Simon De Cesare is a well-known face on the local business scene. As CEO of the Eden Leisure Group, he has extensive experience running one of the largest companies on the island – experience he now hopes to call upon in his new role as President of the Malta Business Bureau (MBB).
Looking back a few years to when he first joined the MBB Board, Mr De Cesare admits he was unaware of the extent of the organisation’s achievements for Maltese businesses. “I quickly learned that the work that they’ve done at EU level over the last few years has been impressive,” he explains. “The MBB has established itself as a key stakeholder to advise and support businesses on EU-related affairs.”
Mr De Cesare brings a wealth of experience to the role through his background across various sectors, including telecoms, hospitality, sports and entertainment. “While I have not had much experience with the EU or EU affairs, I have been dealing in the Maltese business world for the last 20 years and have been running a large organisation for some years now,” he says. “There are many similarities that are common in running any business – from its human resources and communication, to its general management and many other areas. The MBB has a strong Board of Directors, and an excellent team in Malta and Brussels who run the show expertly.”
He explains that he was drawn to the organisation because it represents the industrial and commercial base of the smallest EU member – one that is mostly made up of SMEs. “Our voice is a small one but, for our members, it is an essential voice. It is our task at the MBB to make that voice heard in the most efficient manner.
“The MBB is also a promoter of the EU values and principles that matter most. There are very few organisations that actually have their own resources in Brussels to assist with the complexities of EU institutions. It is essential that we have people who know what is being proposed, and how and where it affects our local businesses. Then it is important to get feedback from local companies and put our case forward back in Brussels. In Malta, our resources are limited, so any lobbying effort is essential to the country.”
However, the MBB does face its own challenges – many of which Mr De Cesare looks forward to overcoming. “Ours is a small organisation with limited resources, but it will continue punching above its weight to have a stronger impact at EU level and to deliver more services to the business community. The hardest part of what we do is communicating to our local businesses how legislative changes affect them, and getting them to advise us on how they would like us to lobby on their behalf to amend proposals at EU level. Local businesses must participate in these processes, otherwise the agendas of larger countries will prevail over ours and we will simply have to adopt legislation that they decide on. The EU has given us a voice, but it is up to us to use it.”
With that in mind, Mr De Cesare explains that there will be two key focuses for the MBB in the years to come. “Firstly, as mentioned before, the lobbying on behalf of local businesses is vital,” he says. “Secondly, there’s the creation of EU-funded projects that create value for the country and its businesses. Through these projects, we can extend the services offered to local businesses and to the Maltese economy in general. It is our aim that, through the support of these projects, Maltese enterprises can become more competitive and sustainable.”
“As MBB’s new President, I envision that the scene is now set for enhanced collaboration between MBB and the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) with a special focus on the interests of tourism businesses. Through its EU policy and legislative work, advisory support to businesses and the implementation of EU-funded projects, MBB will also continue to support and create new opportunities for the members of its parent organisations and the business community at large. Beyond that, I hope that I can improve the communication and link between the local businesses and the EU for the betterment of the local business community.”
Looking specifically at the priorities for his term, Mr De Cesare says these are currently dominated by Brexit and its implications, the European Parliament elections next May, the end of the Juncker Commission next year, and the Multi Annual Financial Framework. “My time as MBB President happens to coincide with an exciting period for the organisation, but also with testing times for the EU. The Commission’s proposal for the EU Multi Annual Financial Framework (MFF) will comprise a comprehensive programme for the future of the EU budget beyond 2020. This is the first of the two major developments within the EU scene that will define and most definitely steer the MBB’s work in the upcoming months.”
However, he asserts that one of the most interesting aspects in this whole process will be the impact of Brexit on the future of the MFF. “To date, the UK’s contribution to the EU budget has been significant, and we will have to see how this financial gap will be mitigated. This is particularly intriguing, especially at a time when the EU is under increasing pressure to do more to boost employment and growth, improve the governance of the Euro area, strengthen security and military cooperation, manage migration flows into the EU and tackle climate change, while also continuing frameworks such as the Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion Funds.”
“Moreover, my term will also coincide with the end of the current Commission mandate and the European Parliament elections in May 2019. The upcoming legislature of the EP will present considerable opportunities for Maltese MEPs to participate in debates, vote and decide on a series of legislation and reports of critical importance for Maltese companies in the medium-to-long term. In this regard, the MBB will be developing its own agenda and shaping thoughts as to what the next legislature should be focused on to sustain further economic competitiveness, growth and creation of employment.”
Finally, Mr De Cesare stresses that the EU is in desperate need of real structural reforms. “Considering a reduced EU budget after the UK’s withdrawal, more optimal use of EU funding needs to be made through targeted investments in youth training and life-long learning, among others,” he continues. “Time is of the essence, and we need to act now through the implementation of structural reforms when they are affordable rather than too painful and designed to avoid crises of the future, not react to them.
“To conclude, and while looking ahead, I believe that MBB has and will continue to take on the opportunity to increase its relevance to the Maltese business community through both its Malta and Brussels operations. Above all, this will be my focus.”
This interview originally appeared in Business Agenda