In her speech to the European Parliament (presided by one of our own MEPs, Roberta Metsola – well done for that), European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen defended the achievements of her executive in delivering life-saving COVID-19 vaccines for over 70 per cent of the EU population and in making available unprecedented financial resources from NextGenerationEU for a historic recovery plan.

Europe was at the forefront of developing the vaccine that, so far, seems to be the only game changer in this pandemic. If we are witnessing some kind of return to normality, both socially and economically, it is because of the impact of the vaccine in fighting the virus.

Accompanying the development and roll-out of the vaccine was the quick agreement on the use of a digital certificate, which is playing an important role moving forward.

This is an undeniable success. But, as von der Leyen said, while we can be proud of what we have achieved, we cannot be complacent. The 2008 financial crisis is a cautionary tale.

“At that time, Europe declared victory too soon and we paid the price for that,” she said. We should not repeat the same mistake.

The EU is showing signs of economic recovery, with recent GDP figures above expectations. It is reaching pre-pandemic levels while growth in the euro area outpaced both the US and China in the last quarter of last year. And, yet, we are all but out of the woods.

Many businesses (especially SMEs) are still suffering and struggling to regain confidence. In August 2021, the Economic Sentiment Indicator was down by 1.5 points. That was largely motivated by managers’ assessments of the current level of overall order books and the scarcity of stocks of finished products. While many companies are still trying to survive and recover, many businesses have started to tackle the challenge of transforming themselves to face up to the even more serious challenge – climate change.

Failure to respond is not an option- Stefano Mallia

There is broad consensus among employers that we must respond in the most effective way possible. We all agree that failure to respond is not an option but there is still considerable preoccupation over how we engage in the green (and digital) transition and the cost associated with it.

This preoccupation should not be seen as a reluctance to engage. Rather, it should be seen as a way to ensure we engage in a sustainable transition, one that would allow us, Europe, to set the pace for the rest of world in the decarbonisation of the economy.

This is a challenge that we too in Malta must firmly face up to. I firmly believe that the ‘green momentum’ is now unstoppable.

This is a process which we, the private sector, must fully embrace. Or we will end up being dragged along. We must collectively start discussing and agreeing, in very concrete and holistic terms, what needs to be done to truly transform the way we operate.

When I look at our economy, I still see too many businesses in key sectors such as construction, manufacturing and transport persisting in doing things the same way, in that unsustainable way which will no longer be possible in a short while.

I see very little investment being undertaken to develop and embrace green and digital technologies even if there are some fantastic exceptions to this statement. It is here too that the government must play a role. The authorities have started to slowly make some gestures in the right direction and the recent pledges made by the finance and energy ministers are most welcome.

Much more is needed. The right momentum will only be created with a serious overhaul of key regulation, to raise standards and make pollution expensive. This must be carried out in close and real consultation with the social partners.

It requires political bravery which (in any country) is not always readily available.

This must then be accompanied by serious public and private investment that will not only make the transition sustainable but also beneficial – to business, the environment and society as a whole.


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