Dr Dalli, with the European elections over and a new European Commission soon taking over, a new momentum is expected to finalise the EU budget for 2021-2027. Do you think the EU’s investments match its political priorities and are sufficiently ambitious?
As S&D – the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats – we have already established important priorities to which the commissioners-designate have committed themselves.
For us, a Just Transition Fund through a New Green Deal is a must to ensure economic, environmental and social progress. It’s about leaving no one behind. Other priorities include agriculture and the EU’s cohesion policies.
The Parliament has been trying to engage in negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for over a year. But, since the negotiations are taking so long, the S&D is insisting on having a safety net to protect the beneficiaries of EU programmes. We have, thus, called for an MFF contingency plan in case negotiations cannot be finalised successfully by the end of the current budget period.
To meet the current socio-economic priorities, the EU must also address youth unemployment, the skills gap – the upskilling and reskilling of workers – and access to quality education. Education is key to fighting poverty, leading to a more dignified life. With more women joining the labour market, salaries must reflect the job that an employee does – irrespective of their gender.
A flagship priority for the Von der Leyen Commission will be the fight against climate change, with one of her first commitments being to issue a European Green Deal. What are your expectations for this initiative and do you think the EU can balance between an ambitious green deal and safeguarding economic competitiveness?
The EU has a leadership role to play in the fight against climate change. Ursula Von der Leyen’s decision to create the new European Green Deal portfolio bodes well for the future. This should, however, not be limited to proposals on paper – it needs to be put into action and citizens expect to see a legislative proposal on an EU 55 per cent reduction target by 2030. If Von der Leyen is serious about achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, then we require ambitious targets for 2030.
As the S&D Vice-President responsible for a Green New Deal, I will be monitoring the Commission’s work in this regard. The EU has the potential to take leadership in implementing and enforcing current policies and in coming up with new proposals that can deliver the emission reductions required. Urgent action is needed to address maritime and aviation emissions, while the enforcement of standards for road transport are also a priority as is ensuring new energy-efficient building stock and renovating current buildings.
A new SME strategy is long overdue. This appears to be forthcoming during this mandate. How do you think SMEs can be aided to be productive, and to innovate and grow?
SMEs are the backbone of our economy, representing over 90 per cent of all businesses. At an EU level, they account for 85 per cent of new jobs created in the last five years.
To support SMEs is to support family-run businesses. It means supporting innovators and entrepreneurs. From a Maltese perspective, they provide vocational training to young people.
In the SME strategy outlined by Von der Leyen, the Commission is expected to develop a new private– public fund specialising in initial public offerings for SMEs. The initial investment is expected to come from the EU, and that could be matched by private investors.
To encourage growth, funding is not enough. Governments should provide SMEs with the necessary tools to help set up proper internal governance. This is especially important for family-run businesses whose interest is to keep on growing and expanding. Most of the budding SMEs today – such as those operating in sales and IT sectors to give an example – can expand their business to other EU member states. So, to increase their competitiveness, funds and schemes should provide internationalisation and innovation support services to SMEs.
This interview first appeared in the Economic Vision 2020.