronger concentration of services and businesses, with a better chance at penetrating the single market and tapping EU funds. “All of these have added to the advancement of our economy and improvement in our infrastructure amongst other things,” he explained. “This said, we haven’t completely exploited the opportunities membership has presented. There are several available direct EU funds, which we haven’t yet harnessed as a country. It is also quite disappointing to see that EU membership has not necessarily resulted in a change of mindset and better quality standards that should be upheld in Malta – particularly with regards to better regulation in construction, alleviating traffic congestion and adequate protection of our environment. All of which, if not addressed, will continue to affect our well-being in general. We could do so much more!”
The much-anticipated MEP elections are coming up in May, and in the shadow of various challenges such as Brexit, international protectionism, climate change, digital transformation and lack of labour supply and skills, Mr Tanti expects a stronger Eurosceptic wing to be elected to the European Parliament. “With diminished centrist pro-European parties, this could have repercussions on the Parliament’s ability to negotiate future EU legislation,” he stated, with concern. “Polls are indicating that the two biggest parties, the EPP and the S&D will not be able to broker a majority alone. They will require the support of the Liberals and Greens to pass legislation, which shall mean tougher negotiations in a bid to find compromise. This may delay the progress of much-needed reforms; and at a time where EU trust among citizens is faltering, this does not bode well for the implementation of EU policy, particularly with respect to the Single Market.”
Mr Tanti explained that as the elections and new EU legislature draw closer, the MBB has published a business manifesto reflecting on current political trends, analysing outcomes from the last legislature, and communicating the expectations of the Maltese business community from the EU in the next five years. “The MBB manifesto proposes a set of guiding principles to MEPs, backed by policy recommendations that we believe should guide their work during the next EU mandate. In the face of challenges that there will undoubtedly be in the coming years, the MBB will continue to ensure that the decisions taken by the legislators reflect the aspirations of businesses and citizens at the local level. We will also support the elected MEPs in their work in Brussels and Strasbourg, by providing them with our feedback on the impact that legislation could have on the sustainability and competitiveness of Maltese businesses.”
The MBB has a number of initiatives in the pipeline related to various economic sectors. “The plan is to continue focusing on supporting businesses to capitalise on EU direct funding opportunities. In this regard, the MBB will be proactive and continue to help increase access to direct funding and encourage the business community to manifest its ideas through European funded projects.”
“In view of the importance of the financial services sector for Malta, the MBB intends to increase the resources for advocacy work in Brussels throughout the legislative process, build and maintain a network focused on this area, and learn from best practices by other governments and private stakeholders in the field,” Mr Tanti said.
Other pipeline initiatives are in the area of energy which forms a big part of the MBB’s sustainable development portfolio. “At this point in time we have also realised that many businesses face difficulty raising finance for energy efficiency projects. As a priority we are also exploring what financing can be made available for businesses to tap into to continue to drive energy efficiency on the ground. This approach of informing policy makers, developing initiatives aimed at translating policy from paper to projects, and seeking the financing for these projects, covers every aspect of a policy implementation cycle. We are very excited about this work and look forward to continuing to support the achievement of Malta’s 2020 and even 2030 energy efficiency targets.”
Reflecting on his 10 years at the MBB, Mr Tanti concluded, “I feel fortunate to have been a part of this journey and to lead such a dedicated and committed team of professionals. We thrive because of our people. Throughout my career, my background in people management and strategy development has helped me to build effective and results-oriented teams. At MBB, my greatest satisfaction has been giving young university graduates the opportunity to develop themselves and to shape a new future for the organisation. Their work is a testament to the opportunities Europe has to offer. As for myself, I will continue to give back the knowledge and experience that I have gathered along the way to our next generation of business leaders. People are the only resource Malta has and we must ensure that we continue to develop our future leaders, so that they can contribute to the economic and social well-being of the country.”
This interview originally appeared in The Malta Business Observer